Recently I wrote concerning Rob Bell, the enormously popular preacher and author. I encouraged Bell to reach out to his sisters and brothers in mainline Christianity, many of whom are buying his books and other products and who have shared some of his theological sensibilities for a very long time.
This Sunday Rob Bell spoke at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral and openly endorsed marriage equality. Grace Cathedral is the Episcopal Cathedral of the Diocese of California. Bell was speaking to the Cathedral's Grace Forum in an appearance presented in partnership with his publisher, HarperCollins (audio here).
In response to a question regarding same-sex marriage, Bell 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."
Bell went on to say that while it used to be fair to equate evangelicals with social conservatism, that assumption no longer holds true. More pointedly, he said, "I think we are witnessing the death of a particular subculture that doesn't work. I think there is a very narrow, politically intertwined, culturally ghettoized, Evangelical subculture that was told "we're gonna change the thing" and they haven't. And they actually have turned away lots of people. And i think that when you're in a part of a subculture that is dying, you make a lot more noise because it's very painful. You sort of die or you adapt. And if you adapt, it means you have to come face to face with some of the ways we've talked about God, which don't actually shape people into more loving, compassionate people. And we have supported policies and ways of viewing the world that are actually destructive. And we've done it in the name of God and we need to repent."
When the Very Rev. Jane Shaw attempted to get Bell to take a firm position as to whether Christians "know" the truth in some ultimate sense, Bell veered in a different direction. "I would say that the powerful, revolutionary thing about Jesus' message is that he says, '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?"
To my knowledge, Bell's interview marks the first time that he has openly supported marriage equality and perhaps the first time he has definitively separated himself from politically conservative evangelicalism.