My Frustrations with Bell, Clinton, and Obama on Marriage Equality

The Gospel call is to stand up and respond to perceived injustice as soon as you recognize it as such, not when it’s more personally, professionally or politically advantageous to do so.

I know this may not be a popular position to take among my readers. After all, the last time I wrote anything even remotely critiquing or questioning Rob Bell, I got scathing responses. Oh, if folks only got so passionate about other things like, say, poverty.

Anyway, I’m a real fan of Rob Bell. I think he’s taken some bold steps in his career, and his accessible way of taking on complex, challenging theological ideas has made a big difference for a lot of people. I’m also glad that he recently made public comments in support of marriage equality. It’s the timing of it all that bothers me.

Back when Bell’s book, Love Wins, came out, Bell got raked over the proverbial coals by fellow evangelicals for his arguably liberal stance on the afterlife and God’s judgment. Around the same time, he parted ways with Mars Hill — his church at the time — moved west and began reinventing himself. At a recent talk at San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral, he was asked about his stance on gay marriage, to which he offered this response:

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.

First of all, I applaud Bell’s candor. Despite the fact that many conservative evangelicals abandoned him after Love Wins, he still has a massive following and has much potentially to lose. That said, I’m frustrated that it’s taken this long for him to come to this position in a public way. Yes, he could have “evolved” on the matter as President Obama says he has, but based on my second-hand knowledge of Bell, I expect he’s felt this way for some time.

Of course there are plenty of detractors even now, but with nearly 60% of the American public in support of marriage equality, and with an overwhelming majority of those under 35 showing their support, it’s hardly a game-changer to make such statements now.

I feel more or less the same about President Obama* and Hillary Clinton coming forward in support of marriage equality when they did. Again, I’m glad they did, but their timing leaves something to be desired. Clinton waited until she was no longer in public office to make her statement, and Obama is no longer facing another election, so suffice it to say they’re both in fairly comfortable positions when it comes to public opinion. But as I’ve written before, when a person of power and privilege takes a tough stand on matters of social justice, it means much more for them to do it when they risk losing much in the process.

I’m not calling on Rob Bell, Hillary Clinton, and the President to be martyrs for marriage equality. But in waiting as all of them did until only recently, it suggests as an implied subtext that, yes, this was important. Just maybe not as important as other personal endeavors first. The Gospel call is to stand up and respond to perceived injustice as soon as you recognize it as such, not when it’s more personally, professionally or politically advantageous to do so.

As a side note, I still think that the whole same-sex marriage debate is misguided. If we were to divest the states of the power to marry, giving them only authority over civil unions, even a healthy cross-section of conservatives would support a move to include same-sex couples. Let churches and couples deem for themselves what marriage means and if they want to engage in a ritual to affirm that publicly. But rather than fight over the definition of what “marriage” means, I’m far more concerned about the ongoing denial of equal rights to millions in our midst in the meantime.

*NOTE: Although he has not yet pursued or supported any legislation to this effect, President Obama did speak publicly in support of gay marriage in May 2012.

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About Christian Piatt

Christian Piatt is the creator and editor of BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting called PregMANcy: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

Christian Blogs for Patheos, Huffington Post, Sojourners and others.

For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter (www.twitter.com/christianpiatt) or Facebook (www.facebook.com/christianpiattauthor).

Comments

  1. Angus Porridge says:

    What’s a “gospel”, and why is it more important than people’s right to live happy lives?

  2. “I’m glad they did, but their timing leaves something to be desired. Clinton waited until she was no longer in public office to make her statement, and Obama is no longer facing another election, so suffice it to say they’re both in fairly comfortable positions when it comes to public opinion.”

    Just want to point out that Obama voiced his support for marriage equality right smack dab in the middle of the 2012 election. So he was definitely taking a risk. Mind, I’m sure he had his people analyzing poll data to determine whether the risk was worth it, and they decided it would probably score him more points than he would lose.

    But basically, yeah, I’m in agreement with your article.

  3. Since pre-marital sex is a sin, should marriage be denied to any non-virgins?

    Since the only valid reason for divorce is adultery, should divorce only be granted in the event that one spouse cheats on the other?

    Or, did Jesus die for everyone’s sins, regardless of what they are?

  4. Maybe they were scared, probably for selfish reasons. Probably the same reasons why polls show majority support for gay marriage but our media does not. It is easy to anonymously pledge support then to say it to the face of someone carrying a gun and anger problems, or worse, a family that could reject you. It is not right but it is a challenge we all who are not in very supportive communities can face.

    I saw Bell in Denver on Tuesday. He was asked if the media misinterpreted his stance on gay marriage. He interrupted the man asking the question to say that he does support gay marriage. The crowd followed with a lot of cheers and a couple “boos” including someone yelling heretic at Bell. It was the first time I had seen anyone be so upfront about their stance in the Christian community. I was excited and it was slightly freeing and then my next thought was “I’m scared for him.” I know the hate pouring into you “inbox,” the threats his probably been receiving since Loves Wins have now doubled. This is the truth of our time, the moment you stand up for something controversial you are raided by anonymous hate and threats, and even if you know that’s all they are, it is scary!

    Is it selfish? Of course, but is it not also entirely human? I know for me, hearing a Christian leader (finally) publicly confirmed his belief that we should support gay marriage has started ridding me of my own fears. So yes, their motives maybe selfish or a little late, but that doesn’t change that they are important and even needed. Hopefully these voices will start becoming louder than the hate.

  5. I think it’s easy for those of us outside politics and government to make these kinds of criticisms because we don’t have to deal with the complexities. For either of the Clintons to come out in support of marriage equality would have mobilized opponents of marriage equality on a massive scale. Fundraising would have gone through the roof. In some ways, it would have been the worst thing imaginable for the marriage equality lobby. Hilary would have made the ideal poster child for the anti-gay marriage movement. It’s even possible that it would have delayed the cultural shit that we’re seeing now. It stinks of politics and I wish things were different, but I don’t fault them for making a necessary strategic move.

    Bell’s situation is, of course, different, but I feel for the guy on a more human level. Even before Love Wins, he was a regular target for the some folks on the far right. The guy has nerves of steel when it comes to voicing convictions others will find unpopular, but how much do we expect him to take? I don’t fault him for thinking, “Maybe come out for gay marriage after I catch my breath from the Love Wins thing so I don’t pop another blood vessel.”

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