What Ever Happened to Rob Bell, the Pastor Who Questioned the Gates of Hell?

Pastor Rob Bell from “The Rob Bell Show.” Photo courtesy of Harpo Studios Inc / RNS.

Rob Bell was once the evangelical It Boy, the hipster pastor with the thick-rimmed glasses and the skinny jeans whose best-selling theology was captured in books with names such as “Velvet Elvis” and “Sex God.”

By 2006, the Chicago Sun-Times wondered aloud whether the Michigan megachurch pastor could be the next Billy Graham.

And then he went to hell.

In 2011, his book “Love Wins” pushed the evangelical envelope on the nature of heaven, hell, and salvation. Many dismissed him as a modern-day heretic, unwilling to embrace traditional evangelicals beliefs about the hereafter.

Sexual Revolution Is Destroying Families, Russell Moore Tells Vatican Conference

Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore, right. Photo via Adelle M. Banks/RNS.

Prominent U.S. evangelicals Russell Moore and Rick Warren blasted the sexual revolution at a Vatican conference Nov. 18 and said it is destroying the institution of marriage.

Moore, the public face of the Southern Baptist Convention, said sexual liberation had created “a culture obsessed with sex” that had simply led to a “boredom of sex shorn of mystery.”

“Western culture now celebrates casual sexuality, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, family redefinition and abortion right as part of a sexual revolution that can tear down old patriarchal systems,” Moore told a global gathering of leaders from Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and other faiths as part of the “Complementarity of Man and Woman” conference convened by Pope Francis.

The Southern Baptist ethicist said the sexual revolution appeared to have imposed a new patriarchy that enabled men to “pursue a Darwinian fantasy of the predatory alpha male” for the pursuit of “power, prestige, and personal pleasure.”

“Does anyone really believe these things will empower women and children?” he asked. “We see the wreckage of sexuality as self-expression all around us, and we will see more yet.”

Southern Baptists, LGBT Activists Happily Coexist, but for How Long?

Al Mohler speaks to conference attendees. Photo courtesy of Rocket Republic, via ERLC National Conference/RNS.

When Southern Baptists convened a national conference in Nashville, Tenn., this week to discuss issues of human sexuality, bringing conservative evangelicals and LGBT Christian activists into the same ballroom was a recipe ripe for potential fireworks.

Perhaps the most shocking thing was how few fireworks there were.

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission was clear: Sex is reserved between a man and a woman within the bonds in marriage. And openly gay evangelicals in attendance were equally clear: Homosexuality is not incompatible with Christianity.

No concessions were made, but leaders on both sides expressed surprise at how the two agreed to coexist. Put another way: The old emphasis on “Love the sinner, hate the sin” has become more a version of simply “Love all sinners. Ask questions later.”

“I do want to apologize to the gay and lesbian community on behalf of my community and me for not standing up against abuse and discrimination directed towards you. That was wrong and we need your forgiveness,” said North Carolina megachurch pastor J.D. Greear, drawing applause.

“We have to love our gay neighbor more than our position on sexual morality.”

3 Reasons I Wouldn't Send My Daughter to a Christian School

Stephen Kiers /

Public or private? Stephen Kiers /

In the past few months I have come to a rather substantial conclusion: I cannot slow down time. Try as I might, my oldest daughter is now four and a half and is practically sprinting her way to "big kid school." My wife and I have been discussing this next phase of our daughter’s life. Sadly, school districts are falling into massive debt, being subjected to low performance in the classroom and even apathy in educating the next generation. Schools have become too focused on state test scores and benchmarks and have removed the art of learning from many classrooms.

Now private schools are becoming more mainstream, offering alternatives to public education, more flexibility, and more opportunities to the students. For many private schools there is a common element: they are associated with a religious group or Christian denomination. These schools started out as an extension of the ministry of the church as a way to respond to the needs of the community. But over time many popped up as a rejection of the educational system and their "removal" of God or prayer the school. Many parents see disconnect between the mainstream educational system and their Christian households.

But I see a certain danger in some of these Christian alternatives. It might sound counterintuitive for an ordained Christian minister to say, but there are a few reasons I would not send my daughter to some Christian schools.

US Cardinal Raymond Burke Mounts Defense on Catholic Teaching on Divorce

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former archbishop of St. Louis, has been an influential player in Rome. Photo via David Gibson/RNS.

Public disagreements over whether the Roman Catholic Church can change its teachings on Communion for remarried Catholics are growing sharper on the eve of a major Vatican summit, with conservatives led by U.S. Cardinal Raymond Burke making another push against loosening the rules.

In a conference call with reporters on Sept. 30, Burke, who currently heads the Vatican’s high court, singled out the leading proponent of reforms, German Cardinal Walter Kasper, and his claims that critics of his proposals are really attacking Pope Francis.

Kasper has said that the pope supports his efforts to find ways to fully reintegrate divorced and remarried Catholics into church life. The proposals have become a prime focus of the upcoming Vatican meeting, called a synod, which will convene on Oct. 5 for two weeks to consider changes in family life in the modern world.

“I find it amazing that the cardinal claims to speak for the pope,” said Burke, the former archbishop of St. Louis, speaking from Rome. “The pope doesn’t have laryngitis. The pope is not mute. He can speak for himself. If this is what he wants, he will say so.”

