I read Dr. Joel McDurmon post, “Rachel Held Evans Has a Rude Awakening”. It is written for The American Vision blog: a Biblical Worldview Ministry. Their statement of faith begins with their doctrine of scripture. They believe the bible is inspired, inerrant, infallible, the authoritative Word of God written, and that it is to be believed in all that it teaches. McDurmon’s post was in response to Rachel Held Evans‘ poignant, “What Now?”, her response to the recent World Vision debacle.
I would like to use McDurmon’s post to explain why the church is in trouble. I will outline his opinion of Rachel Held Evans, demonstrate why he believes this makes her a liberal and therefore not Christian, and then offer my own thoughts on what this means for the church.
To say McDurmon doesn’t have a very good opinion of Held Evans is an understatement. I will use his own words as much as possible, reminding you that these are all explicitly or implicitly stated and are all negatives from his perspective: He believes she is too emotional; she’s operating from her anima (meaning she’s too feminine); she loves too much; cries; pouts; stomps out of rooms when she doesn’t get her way; shouldn’t talk about World Vision because she really doesn’t know what happened there like he does since he has an inside source; she’s in a crisis of faith; reactionary; needs good therapy; is asleep and needs to wake up; welcomes everyone; promotes gender equality; an LGBT advocate; rebellious; just wants to party; her writing is hackneyed and snarky; more compassionate than God’s law; more welcoming than God; nicer than Jesus; not self-aware; believes in diversity and tolerance; suppresses the voice of conservative values; squashes God’s law; intolerant of people she disagrees with; she needs to take biblical exegesis, biblical ethics, systematic theology and church history; and she needs to stop writing. In a sentence, McDurmon’s seems to think she is an emotional, uneducated and open-minded woman who needs to keep her mouth shut.
For McDurmon, this puts Held Evans in the liberal court. What he thinks the World Vision debacle did was out her as a liberal. She always was but she just didn’t know it. He claims that she’s been trying to hide out in the evangelical camp but has always just been a good old liberal. Anybody who wants gender equality, LGBT respect and recognition, and is interested in being inclusive, is a liberal. Stack on top of this that she is female, emotional and uneducated only condemns her further. He’s thankful for the World Vision scandal because it exposed her and other LGBTQ sympathizers. He suggests this tactic should be intentionally employed more often to separate the sheep from the goats:
“I for one am grateful that at least one organization stood its ground, bucked some liberals, and sent one crypto-liberal into the light to reveal her true colors. I say it’s time we did it across the board.”
To McDurmon, atheists and liberals are cut from the same cloth and insists that they won’t win. He suggests liberals aren’t even Christians when he says that they and atheists will lose because they don’t take the bible as literally as a blueprint, but “Christians win” because they do. He delights in the World Vision fallout because it further purified the true evangelical strain.
“Folks, in the end, the meek will inherit the earth—the earth. And no atheist, not (sic) liberal can say otherwise. The Christians win, and we will win here. And the Bible is your Blueprint for that victory.”
I hope this has been a fair assessment of McDurmon’s opinion of Rachel Held Evans and the kind of people he thinks she represents.
I’d like to talk about why Rachel Held Evans cried, or, what this means for Christianity and the church. McDurmon articulates clearly three main issues that contributes to so many leaving the church. They are that he advocates literalism, sexism, and exclusivity.
McDurmon’s opposes the bible against the body. Insistence that the bible should be taken as literally as a blueprint takes precedence over unity. I claim that we are all already one, united in what is deeply essential, and that it is only thought that seems to separate us. McDurmon would like to make this apparent separation real by emphasizing exactness in evangelical thought birthed from a thoroughly evangelical, biblical exegesis. Because Held Evans does not believe the bible in the same way he does, or is at least willing to consider options, he consigns her to wander in the liberal wilderness. Held Evans seems to be willing to talk in order to try to arrive at a mutual understanding, or at least a mutual settlement where both allow for the position of the other in order to preserve the union. McDurmon is not. He has a divisive view of humanity and he will use his biblical exegetical theology to foster this division.
McDurmon also comes across as a sexist, pitting animus against anima. His obvious hostility (animus) against the anima, his apparent lack of respect for women, his ridicule of emotion, his mockery of openness, inclusion, and tolerance, all betray a breach in his own personality between the masculine and the feminine that demands enforcement in his world. It is typical traditional values to raise cool logic over emotion, male over female, mind over heart, precision over openness, law over grace, and intolerance over tolerance. But mix these together and you concoct severe issues with women, LGBTQ folks, other religions, atheists, and anyone who you think is different than you.
Finally, McDurmon sets homogeneity against diversity. He is an exclusivist. He has a very certain understanding of the bible and everyone else should agree. He takes it literally and so should we. He is highly educated and sees everyone separated by very distinct lines drawn by beliefs, mere thoughts that reside in his mind. There are atheists, liberals, real evangelicals and false ones, and Christians… and there are women, educated people and uneducated people, writers and non-writers, real evangelicals or Christians and the rest are just plain atheist, liberals or closet liberals or crypto-liberals, etcetera. His unfortunate mistake is that he believes we are all separated by our differing beliefs and that if we would only all agree with one another or with him then we would all be united. The truth is we are already united, already one, and that it is our thoughts and beliefs that only seem to separate us. This is only an illusion, an illusion he subscribes to, and he stimulates the appearance of division around him to sustain his divisive beliefs.
McDurmon wants to become even more definite, more discriminatory, more exclusive and more divisive. His concern for biblical accuracy, his elevation of animus over anima, and his inability to find unity in diversity draws a very black and white world that more and more people question and flee from. Biblical literalism, discrimination and exclusivity won’t work. We reject these because we see them as enemies of love, peace and happiness.
Rachel Held Evans expresses legitimate heartfelt concern about what’s happening to the church. On the one hand there is movement to become more open, inclusive and equal. But on the other hand it also seems to be becoming more and more literalist, sexist, discriminatory and divisive. She wants open dialog and mutual respect, and would like to see the tradition in which she was raised and obviously still loves continue to embrace her as she endeavors to re-articulate theology, expand the church’s borders, and open its doors to more and more people who have been marginalized and even excluded. Like her, I’m not sure her vision will be realized within the church’s walls.
But I must admit: I prefer tears of frustrated disappointment to a logic that is cold, discriminatory and exclusive. The truth is, as more people like Rachel Held Evans promote openness, the reaction will be to become more closed, like McDurmon.
I left the ministry four years ago because I found McDurmon’s position too prevalent and I could no longer function freely under it. I chose the wilderness. I don’t care what others call it… liberal or lost. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve come to the conclusion that McDurmon’s attitude, though it holds sway in the world and its institutions such as the church, is not really true even though it sometimes seems to be. I have discovered, as Held Evans has expressed, that it isn’t inside the church where we all can gather, but outside the gates and in the wilderness. I used to try, like her and almost all young theologians and ministers, to reform the church to become more open-minded, less discriminatory and more inclusive, only to be met with stubbornness and even hostility. Instead, I’ve discovered that out here we are already equal, already included, and already one. Even though there are churches that see this and try to live accordingly, there will always be a remnant who refuse to.
Rachel Held Evans cried, and I understand why.