These past few days aren’t exactly putting my former pastor Rob Bell in the running for any popularity contests amongst most evangelical Christian circles. In fact, while meandering around the Facebook scene or any worldwide internet search for that matter, it almost appears as if he’s been thrown a cross to carry, headed up the hill of Golgotha, and the righteous leaders of the day are looking on in stoic determination and smug pleasure. Granted, he has taken a rather liberal/light footed stance on the issue of gay marriage while also saying that our traditional Christian beliefs are often archaic in nature and not always relevant or applicable in light of the 21st century.
He said, and I quote, "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."
I personally don’t take this statement as a glaring declaration of his absolute belief that homosexuals should marry; in fact, I don’t really think this statement is ultimately about that at all, and he’s chuckling as people become so wrapped up in the idea that he is for gay marriage. I think, as it is with most statements attached to Rob Bell, there is an element of suspense and layers to unfold as he dances around what the issue really is. He is for marriage. He is for fidelity, He is for Love, (Everything God is and encompasses is Love, so that works for most of us, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” John 3:16 ). He’s for love between men and woman and then comes these words,
A woman and a woman, a man and a man.
Oh my - this is where the evangelical church is about to stone Rob Bell, these 9 little words, “a woman and a woman, a man and a man.” Is Rob Bell saying that women can love each other and men can love each other? Because that is Biblical in a love sense at least. I have many women whom I love and many men have deep, loving relationships with other men, or is he actually saying here that a woman and a woman and a man and a man can have an intimate loving relationship that may lead to marriage? Again, I think the statement is hidden in layers, not saying specifically what Rob Bell believes because I don’t think that is the intended underlying message of his words in the first place. As we read further into this we get to the last sentence in which he says,
“I think this is the world we are living in”
Yes, I would agree, there is no denying that this is our reality in the 21stcentury. We have women in intimate marital relationships with other women, and we have men in intimate marital relationships with other men - that is the reality of our life whether we want to hide under a nice, cozy, evangelical rock and pretend like it doesn’t exist or we want to own up to the fact that this is happening here in our culture, just like abortions are happening, child slavery is happening, and people are dying all over this continent because of starvation; it’s all happening, period.
“We need to affirm people wherever they are.”
This is the key, the true guts of what he is saying; the heart of his message - in my opinion. This was the heart of Christ’s entire earthly ministry. He did not go about advocating specific lifestyles; working mothers versus stay at home mothers, blue collar workers versus white collar workers, those who drink alcohol, those who don’t, smokers versus quitters, those who are unequally yoked together with unbelievers and those who aren’t, those husband and wives who don’t fulfill their sexual duties to their spouses (ouch….) “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband” I Cor 7:3, versus those who have a rockin sex life in their marriages and those who love the same gender and those who love opposite genders. Christ, God of the Universe, did have an opinion on this stuff but these sins, these lifestyles choices, were not the focus of his ministry; nor should they be the focus of our ministry as evangelical Christians reaching out to a lost and hurting world.
Christ did not focus on STUFF. Christ focused his ministry on meeting people precisely where they were in whatever situation or emotional state they were in, and he loved them. He met the Samaritan woman at the well, he met the blind man at the pool of Siloam, and he met the disabled man at the pool in Jerusalem. His first recorded miracle at the wedding of Cana shows him meeting the people right in the middle of their need, and if we’re honest, it’s not only kind of a silly need but it’s also kind of a sinful need to most church theologies. In other words, the party goers needed someone to make an alcohol run. These people were having a party; a big, ol, inebriated, days and nights of drunken bliss and hangovers sort of shin dig and they ran out of wine and Christ met them in the middle of that need. He cared so much about their need that he didn’t make some cheap, $10 box of Franzia wine to meet the need, instead he made the equivalent of an Italian vintage wine causing the master of the banquet to proclaim to the Bridegroom, “You have saved the best till now!” John 2:10. Huh……???
I wonder if the same crucifiers of Rob Bell would have been able to handle a party like this? Or would it have made them so uncomfortable with the obvious sinful nature of it all with the wine and the dancing and the celebrating that they would have balked on out of there rolling their eyes in religious disgust and dismay at such outlandish behavior.
Would you have been able to hang with Jesus and the bros? Or would the discomfort have been too much for your religious piety? Would you have been the one handing out tracts to the party goers as they left outlining the steps towards accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior? Would you have handed Jesus Christ a tract? Would you have been too uncomfortable to be where Jesus was? John Eldredge, author of Beautiful Outlaw says, “If you can’t take your church culture and language and drop it in the middle of a bar or a bus and have it make winsome sense to the people there, then it’s not from Jesus. Because that is exactly what he would do. That’s what made him the real deal.”
Rob Bell often reminds me of someone else I know, someone who instead of answering the accusations of the religious leaders of his days could be found drawing in the sand with a quiet proclamation of, “He who is without sin, cast the first stone” John 8:7. Rob Bell may have impure motives. Rob Bell may be following exactly what his Lord asked of him and that is to meet everyone right where they are. To meet the lesbian in her lesbian marriage, the wrung out coke addict on the street corner shaking and cold as he comes down from a high, the drunkard, smack dab in the middle of a bar in all his desperately drunk and needy state, the beautiful homecoming queen at the mall as she’s picking out a dress for her painfully thin, anorexic body that never looks good enough in her eyes, or the Bible thumping evangelical in his Perry Ellis suit and tie, perfectly pressed and put together in his heterosexual marriage and two kids, yet yearning for something resembling a relationship with the God he rants and raves about. Why can’t we all be where Jesus is, right in the middle of the action, right in the middle of the desperation, right in the middle of the gay community, right in the middle of the wedding at Cana?
Who will reach people with hate? Jesus met the centurion on the road, he met Peter in the middle of lake, and he met the disciples on the beach after his resurrection. Jesus drops his divinity and his Lordship right in the middle of our needs – always. Wouldn’t it make sense then if we are becoming more and more like him to do as he does and meet people right in the middle of where they are?
Jesus came to abolish the law, not to create law upon law upon law that no one can possibly live up under. If we are going after gay marriage than we, as believers, need to attack so many other things with just as much vigor. Slander, gossip, strife, those who are unequally yoked together in marriage, our teens involved in sex outside of marriage (yes, even the actions that aren’t penetrating in nature; although I know the “good” kids slide on that one quite often) wives who withhold sexual affection from their husbands, husbands who treat their wives like slaves, those who wear earrings and display tattoos (the Old Testament is allowed, correct?) My point is, the endless list of can’s and can nots will not end. We are saved by the unmerited, undeserved, and unwarranted grace of Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone.
is Rob Bell’s point.
Meet people exactly where they are, don’t point fingers unless you want someone pointing fingers at your life, and remember, that it is through Christ’s blood and blood alone that we ALL have access to the Heavenly Father.
Just keep livin!!