Response to an Open Letter to Me

Not surprisingly, yesterday’s blog post about Rob Bell and gay marriage generated a rather large response for my little blog both here and on Facebook. It also produced an open letter to me posted on another blog: An Open Letter, from one EBC pastor to a former one…

Here is my response:

Hey Mike,

Thanks for responding thoughtfully to my blog post about Rob Bell’s radio interview about gay marriage that went viral this week. I don’t think I’ve ever had anyone write an open letter to me, so I thought it might be fun to respond.

open-letterI understand that the tone of my blog post might have been disconcerting to some. When an author writes something, he or she can’t control how readers are going to read it. That being said, I know I’ve written at times with too much sarcasm or negativity. I recently took a month long break from my blog and social media to help me get into a better headspace about some of the interactions online that I had been having.

However, I don’t think I would classify this blog post with those. Here’s why.

I used the word “bullshit,” not in anger or pride, but for a couple of specific reasons. First, it is the word Rob Bell used in the interview, and I wanted to echo his sentiment. Second, admittedly, I wanted to be provocative. There is a lot of noise out there on the subjects of Rob Bell and gay marriage. I wanted my contribution to the conversation to get heard. Sometimes using an unexpected word helps with that. Third, and not least significantly, I think “bullshit” is an accurate word to describe my feelings about the way Wilson and Brierley (and many other Christians I know) try to frame this debate. As I’m sure you know, when someone calls “bullshit” on something, they are saying that something is dishonest and inaccurate. I don’t feel like my more conservative friends on this issue have been dealing with my position honestly or accurately.

As for the “raising my voice” part of my post. My intention was not to display a lack of humility, and I regret that what I said was read that way. I was trying to communicate the frustration level many of us feel when we engage in this debate. Frankly, I am sick and tired of being accused of being a Bible-hating liberal because I support same sex marriage. I have not abandoned my love and reverence for the Bible. I have not stopped studying the Bible. I don’t take God or the Bible any less seriously than I ever have. The conclusions I have come to have included serious Bible study and reflection. It is exasperating when conservative Christians think that they have a monopoly on biblical fidelity. My frustration (and subsequent cap locks) are a symptom of a debate gone wrong.

As you stated, you were not a fan of my use of the word “easily” when I said, “The Bible can easily be used to defend both sides of the debate.” Admittedly, I considered removing this adjective from this sentence before I published this post. I decided to leave it in for a couple of reasons.

First, I wanted the word “easily” to produce the reaction it has. Many conservative Christians can’t imagine how I could “easily” use the Bible to defend my position on same sex marriage because for them there is no debate about what the Bible says. For them, their position is the easy and clear one while the complicated and diluted one is the other side. I’ve heard it said a thousand times, “the clear biblical definition of marriage is one man and one woman,” but it’s not always that. Or, “Romans 1 clearly teaches that homosexuality is a sin,” but maybe it doesn’t.

As straightforwardly as you interpret the Bible, so do I. I have done language and cultural studies. I have thought about authorial intent. My use of the word “easily” is to illustrate that it does not require hermeneutical or interpretative gymnastics to find support in the Bible for either side of this debate. And that is why the debate is so complicated.

(And further, I’m not sure that I’m willing to concede that a more complicated hermeneutic is always a cause for concern. In some cases, it might be the path to a better interpretation of Scripture.)

My frustration is with conservative Christians who are framing the debate as having God on their side. Are those who interpret the Bible differently merely godless? Why should we assume that a person who is seeking God first and foremost would come to the same conclusions we do? Why would we assume that a person who is seeking first Christ and his kingdom would make the same interpretative decisions we have?

I don’t expect everyone … or anyone, for that matter … to agree with me. I’m not asking anyone to read the Bible the way I do. What I am asking for is that the debate be framed differently. It is not God, the Bible, and conservative Christians vs. Rob Bell, me, and some vast liberal agenda.

It’s disingenuous when it gets framed that way – and it does, quite frequently.

My movement on this particular issue has been motivated by my love for God and my desire to reflect the love of God in the world in which I live. As I read the Bible, over and over again, I find that God has a soft spot for the oppressed, marginalized, and rejected. I’m not sure the same can be said for God and religious leadership. I want to be where God is.

Hopefully this clarifies my position a bit. Thanks for engaging me on it.

Vanessa and I have such fond memories of our time at EBC. I’m not sure we have ever had more fun in a two year period of time than we did when we were working with the teens there. Next time I’m in the area, we need to get a coffee or a beer or something.

All the best.

Robb

 

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