I still remember the first National Youth Workers Convention when I heard Rob Bell speak for the first time. It was captivating. I’m pretty sure this was in his pre-NOOMA days, but he had this way of drawing you in that was really intriguing to me. And he’s frickin’ brilliant.
I read some of his books, enjoyed his thoughts on theological issues, and eventually really appreciated the work he did on the NOOMA videos. I still use them for our college group and Adult Education at the church I serve now. They present just enough content that people really get into the discussion, but don’t get bored and don’t feel overwhelmed by much technical theological jargon.
Then he wrote this little book called “Love Wins” (my thoughts here). John Piper said “Farewell.” Rob Bell made the April 25, 2011 cover of TIME Magazine. And of course…lots of conservatives thought he was a heretic.
Well, Rob’s at it again. With a new book that just came out, “What We Talk About When We Talk About God,” he’s been on a book tour, and made a statement that essentially outed himself as a supporter of gay marriage last week at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. In responding to some questions, Rob said:
“I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man. I think the ship has sailed and I think the church needs — I think this is the world we are living in and we need to affirm people wherever they are.” [source]
If you’re interested, you can watch Rob talk about his statement here:
And this has been the big issue over the past week or so. Lots of folks are weighing in.
- Tony Jones responded to a Facebook Status Update from David Fitch (source) and wrote “Why Rob Bell Matters.“
- Tripp Fuller reflects on Bell’s recent coming out as a supporter, in light of some other recent pronouncements of support by folks with big platforms
- Tim Ghali wrote “Why Rob Bell Still Matters to Me” in response to Tony’s post linked above
I just want to add a few things to the conversation:
I believe Rob Bell still matters. Whether you agree with his theology or not, whether you get frustrated that he doesn’t include footnotes for every little reference he makes and writes in a more casual style than you…all of that side, Bell does, in fact, have an impressive platform and he is reaching a generation of folks who aren’t comfortable with more traditional ideas and models of Christianity.
Rob Bell is accountable to all of us. David Fitch seems to think that since Rob is no longer actively a pastor and that means he doesn’t have any accountability or leadership structure that is “over him,” that means that we shouldn’t listen to Rob and that we shouldn’t “encourage this nonsense.” As Tony mentioned in his blog, if Rob goes off the deep end, enough people will realize that and just stop buying his books. In a sense, by stepping out of the role of Pastor at Mars Hill, Rob Bell has opened himself up to an even deeper and greater model of accountability.
I don’t care why, I simply care that Rob Bell has come out as an ally and supporter of gay marriage. Honestly, I don’t think it’s my place to judge why someone comes out or not. Whether they are coming out and telling folks about their sexuality, or if it’s coming out as a supporter or an ally of LGBT folks. Each person has their own story and their own reasons for the timing. I’ve known folks that have significant platforms like Rob Bell, and for some, it is definitely not easy, in their contexts, to even come out as a supporter. So I’m not interested in exegeting and deciphering the reasons why Rob Bell came out as a supportive ally when and where he did. I’m just glad that there is one more supporter.
The ship has sailed. In his comments at Grace Cathedral, Rob said that the “ship has sailed.” That much is clear. According to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, 58 percent of Americans support same-sex marriage. And if you look at the 18-29 year old category, the result is staggering: 81 percent. If the church continues to drag her feet on this issue, it’s only going to do more harm than good. It’s only going to cause more and more folks (the “Nones” and the Spiritual but not Religious crowd in particular) to walk away from the church…realizing that it’s not the place of welcome, acceptance and unconditional love that it would like to think it is.
Depending on your context, it’s not always easy to come out and be an ally. Progressive social issues aren’t welcome in all areas of this country. Earlier this week on Ev’ry Day I’m Pastorin’, I saw the animated GIF below with the title: YOUNG CLERGY STANDING UP FOR PROGRESSIVE ISSUES AT A CLERGY MEETING OR CONFERENCE.
And for many folks, that’s the reality. The buddy system, I guess. If you jump, I’ll jump. If you vote this way, I’ll vote this way. All of this is just to say that for many folks, even coming out as an ally can have huge ramifications for their lives, career and their family. So regardless of why Rob decided that now was the time, I’m grateful.
And so, I do still think that Rob Bell matters.