Rachel Held Evans, Owen Strachan, and the burning of our heretics

"God in Man's Image" (cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward)
“God in Man’s Image” (cartoon by nakedpastor David Hayward)

Two years ago, Rachel Held Evans wrote this post on Mary in which she wrote, “God Herself”.

On May 18, 2014, Owen Strachan, who writes for the evangelical channel on the Patheos network, wrote a post, Is Rachel Held Evans’ Use of “God Herself” Biblically Faithful?, in which he calls this heretical and calls for her repentance: “… if she will turn away from falsehood, God will immediately receive her.”

Lots of conversation took place on the blogosphere and Twitter over this.

I was talking with Kate Wallace who writes for The Junia Project and we agreed to collaborate today on this issue. I drew the above cartoon and she wrote “In the Image of Man They Created God; Male They Created Him”, a passionate and reasoned response to Strachan.

We used to burn a heretic at the stake for 3 reasons:

  1. to punish her (for her heresy)
  2. to purify her (of her heresy, as fire removes the dross)
  3. to remove her (from the community and end her influence on it)

We will not publicly burn Rachel Held Evans at the stake. But what we do now is intended to have the same effect. For the influential Strachan to publicly label Held Evans a heretic, he accomplishes the same thing:

  1. It punishes her: It is intended to cause Held Evans to suffer. We can detect the pain in Rachel’s responses because she has been singled out, publicly shamed, and treated as “other” by the evangelical community. She has been lashed by mean-spirited words.
  2. It purifies her: It is intended to cause her to see the error of her ways and thinking and force her repentance. She is expected to recant and fall back into the popularly held evangelical line. Ostracizing her is meant to make her feel sorry for what she said and cleanse her of her errors.
  3. It removes her: It is intended to point out to Strachan’s readers that she is no longer one of the evangelical community. Some might argue that she did this to herself by questioning traditional evangelical thought, thereby separating herself. I suggest that Strachan has effectively marked Held Evans as no longer one of the orthodox, as he is, and that she is now removed, alienated and estranged from her evangelical community. Strachan more than implies that she’s now dead to them.

Strachan is upset that Held Evans publicly challenges his thought and those who agree with him. He intimates that he is simply doing the same to her. But I do not see her suggesting that they are heretics or no longer a part of the family. Rather, I see her expressing sorrow that some parts of her community are unwilling to accept other parts of her community. Held Evans is attempting to open the community that Strachan is trying to limit.

Strachan and others like him draw lines deeper in the sand that separate everyone who doesn’t think like them from the truly orthodox strain they represent.


34 Replies to “Rachel Held Evans, Owen Strachan, and the burning of our heretics”

  1. And it doesn’t just happen with women, but with anyone who doesn’t hold to the dominant view of an organization or institution. I suspect that is a bit of what’s happening with Tullian T. and TGC.

  2. Russell Moore did the same thing with his comments stating that egalitarians preach a false gospel. http://bit.ly/1domQLi My Bible says those who do that are under God’s curse. (Gal 1:8-9)

    This kind of divisive talk runs contrary to the Word of the Lord. Titus 3:10-11 comes to mind.

  3. Can’t quite tell from your comment Greg…who is it you believe is preaching a “false gospel”??

  4. Thanks for this, David. So appreciate your support. (And I love the cartoon!) I did some research a few years back on what the Calvinists did to women deemed heretics in Puritan New England, and I have it pretty good comparatively! Ha! 🙂

    Oh, and you can totally call me Rachel.

  5. Thanks for supporting alternate viewpoints and Rachel Held Evans, because while not all of us can research and articulate and write as well as some of you all, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a whole host of people that don’t share the same viewpoint on many matters, I being one of them. The limiting lines and boxes the some Christians use only hurt other Christians and hurt the cause of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

  6. It’s an interesting sign to see people like Strachan trying to close ranks like this. Maybe it’s a panic over perceived dissent and disagreement over the characteristics of a god. This would imply two things:

    1) Strachan and others fear that disagreement on the gender of their god may lead to more disagreements on other imposed characteristics, which leads into the second point –

    2) These theologians, pastors, preachers, and commentators KNOW that these characteristics are arbItrary and borrowed.

    They’re afraid of anyone else realizing this.

  7. Correct me if I am wrong but isn’t it heretical to even call God a he, or even call God, God. To give a name or sex to the divine sounds very limiting and constraining of whatever it is that Christians worship. So if people are going to get fussy about someone calling the ‘divine’ a her than they sure as ‘hell’ better not refer to the ‘divine’ as a he, right? Going back even farther than Christianity and even Judaism, one discovers that many religious customs thought of the divine as feminine, as female like, but than came along the pastoral times and men began to rule the nest and place themselves up as divine, demoting anything feminine as weak and not to be trusted.

