RIP, rob bell.

mjkimpan  —  March 18, 2013 — 9 Comments

some evangelicals are now not only saying, ‘farewell, rob bell’ but actually declaring him dead to evangelicalism.

RIP, rob bell.

as if the ‘love wins’ controversy wasn’t enough, in the first week of his new book’s release (which i read yesterday on my flight from orlando, and recommend), rob did what most of us do – had a Q and A.

and after what one person reported from a Q and A session last night in san francisco, it appears this morning that rob bell came out in support of gay marriage (i first saw the story from tony jones).

rob said,

‘I am for marriage. I am for fidelity. I am for love, whether it’s a man and a 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.’

the huffington post reported his remarks here or you can download the audio of his entire talk here.

conservative blogger denny burke also linked the story, although the majority of his commenters had an unsurprisingly slightly different response than those at TJs.

comments ranged from calling rob a heretic or implying he’s a false prophet (which really is nothing new) to asking if now we can say, ‘farewell, rob bell’ with a clear conscious || as if this – supporting gay marriage – was the final nail in the coffin we’ve all been waiting for.

brian mclaren received similar treatment when news broke of his supporting his gay son in a private ceremony earlier this year. for my thoughts on that situation, you can read my note to brian on his blog.

we’ve talked about same-sex marriage repeatedly (e.g., here here here and here) so this post isn’t regarding my own personal views, nor the position of The Marin Foundation.

what IS intriguing to me, however, are the two quite polarized responses from folks who read the same bible – some with a more modern, conservative, traditional interpretation and others with a more progressive perspective.

last week, LifeWay researcher ed stetzer posted his most recent findings on the cultural shift toward acceptance of gay marriage. things are changing. and the shift isn’t just taking place within the church.

just in the past week, not only rob bell, but hilary clinton and republican senator rob portman have joined the growing ranks of those who have ‘evolved’ on the conversation about same sex marriage. the list is certainly likely to grow in preparation for (and even the wake of) the supreme court’s pending decision in june.

the increasing cultural disconnect between conservatives (social, political and religious) and progressives reminds me of the critical importance in our work as ambassadors of reconciliation – bridge builders.

the litmus test of our faith in christ is not whether or not we’re able to agree on political, cultural or religious secondary issues, nor (dare i say) even what it is our position is on such issues; rather, it is in our ability to love, even those with whom we may not agree.

in the same HuffPo article, rob was quoted as saying,

‘What do you do with the people that aren’t like you? What do you do with the Other? What do you do with the person that’s hardest to love?’ . . . That’s the measure of a good religion, is – you can love the people who are just like you; that’s kind of easy. So what Jesus does is takes the question and talks about fruit. He’s interested in what you actually produce. And that’s a different discussion. How do we love the people in the world that are least like us?”

as the cultural shift happens (and it is happening) regarding LGBT issues right in front of us, i wonder how well we’ll do in elevating the conversation above the yes/no || right/wrong || win/lose || in/out || us/them || polarizing rhetoric that has so often shaped this conversation, and respond in a more thoughtful, christ-like way?

maybe there’s something to all that ‘solidarity with the Other‘ language after all…

what do you think?


  • Eric Masters

    I’m less interested in the evolving views on gay marriage and more concerned with being a church of people that disagree well and love the other even better. Some day gay marriage will be legal and ordinary, but will the church ever again be known for its praxis of love and protection of the downtrodden?

    • i certainly hope so. part of me is becoming increasingly convinced that ‘the church’ in its current form is growing more and more irrelevant and incapable of keeping up with culture.

      yet i am equally (if not more so) convinced that those who desire to follow God rather than the tradition of men will find themselves (ourselves?) in places of opportunity to live out a faith worth living – as we commit ourselves to the message of reconciliation and follow christ’s example of solidarity with the Other, i believe we will boldly walk where God’s spirit leads in what the spirit is doing in and through and around us.

  • Ford1968

    Michael –

    In our diversity classes, I ask our participants to “ouch and educate” when someone makes an insensitive remark. I encourage them to give the group some real-time feedback about why they find a comment hurtful or uninformed.

    I read this post and I have to say: “Ouch”.

    I’ll assume by “secondary issue” that you mean “an issue that falls outside the core tenets of our faith and therefore an issue on which sincere Christians can disagree.”

    It’s really easy to call things like the condemnation of homosexuality or the subjugation of women “secondary issues” unless, of course, you happen to have been created gay, or a woman, or both.

    I’m sure you didn’t mean to minimize the impact of harmful beliefs. But when you’re being told you’re going to hell because you are unrepentant gay sinner, or that you are somehow less capable than men and must submit to male authority at church and at home, those issues don’t seem so secondary.

    What the church believes matters – even/especially about these so-called secondary issues. Our theology informs our orthopraxy. While these issues may not be ones that define the essentials of the Christian faith, our beliefs on these issues can hinder our ability to live out both the great commandment and the great commission.

    This is not a conversation that can be reduced to concerns about polarizing rhetoric. I can love those with whom I disagree, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t constructively express my disagreement or accept their religion-based bigotry. There are flesh and blood people who are being harmed in really significant ways by the church. There are people being pushed away from the cross. What we believe about secondary issues matters. It matters a lot. We cannot agree to disagree – the stakes are too high.

