In a recent episode of Unbelievable, Andrew Wilson and Rob Bell have an engaging dialogue about the legitimacy of homosexual relationships within Christianity.
Here are some thoughts on the debate:
1. Kudos to Andrew Wilson for maintaining his composure as he gently presses Rob not only to be clear on his position, but also to reveal the grounding for the position. Too often, discussions on this issue are so focused on the tip of the iceberg that the foundational, grounding elements of the argument are assumed and never made explicit.
2. Rob appeals to the contemporary state of things to make his case:
It is time for the church to acknowledge that we have brothers and sisters who are gay and want to share their life with someone. This is a part of life in the modern world. And that’s how it is. And cultural consciousness has shifted. This is how the world is.
When Andrew asks Rob if homosexual behavior is sinful, Rob answers:
I am for monogamy, I am for fidelity, I am for commitment. I think the world needs more of that. I think that promiscuity is dangerous and destructive. Some people are gay and want to share their life with someone, and they should be able to. That’s how the world is, and we should affirm that. And we should affirm monogamy, fidelity, and commitment, both gay and straight.
Note that Rob answers by appealing to the way the world is in order to make his case. He believes the church must affirm the world as it is.
What is puzzling to me is why Rob takes such a strong stance on fidelity and monogamy when so many in our culture celebrate sex before marriage, adultery, and all sorts of non-monogamous relationships. If the job of the church is to affirm the world as it is, then wouldn’t we have to affirm promiscuity too? It’s not a big jump from Rob’s comments on accepting homosexuality to accepting promiscuity:
It is time for the church to acknowledge that we have brothers and sisters who are promiscuous and want to share their life with multiple people. This is a part of the modern world and we should affirm that. Some people are promiscuous and want to share their life with more than one person, and they should be able to. That’s how the world is, and we should affirm that.
So, on the one hand, the church is to stand apart from the world and call people to repentance – a radical change of lifestyle (from promiscuity that is destructive and dangerous to fidelity that is shalom-creating). But on the other hand, the church must affirm the world and embrace the choices of our gay and lesbian friends because that’s just the way the world is. Make sense to you? Me neither.
3. Rob uses the commands of the Old Testament Law that Christians do not follow today (wearing different kinds of fabric, etc.) to disregard the Old Testament regulations about human sexuality (except for promiscuity, see above). For an articulate response to this line of thinking, please read Tim Keller’s blog post on “Making Sense of Scripture’s ‘Inconsistency’.”
4. Andrew does an excellent job of showing the beauty of repentance within the Christian community:
We just baptized a number of gay men in our church recently. It’s just wonderful.
But each one of them is saying, “But now, when I get baptized, I die to the old me. I rise again to the new me that is Christ-shaped, that’s eschatologically-informed and transformed. Resurrection life which is a completely different type of creature. A lot of the desires I have had, a lot of the things which I’ve wanted to do, I – like Paul did in the season in which he wrote 1 Corinthians, and like Jesus did – I put on hold sexual desires. I die to a lot of the things I want, in order to follow Christ. And I rise to new life…”
We look and say, “What does Christ-shaped new creation look like?” We’ve got gay guys in our church (and women as well) who say, “Dying to my old life and being risen again to new life in Christ means dying to all the acts of the flesh, including some of the sexual things that – yes, I wanted to do them, just like lots of people want to have sex with lots of people, some may want to have sex with two or three people simultaneously, that doesn’t mean I’m okay to do that. It means I am just like anyone else (greed or desires to slander or swindle) regarding any number of other sins. We say those things die with me. We repent and get baptized.”
To not put that in front of someone is to say, “You can have the kingdom, but if it costs too much, we’ll just lower the asking price…”