Why does Rachel Held Evans hate the Bible?

January 21, 2014

What? You say I’m being unfair to her? You say that there’s a better, more reasonable, more nuanced explanation for her disagreeing with me (and most of the universal Church) on the question of human sexuality than believing that she hates the Bible?

Ah, who cares? I’ll just frame her dissent from Christian orthodoxy in the worst possible light.

In doing so, I’m simply borrowing a page from the RHE Playbook.

Take, for instance, this very popular blog post from late last month, “Everyone’s a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring Up Gluttony.” (I know it was popular because many of my liberal clergy colleagues on Facebook linked to it approvingly.) If you read her book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, as I did (and blogged and preached about it), or have read her blog, as I have for the past four years, you’ll know what she’s up to.

She’s a gifted and funny writer who risks squandering her talent making the same argument over and over. Not that her many readers (if only I had her audience!) seem to mind.

And what’s her argument? In the form of a syllogism, it is the following (which I’m borrowing from Glenn Peoples, who isn’t speaking about Evans, but may as well be):

  1. If you interpret a biblical passage in a way that means that its instruction does apply to us today, then you are logically committed to thinking that all instructions that were ever given in the Bible apply to us today with equal force.
  2. Most evangelical Christians (not to mention most of the universal Church) interpret biblical passages that speak about sexual acts between members of the same sex apply to us today.
  3. Therefore most evangelical Christians are logically committed to thinking that all instructions that were ever given in the Bible apply to us today with equal force.

What’s wrong with this argument? The first premise.

Just because you think that a biblical instruction applies to us today doesn’t commit you to thinking that all instructions should apply today. You may instead have a principled reason for thinking that one instruction applies while another doesn’t. And your reason comes down to that 50-cent seminary word hermeneutics—the science of interpretation.

Now, to be clear: Rachel Held Evans knows this. She knows that everyone isn’t a biblical literalist—not even close! (Or is she willing to argue, say, that Pope Francis is also a biblical literalist?) By the end of Biblical Womanhood, she offers intelligible hermeneutical reasons why, for instance, Christians don’t think that Paul’s prohibition against women speaking in church applies today. And even in the “Gluttony” post, after ranting about shellfish, head coverings, and divorce, she says, “While there are certainly important hermeneutical and cultural issues at play, I can’t help but wonder if something more nefarious is also at work…”

Please tell us, Ms. Evans: what exactly are those “important hermeneutical and cultural issues”?

Cue crickets chirping.

In one blog post after another, she plays dumb on the issue of hermeneutics. And she’s not dumb.

Yet she continues to imply (even in her post yesterday) that people like me and the United Methodist Church who support the orthodox Christian position on homosexuality must be hypocritical Bible-thumping literalists. It drives me crazy.

(By the way, I’m using “literalist” the way Evans uses it. I believe in interpreting scripture literally, if and when the author intends to be taken that way. For example, I can interpret Paul’s words about women covering their heads literally, even while arguing against its universal application.)

I agree completely with Glenn Peoples that the classic (and misguided) arguments about slavery and shellfish don’t apply to the issue of homosexuality. I highly recommend that you read this post.

7 Responses to “Why does Rachel Held Evans hate the Bible?”

  1. Zak McIntyre Says:

    Thanks for the post. I appreciate Rachel, but those arguments aren’t convincing to me (shellfish). The ones that I struggle with are the uses of the Greek words translated as “homosexual”. It appears as if they don’t hold up very well under serious study. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

    • brentwhite Says:

      I’ve read those arguments, too. I don’t find them persuasive, to say the least. Those arguments hinge on the ancient world’s understanding (or lack thereof) of homosexuality as a relatively fixed orientation, with all the nuances that the modern word “homosexual” (coined in the 19th century) conveys.

      OK, fine. But I don’t see the difference it makes.

      In other words, it’s unimportant whether Paul or other biblical writers appreciated homosexuality as an orientation (and I have no idea whether they did or not; we modern people can’t get always inside the heads of the ancients to know exactly what they thought). We know for sure that the Bible condemns same-sex sexual relationships. Not the orientation toward same-sex attraction, but the actual behavior. We don’t have to act on our attractions. The behavior is what counts.

      Paul’s argument in Romans 1 doesn’t depend on any disputed word for “homosexuality.” He’s very clear to be talking about behavior. And his argument looks back to the beginning, Genesis 1-2, and God’s intentions for Creation itself. We traditionalists, therefore, are hardly proof-texting when we cite Romans 1!

      I wrote this post a while back which still reflects my best thinking on the subject: https://revbrentwhite.com/2012/09/27/adam-hamiltons-recent-sermon-on-homosexuality/

      • Tom Griffith Says:

        If Rachel Held Evans makes you so upset, why do you even bother to pay attention to her? What keeps her going is response. The more who respond, the more she writes of what you do not like. Why are you feeding her “keep it going” routine?

      • brentwhite Says:

        Tom, I doubt my little blog would affect her life or career one way or another. Regardless, it’s not so much about RHE as it is the widespread idea that we Christians arbitrarily pick and choose what parts of the Bible we follow. I hear this argument frequently. It’s not a good argument, and RHE gives me an opportunity to say why.

      • Tom Griffith Says:

        It has been my experience that just about everybody picks and chooses what parts of the Bible they choose to follow. Here’s my experiential take on this:
        With regard to the Hebrew Testament, Liberals pay more attention to the prophets & Wisdom Literature, while conservatives pay more attention to the Torah.
        With regard to the New Testament Epistles, conservatives pay more attention to the Pauline Epistles (excepting 1st Corinthians) & the Book of Revelation, while Liberals pay more attention to the Book of Acts, 1st Corinthians, Ephesians and the Pastoral letters.
        With regard to the Gospels: liberals pay more attention to the Synoptics, while conservatives pay more attention to the Gospel of John.
        Finally, it has been my experience that any church that puts the phrase “full Gospel” in its title or tag line will preach a narrower range of gospel passages than this lectionary-following liberal pastor preaches.

  2. brentwhite Says:

    All of us emphasize some scripture more than others. I think that’s your point. But that’s not really what I mean. I rarely ever read Jude or 2 or 3 John but I nevertheless recognize that they are sacred scripture and God’s Word.

    My point is that we have principled reasons for following or not following certain commandments in scripture and it isn’t (usually) arbitrary: we have principled reasons. Merely responding, “Yes, but the Bible also says we shouldn’t eat shellfish,” doesn’t prove that the Church is being inconsistent when it insists, nevertheless, that we need to obey these other parts of scripture.

  3. Tom Harkins Says:

    I read Peoples’ blog post as you suggested, liked it, downloaded it! Clearly the question is whether there is a “principled” basis to, as some put it, “pick and choose” which biblical “constraints” we are required to follow presently. The Bible itself makes it perfectly clear that not all are intended for all, all the time–circumcision, sacrificial laws, etc. So, the only question is, how sound a “hermeneutic” are you using. Never has been “all or nothing.” But, can’t “throw out the baby with the bathwater”!


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