What's Ringing the Robs' 'Bell'? (Part 1)

The Robsy Twins and What Drives Them

The "Robsy twins" have become the latest advocates of same-sex marriage.

One of these ideological mates is Rob Bell, a communicator with admirable skills. The former-megachurch-pastor-turned author and popular speaker, is exemplary in his passion to engage the culture with the Gospel. One doesn't have to agree with all Rob Bell's theological conclusions to respect and learn from his courageous and creative incursions into the most resistant sectors of contemporary society.

Anyone with the innovative edge to pen a book titled Velvet Elvis merits appreciation and careful consideration.

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The other Robsy twin is Senator Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, friend of small businesses, crusader against unfunded government mandates, would-be IRS reformer, and supporter of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Until recently – on the marriage issue, at least.

I don't know if the Robsy twins have met, but the two are now marching to the same drummer – or dancing to the same bell-ringer – with respect to same-sex marriage.

"I am for marriage," declared Rob Bell March 17 at San Francisco's Grace Episcopal Cathedral. In fact, Bell continued, he is so pro-marriage that he is "for fidelity… for love, whether it's a man and woman, a woman and a woman, a man and a man."

 "I have come to believe that if two people are prepared to make a lifetime commitment to love and care for each other in good times and in bad, the government shouldn't deny them the opportunity to get married," announced Senator Portman two days before Rob Bell's declaration of independence from the traditional marriage stance.

Portman acknowledged that he hadn't always "felt" that way. "As a congressman, and more recently as a senator, I opposed marriage for same-sex couples. Then something happened that led me to think through my position in a much deeper way."

The "something" was the emergence of his 26-year-old son from the closet. For the first time, said Portman, "now we had a more complete picture of the son we love."

The Robsy twins' shifts surprised many in their respective camps. Rob Bell is almost always described as an "evangelical," and Rob Portman is noted as a "conservative Republican" on most issues. In fact, rather than welcoming Portman, some same-sex marriage advocates sneered at the senator's setting up tent in their camp.

What compels such a transition of belief?

There's hardly a more distressing sound to a sailor in rough seas trying to skirt shoals and shallows in fog than the deep bong of warning buoy's bell. The greater danger for the seaman and his vessel is whirling his wheel in panic and forgetting to look at his compass.

What "bells" did the Robsy twins hear that prompted their course-change? Have they spun their ships' wheels without looking first at the compass? Have they become models for all of us responsible for guiding the craft of churches, families, schools and other institutions through the perilous cultural seas of our age? Or does their understanding of authority spin our rudders into the rocky shoals?

These are questions we will examine in this three-part series.

Rob Portman spoke frankly about his motivation. Before learning of his son's homosexuality, "my position on marriage for same-sex couples was rooted in my faith tradition," said the senator. The roots in his "faith tradition" didn't run deeply enough to block him from considering "the issue from another perspective."

Portman says he "wrestled with how to reconcile my Christian faith with my desire for Will to have the same opportunities to pursue happiness as his brother and sister."

One appreciates a person who doesn't want to jettison his "faith tradition" altogether. The quandary comes when the decision is to hammer what may be the square pegs of the "faith tradition" into the round holes of the requirements of the situation.

Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. That would not be me, or most of us probably. There was good reason Paul warned about the need to "destroy speculations" and the "lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God." (2 Corinthians 10:5)

If the "knowledge" of certain values is revealed by God, and if we seek an understanding or application of revealed truth that trumps its content, we are living by speculative rationalizations that have the appearance of being "more lofty" than the knowledge given by God.

By such a standard I cannot cast even one small pebble, for I have sinned. However, because the shoals are so near and the fog so thick, we must grapple with the questions surrounding the Robsy twins' view of authority inferred in their new concepts of marriage.

Both Rob Bell and Rob Portman believe they have found the authority that is loftier than all else. And, they would say, that authority is absolute because it comes from God's own heart.

"Love wins," said Rob Bell, in the title of one his most controversial books.

The other Robsy twin would agree. "Ultimately it came down to the Bible's overarching themes of love and compassion and my belief that we are all children of God," said Portman of his decision to support same-sex marriage,

So there's the "bell" both Robs hear – love, and its compelling authority.

But is it possible for "love" not to be so much an "overarching theme" as it is a "lofty thing" we humans manipulate to actually steer around the "shoals" we think will sink us? That's the question we will contemplate in part two in this series on the "Robsy twins" and the bells they heed.

There's so much at stake here we cannot ignore the fundamental authority issues raised by the Robsy twins' decisions.

Wallace Henley, a former Birmingham News staff writer, was an aide in the Nixon White House, and congressional chief of staff. He is a teaching pastor at Second Baptist Church, Houston, Texas. He is a regular contributor to The Christian Post.

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