Will the Catholic Church Change Its Stand on Marriage and Divorce?

Pope Francis blesses new spouses with holy water. Photo by Paul Haring, courtesy of Catholic News Service/RNS.

Pope Francis made headlines this week when he officiated at the weddings of 20 couples, including  some who had been living together and a woman who has a daughter from a previous relationship.

It was the first time that the Argentine pontiff had presided over a marriage ceremony since his election and it may have also signaled a dramatic shift in Catholic Church doctrine.

Now five conservative cardinals appear to be hitting back.

In a new book to be released days before the world’s Catholic bishops gather at the Vatican for their October Synod, the hard-liners are challenging moves to moderate church doctrine on marriage and offer Communion to divorced Catholics who remarry.

The book, Remaining in the Truth of Christ: Marriage and Communion in the Catholic Church, will be published in five languages, including English and Italian, on Oct. 1.

Bigger Love: Debating Marriage and Sex Beyond Morality

Photo: Mincemeat /

A recent court ruling has thrust polygamy into the spotlight. Photo: Mincemeat /

There’s something romantic about a pair of lovebirds on the lamb, fleeing the authorities to keep their love alive. But add a few more wives, and not so much. When the first episode of “Sister Wives” aired on TLC featuring the poly-union of Kody Brown and his four co-star wives, Utah police announced the very next day that they would investigate the illegal union. Brown promptly relocated his brood to Nevada, leaving one intolerant state for another where polygamists are allowed to run free, and from there filed a complaint in a U.S. district court challenging the law that spurned their love.

After years of struggle, last month a Utah judge struck down the state’s polygamy law , decriminalizing poly-unions in the state that has endured a relentless barrage of polygamy punch lines, even during the decades where it was expressly verboten. The case will now advance to an appeals court, but conservative harbingers are already offering “I told you sos,” largely bemoaning the slide down the slippery slope of morality opened by same-sex unions.

But is morality the only way to talk about marriage and sex? Certainly the American judiciary thinks otherwise as it hammers out the constitutionality of every union under the sun. The polygamy question could broaden the discussion among evangelicals to include nuances beyond morality.

Baby Makes 3: More Unmarried New Moms Cohabiting

A mother and father holding their baby’s feet. Photo courtesy of Hannamariah via Shuttestock.

Nearly three in five births to unmarried women across the United States were to women living with their partner — marking the first time a majority of these births were to women in cohabiting relationships, according to a new analysis of federal data released Wednesday.

The increase was sharp; the percentage of nonmarital births within cohabiting relationships rose to 58 percent from 41 percent in just a few years, says the report, based on various data sources from the National Center for Health Statistics, collected between 2002 and 2013, the most recent available.

“What’s happened is the percent of nonmarital births within cohabiting unions has been increasing, but now it’s increased to the point where the majority of nonmarital births are to women that are cohabiting,” said Sally Curtin, the report’s co-author.

While the births in cohabiting relationships increased, the number, rate, and percentage of births to unmarried women overall declined during the same period.

In 2013, the total of 1,605,643 births to unmarried women was the lowest since 2005. The birthrate for unmarried women has steadily declined. 

Mommy, Minister, and Unmarried: Single Mothers in the Pulpit

Rev. Leslie Callahan, pastor of Philadelphia’s St. Paul’s Baptist Church, holds her daughter Bella. Courtesy Leslie Callahan.

When Philadelphia’s St. Paul Baptist Church hired the Rev. Leslie Callahan as its first female pastor, in 2009, she was nearing her 40th birthday and the tick-tock of her biological clock was getting hard to ignore.

She delighted in her ministry but also wanted a husband and children in her life. The husband she couldn’t do much about — he just hadn’t stepped into her life.

“But it was clear to me that I was going to do everything in my power to realize my dream of becoming a parent,” she said.

Now Callahan is mother to 22–month-old Bella, who was welcomed joyously by what the pastor describes as “a pretty traditional Baptist church.” She describes Bella’s arrival as “a divine regrouping,” a different answer to her prayers than the traditional mommy-daddy-baby model she had envisioned.

Ever since unmarried sitcom anchorwoman Murphy Brown shocked much of the country in 1991 by deciding to raise her baby on her own, the culture has changed. Once unthinkable and later unacceptable, single mothers by choice today are met with less judgment.

In fact, according to federal statistics, more than 40 percent of births are to unmarried mothers. But what if, like Callahan, the single mom by choice is a minister, or a rabbi?

Utah to Appeal Gay Marriage Case to Supreme Court

Creative Commons image by Lbrcomm

Sean Reyes is the 21st Attorney General of Utah. Creative Commons image by Lbrcomm

The Utah attorney general announced Wednesday that he will go straight to the U.S. Supreme Court to challenge an appellate ruling that declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Attorney General Sean Reyes decided to leapfrog the full 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver after a three-judge panel last month upheld a lower-court ruling and declared that the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process extend to gay men and lesbians who want to marry. It was the first time a federal appeals court had ruled on the issue.

Besides Utah, the June 25 decision applies to Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming, but the circuit court put its ruling on hold, pending appeals.