Rob Bell Calling out Bullshit

I’m not one to swear often. I generally only do if I really feel like it is the best way to say what needs to be said. But I believe that Rob Bell was right about calling bullshit what it is recently on the UK talk radio show Unbelievable. It was near the end of a tour promoting his new book, he’s visibly exhausted, and the other guest as well as the host (who usually does a great job of moderating in a way that seems fair) just went after him on his position about same-sex marriage. Eventually he responds by saying that it is this kind of bullshit that scares people away from the church.

Here’s a longer clip for context:

I highly suggest not reading the comments on that YouTube video. It’s depressing and more of the exact same bullshit that Bell was pointing out.

I’m not saying that he should have said it on a radio show that airs in the middle of a Saturday when kids could be listening (I don’t know if there was a delay which allowed for cutting it out), but he was definitely right in calling it as he did. That is the type of bullshit that scares people away from the church. If you don’t think so, you aren’t paying attention. This isn’t just about homosexuality, but this attitude in general really turns people away. It’s that attitude that every single question is equal weight, and if you’re wrong, you’re not a real Christian. In short, it’s judgementalism. It’s the opposite of that amazing grace which Christians claim is near the centre of their faith. The other guest and the host kept holding back from quite saying that Bell was not a real Christian but it oozed from their tone that they were sure they were better than him. And this turns off a lot of people who maybe otherwise would have been interested in Jesus, who approached people in the exact opposite way. It’s pervasive in large parts of Christian culture and can come in theological, moral, ritual, or political flavours.

I debated for a bit whether Rob should have just said, “no, I don’t think the Bible says it is a sin” which maybe would have shut up the attacks. Interestingly, I’ve never heard him actually say that. He just constantly affirms the need to love LGBT persons. It is true that he never really did answer the repeated questions here either. Critics have pounced on it and call him evasive for it. But I don’t really think it would have helped. The sense I got from the other guest and the host was that they would have kept attacking. If Rob offered up some scholarly analysis of arsenokoites and malekoi, or talked about interpreting levitical laws or Romans 1 in a more contextually sensitive way, it probably wouldn’t really matter.

That’s because Rob, I think, was trying to make a higher point: how do we treat each other despite our differences? The greatest heresy, after all, is failure to love. Whether sex with somebody of the same gender is a sin was way down the list for the biblical writers and I think should be way down the list for us. At best the other guest and the host would have thoughtfully engaged if Rob presented the scholarship which is pretty easy to find, but even then the conversation is stuck firmly in the realm of judgementalism. It would still be about rich white straight guys determining for LGBT persons who they are and are not allowed to have sex with.

I genuinely think that, like Bell was saying, we need to start with love. Love for people like us and love for people who are different. Love for people inside our religious circles and love for people outside. Love for people, not for political stances on issues. That’s what the LGBT debate needs.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.

  • Andrew Mugford

    The problem is that Rob went on an apologetics show not willing to defend his position in the traditional style of apologetics. He comes across as more of a politician, sticking to his message, instead of answering a straight question. That more than anything, is what I find/found frustrating about him.

    I think he’s right in terms of pointing out the centrality of the eucharist as a symbol of unity and seeming to question whether we should divide over the point of homosexual unions. He’s also right in terms of what scares people away – but come on Rob, give a straight answer.

    • Yes, the point that it is an apologetics show is a fair critique. It’s pretty predictable that they would be pushing for concrete specific questions in an aggressive manner (at least that the other guest would; Justin, the host, is usually pretty fair). Maybe he shouldn’t have been on the show at all, but here’s the tough question: how do you help people elevate the conversation otherwise? In more personal settings that can happen a lot better, so maybe he (and others like me who are trying to do the same thing) should just be avoiding the public debate format in general.

      • Andrew Mugford

        Or find a way to make it your own, or host their own… it just didn’t seem to work. (and it is hard to think that Rob didn’t know what he was getting into; he received a worse thrashing about Love Wins on the same show). If you don’t listen carefully you’ll miss the good points he was making.

        • Yes, and Love Wins in my opinion was a similar attempt to elevate the conversation. And a lot of people completely missed it.

          • Andrew Mugford

            Is he in Hellbound? I haven’t had a chance to watch it yet.

          • I haven’t watched it since the Toronto screening, but from what I remember he isn’t in it at all but he is referenced at some point. The film started before the whole Love Wins controversy but since it put the question back on the table for people, probably really helping the success of Hellbound?, it does mention Bell and the controversy.

  • Dar Win

    Rob Bell comes across as one confused person attempting to talk theology while mixing the Bible with Satan thinking.