Dear Rob Bell: The Church Isn’t Giving an Inch on Same-Sex Marriage
Dear Rob Bell,
I recently read your comments to Oprah about the church being “moments away” from affirming gay marriage. Here are your remarks as reported on one website:
That statement prompted a question from Oprah: “When is the church going to get that?”
“We’re moments away,” Rob Bell said. “I think culture is already there and the church will continue to be even more irrelevant when it quotes letters from 2,000 years ago as their best defense, when you have in front of you flesh-and-blood people who are your brothers and sisters and aunts and uncles and co-workers and neighbors and they love each other and just want to go through life with someone.”
Rob, you’re a gifted communicator. You drew many folks to your church in Michigan, and now you have a show on Oprah’s network. It’s clear that you’re charismatic, funny and adept at making complex realities simple to understand. But — excuse my own attempt at brevity — you’re dead wrong on the church and same-sex marriage.
The church, that is, the body of Christ, isn’t giving an inch on this issue. Sure, there are congregations who are moving in this direction. But tens and tens of thousands of congregations from a wide array of denominations and all around the world, whose head is Christ and are filled with people who love God’s inerrant Word, we aren’t moving an inch. We’re not scared; we’re not intimidated; we’re not even impressed. We’ve seen this all before.
As you note, the culture has moved with great swiftness on this issue. There appears to be no moral check to this momentum in broader cultural life. It is not so with the church. The church has a mighty foundation, a living Lord, for its moral code, and a moral imagination inspired by the holy prophets, martyred apostles and crucified Lord. The church is a counter-culture that speaks truth.
Many have left this foundation, affirming such virtues as liberty and equality, but now without warrant or guidance. They speak of rights but reject their grounding. They hunger for justice, but have no cornerstone for it. This is not a new movement; it’s an old and tired one. Ask the Jacobins how their Revolution played out. Even Napoleon realized that went poorly. Ask the Russians under statism how freedom fared. You don’t need to read The Gulag Archipelago to see that secularism of varying kinds fails to make good on its promises.
Rob, you’re right that the culture wants the church to give up. With a pat on the head, we’re assured that we can keep feeling precious spiritual thoughts in our hearts, pray nice little prayers in our closets, be good sanctified boys and girls in our own weird-smelling sanctuaries. But to live out our convictions? To bring them into the public square? To be salt and light? The culture shudders at the thought, even as it acts on its own convictions and brings them into the public square.
The strange thing is that you used to understand this. You used to be a voice for the people in exile. You used to preach the Bible, and people loved your ministry. You stood with God against the world. But now, as it pains many of us to see, you stand with the world against God.
That is your prerogative. But you no longer speak sound words.
Rob, there will be no surrender on marriage. There will be no truce. We will not bargain down our doctrine. We will not hand over our beliefs. We will not put the truth in a heart-shaped box. We may lose our public voice, but we will not lose our public convictions.
Christians have often, for the good of the world, had to stand against the world. In America, for a brief and shining moment, we — and many others — have enjoyed spectacular amounts of religious liberty. That may change. If so, we will only be walking in ancient paths. But here is the remarkable thing, Rob. Unlike the culture, we don’t hate and silence those who oppose us. We take ideas seriously, but if we are hated for the truth, we react with love.
Gays, lesbians, transgender people, heterosexual adulterers, atheists, folks who think telling “white lies” is OK, the regular churchgoers without a shred of grace — any and all who have issues with the hard words of Scripture — these are not our enemies. We see beauty in every person. We love such people, all of them created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27).
We do not offer them, however, a harmless gospel. This is what the culture demands of us, but we cannot acquiesce. The message of Jesus Christ is not a self-affirming message. It is a call to death. It is a summons to submission. It means that we lose all our sin and gain all of Christ. We open the Bible, and we see a cross on every page. That’s the emblem of Holy Scripture. Crucifixion. Suffering. Death. But then, and only then: Life. Resurrection. Eternity.
Rob, I hope you will return to these things. I know you still sometimes celebrate communion with your friends. The old imagery still speaks. The body and blood are for sinners like you and me. They ever will be, even if church buildings go vacant, the nurseries go silent, the pulpit lies empty, the jails swell with preachers and the unemployment lines teem with convictional Christians. No matter. The body and blood remain.
Owen Strachan is an Assistant Professor of Christian Theology and Church History at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky, and author of the forthcoming book The Colson Way: Loving Your Neighbor and Living Your Faith in a Hostile World.