  8. Much as that is a good point that they SHOULD fear hell, the idea they have is tip keep the church dominated by men

  9. Can I just say how much I love and respect you guys?! I do! I do! RHE is inspiring! David Hayward, as always you have my heart! You go buddy. And Kate Wallace, well done!

  10. Even though I am no longer Christian, I enjoy RHE. She is openly struggling with the old ways so she can see things in a new way, all while keeping her faith. Not an easy thing to do.

  11. It is interesting that you use the term ostracize, which refers to the ancient greek practice of voting to banish a citizen because they were unpopular or too powerful. I guess I wonder from what is she being banished? She has a blog, writes books and from what I can tell (I don’t read her that much) her audience is more on the progressive side that the conservative evangelical side. Is she really a part of the evangelical club that this Owen Strachen guy represents anyway? Again, I don’t know much about her so I don’t want to sound judgy – but I just don’t understand why the bruhaha – should you be surprised when you break tradition that the tradition rejects you? I grew up Evangelical, I believe I am a bit older than she, and it is no surprise to me that if you refer to G*d in the feminine that you would suffer consequences – why is it a surprise the everyone else? This is a problem of clearly erroneous expectation. I am far more surprised by the ‘surprise’ than I am by the Evang response….

  12. Dear Rachel:

    Many faithful Christians stand with you through these discussions. Your thoughtful reflection will always be more impacting than the clanging-cymbal, know-it-all, self-proclaimed-orthodox leaders who think that yelling louder means being right. Sigh – – it’s SO tiring.

    And Dear David :

    For your stirring art and growing influence: thank you. For the ways you help us to reflect upon ourselves, the Church is in your debt.

  13. Burning at the stake, crucifixion, and other forms of public execution and humiliation were NOT primarily addressed to the condemned, but rather to serve as a warning to the masses. THIS is what will happen to you should you transgress.

    Oh, and I love that Owen has bravely disabled comments on his blog. No public disagreements with him, no siree bob.

  14. Rachel has many views that are not in line with scripture, and she admits she disagrees with many biblical teachings and the infallibility of scripture. If she has the right to call out God’s Word and be applauded for it, Christians should have a right to call her out for her words.

  15. I don’t think you got the point of what was going on. Held Evans was practically being crucified for putting up her beliefs.

    We have the right to disagree, not to make calls for persecution.

  16. I know a Guy who was crucified for His beliefs, and drawing a comparison to Rachel seems insensitive for a Christian to do.

    I went and read the article posted about Rachel, and I didn’t find any calls for persecution. He seemed fairly respectful, and only repeated what she had said. He pointed out that her views don’t fall in line with Orthodox Christianity, which Rachel would agree with. He said she rejected the bible as inerrant truth, which she would agree with. He said her views weren’t in line with Scripture, which she would agree with.

    He then called her to repent. That doesn’t seem like a big deal to me. After all, she has called out Christians for not supporting gay rights. It seems only fair that someone can call her out for not supporting the bible.

    It seems a lot of the anger is revolving around the use of the word “heresy,” a word which appeared only once and wasn’t even applied to her specifically. But what is heresy? It’s a doctrine at variance with the orthodox view. And that’s exactly what her views are.

    Honestly, all this hype is just to create publicity. The only people who are going to agree with Owen are people who believe the bible is true, and the only people who are going to side with Rachel are people who don’t. No one switched sides. Before I even knew Rachel called God “Herself,” I was aware that her views weren’t in line with the bible. When I found out, I wasn’t shocked. It was more of a, “Yeah, that doesn’t surprise me.”

    But saying that people are calling for persecution and practically crucifying her is just plain ridiculous.

  17. That you think I’m comparing her to Christ is enough to say that you’re SERIOUSLY reading into this.

    If you can’t even see the call for disregarding a woman’s opinion, then it’s obvious that you’re part of the problem. Please realize that before posting further.

  18. I didn’t follow anything you just said. Are you suggesting that Rachel is being “persecuted” because she is a woman? No one disregarded her opinions because she is a woman. People disagreed with her views because they were unbiblical. David Hayward is a man, and based on the few blog posts I’ve read from his website this morning, I disagree with him a heck of a lot more than I disagree with Rachel.

    I’m not trying to be a smart aleck or anything when I say this, but I really want to know what problem I’m a part of, and how you came to that opinion. I’m honestly seeking understanding and clarification here.

  19. I think its enough to say that you’re not seeing the picture outside of what male preachers would usually say in this kind of situation. I never compared Held Evans to Jesus, but to those who are persecuted and called her reticle because of their having a different ideas. How much you go look at the history of Baruch Spinoza? because his definition of God was for a different then that of the people he lived with, he was considered an atheist and cast out from the Jewish community. In truth he would be called a pantheist. The fact of the matter is he had a different definition of how to approach the idea of God. He was punished for it.

Comments are closed.