    Thankfully, it is not just the popular culture that is changing; it is also the church culture. We are now starting to see evangelical Christians stand up for sexual
    minorities in the same way that they started standing up for women a couple of
    generations ago. And affirming churches and denominations that often stayed silent in the interest of peacemaking are now adding their voices of support to the public conversation. Change is happening. The conversation may be uncomfortable and
    polarized at times, but it is getting us somewhere worth going.

    • thanks for the comment – i do so deeply appreciate your honesty and vulnerability in saying, ‘ouch.’

      allow me to respond with ‘i’m so sorry.’

      you’re quite right in your assumption that by that i don’t mean an issue of less importance, but rather – as you said – ‘an issue that falls outside the core tenets of our faith.’

      prior to my ‘solidarity’ series here on the blog i wrote out a list of some ‘essentials’ – a water-line, if you will, on my ‘theological non-negotiables.’ (

      anything else (from a theological perspective), i have designated as ‘secondary.’

      but i see your point, and don’t at all wish to cause harm – particularly to those whom have already been harmed by misuse, abuse and misunderstandings of the biblical text – or otherwise.

      as i’ve observed the culture in which we live – doing exegesis of the social, political and religious climate – i’ve concluded that *this* particular conversation (which falls outside the core tenets) isn’t secondary in terms of not being important; rather, i consider it one of the *most* important conversations in church and culture today.

      i think jesus summed it up nicely when he was asked ‘what must i do to inherit eternal life?’ – to which he responded (essentially), love God, and love Others (i wrote about the implications of that conversation here as well – – it seems to me as jesus said that ‘all of the law and prophets hang on’ these two pegs, that anything which hinders us from doing so isn’t worth holding onto.

      uncomfortable and potentially polarizing conversations to be sure – but ones which we as ambassadors of reconciliation must be committed to if we are to take seriously jesus’ life and teachings as well as his death, burial and resurrection.

      • Eric Masters

        as i’ve observed the culture in which we live – doing exegesis of the social, political and religious climate – i’ve concluded that *this* particular conversation (which falls outside the core tenets) isn’t secondary in terms of not being important; rather, i consider it one of the *most* important conversations in church and culture today

        Michael- I love the way you stated this.

        Ford1968- (I’d like to see the car that presumably inspired this username btw!)

        I think you and I can agree on a lot, but I would say that both of the issues you mentioned are “issues that fall outside the core tenets of our faith and therefore on which sincere Christians can disagree.”
        Our orthopraxy is where it counts. I know conservative christians who believe that homosexuality is sinful but affirm and support gay marriage. As long as they don’t condemn homosexuals they don’t have to condone it. I’d love to see the church as a whole fully affirm homosexual monogamous relationships, but at this point I’d happily settle for just not being jerks.

        • Ford1968

          Sadly – that’s my nickname and birth year…perhaps I’ve become a classic now too…

          So, yes, I would certainly like to see the church be less jerk-like too. That’s not a really high hurtle though, is it? Or at least it shouldn’t be.

          What impact does this message have on the gay kid in the faith community: “Live your life alone or piss off God Himself”? Or how about “You are deeply flawed and unworthy of giving and receiving romantic love”? Or how about “you need to live as a straight person if you want a relationship like your mom and dad”?

          IMHO, protecting the gay kid in the front pew from emotionally abusive theology should be the bar we set for our Church.

          Best –

          • Eric Masters

            I think that’s a good first step, and while the hurdle isn’t particularly high- the church isn’t in the shape she once was.

            All of those messages have obviously been incredibly destructive to gay people both in and out of the church and it breaks my heart that anybody has ever had to go through that (as a straight white christian male I’m pretty much the least-persecuted person ever).

            But if somebody were to say: “I think homosexuality is a sin, but I look at porn and judge my neighbor and get way too angry at my kids. Good thing Jesus loves us huh?” or “Hello Eric, nice to meet you and your husband, let’s be friends.”

  • Steve Schuh

    Michael, has the title of this post been changed, either here or at RLC? I may be remembering this incorrectly, but I recall the RLC title in my newsfeed as “Rob Bell is dead”. That phrase does not appear in the title, article, or comments now, but a Google search of that exact phrase brings your RLC post up first. Was the title changed?

    Of course that title would have been both sensationalistic and vaguely threatening, but frankly, I don’t think the current title, “RIP, Rob Bell”, is any better. It’s still declarative. It still communicates that Rob Bell has died in some way. In the body of the post you put the RIP phrase in italics, which is usually done for emphasis (but here may indicate attribution to “some evangelicals” in the previous paragraph). Your purpose is unclear, though one comment-er to Tony Campolo’s Facebook link to “RIP, Rob Bell” took the title at face-value (as many would), responding simply, “RIP is right.”

    I had to read to the end of your post to get the full idea that you actually question the statement declared as fact in the title. I agree but find your strategy not “catchy” but misleading, even offensive. It seems to me the title should have been something like, “RIP, Rob Bell?” or “Is Rob Bell really dead to us?” How does the current (or previous) title help the discussion?

    • title has always been, on both sites, RIP, rob bell. it was first written here and picked up by RLC.

      as for the article itself…my apologies, steve. i had thought the first sentence was clear; hopefully you didn’t spend too much time actually thinking my friend rob had passed away.

      glad you stuck with the post until the end to avoid further confusion.