Kristin Rudolph (@Kristin_Rudolph)
We shouldn’t be surprised as more and more prominent post-Evangelicals announce their support for same-sex marriage. Rob Bell has been in the news most recently, and he joins the company of other former pastors like Brian McLaren, who are breaking from traditional Christian teachings and following cultural trends.
As America moves beyond Christianity and formerly nominal Christians disassociate from denominations and labels entirely (becoming ‘Nones’), these culturally attuned post-Evangelicals are seeking ways to be relevant to the increasingly hostile culture. As Bell said in a recent interview with Odyssey Networks, “lots of us are realizing the old way of seeing things doesn’t work. It causes so much pain and heartache. And God’s inviting us to see things in new ways. And we need to say yes and then we need to step into the future together.”
Bell and others undoubtedly acting on a desire to reach the unreached and keep those drifting have framed a cultural trend as “God’s leading.” Simply “welcoming” without “affirming” homosexual practice is not enough for most young unbelievers. According to Ed Stetzer of LifeWay Research, “83 percent of the ‘always unchurched’ and 52 percent of the ‘friendly unchurched’ indicated that they would react negatively to a church that does not ‘welcome and affirm’ homosexuals as members. As a whole, it was 67% of the younger unchurched who said it would negatively impact their decision.”
In his interview with Odyssey Networks, Bell referenced growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality as a factor motivating his shifted view, but emphasized a supposed act of God. “What we’re seeing right now in this day, I believe God pulling us ahead into greater and greater affirmation and acceptance of our gay brothers and sisters and pastors and friends and neighbors and co-workers,” Bell said.
That may be what Bell believes, but if that’s true, it seems God is playing catch-up with the culture. For the last several years, positive media portrayals of homosexuality, effective rhetorical strategies, and numerous other factors have led to near complete cultural acceptance of SSM – especially among the under 30 crowd. As the stigma of homosexuality fades, more people “come out,” and now, it seems “everyone knows someone who is gay.” According to some estimates, around 5% of the population identifies as homosexual.
One of the most common reasons given for the growing cultural affirmation of homosexuality is personal relationships and interactions with gay people. As more people “come out,” it seems “everyone has a gay friend or family member.” Indeed, Bell stated “[W]e live in a world where we have friends, neighbors, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, people we’ve journeyed with for years who are gay.” In a short video endorsing Bell’s recent statements, Brian McLaren said learning people close to him identified as gay led him to believe “the traditional explanations for homosexuality were inaccurate and unfair … More and more pastors because of their contact with gay people and the honesty of the pastoral setting … are going to do what Rob has done, what I have done.”
With the narrative that all Evangelicals hate gay people, won’t welcome them into church, and believe they are ruining America, it’s little wonder some are putting distance between themselves and the common perception of Evangelicals. This picture is mostly false, as surely some pastors and churches speak callously, but the most common response I hear from conservative Christians is a genuine desire to minister to those who identify as gay. These Christians believe that homosexual practice is sinful, but they are hardly venomous, hateful, and “throwing stones,” as Bell claimed.
But our culture has redefined love as unquestioning acceptance and affirmation, and sexuality is viewed as an essential part of our identity. To ask for change in that area of one’s life is seen as an attack on his dignity. Acquiescence to the cultural embrace of SSM simply follows acceptance of the watered down, mainstream definition of love at odds with scripture’s admonishment (Romans 12:2) to resist conforming to this world and submit all of ourselves to God’s will.