Wednesday, March 07, 2012

R.H.E. & Christian blindspots

Rachel Held Evans

I'm a devoted reader of the Rachel Held Evans blog  in which a youthful pilgrim from Tennessee, rising from what some call "evangelical" Christianity, keeps asking inconvenient questions or posing inconvenient assertions about some of her tradition's assumptions.

Is she part of the "emerging" church? Darned if I know. What the heck does "emerging" mean? And then I'm darned if I know exactly what "evangelical" means either, although the origin of the term in the Greek word "evangelion," meaning "good news" or "gospel" is fairly straightforward.

Theoretically, any expression of Christianity could claim the designation evangelical, but Protestant reformers seem to have co-opted the word to distinguish themselves from the Roman Catholic tradition they were leaving intentionally or inadvertently, Luther among them.

To be a member of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), however, is not quite the same as being a member of the Evangelical Free Church. It all gets very confusing.

I usually think, whether accurately or not, of evangelical churches in the broad sense as exclusivist, non-liturgical Bible literalists who in the past sent forth folks to share their version of the good news, people generally known as evangelists at home and missionaries abroad.

That latter effort now seems to have been largely abandoned, however, and evangelicals have shifted the  focus to campaigning instead for Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich.


Anyhow, Held Evans waded this week into the Sandra Fluke/Rush Limbaugh situation in a post entitled "Rush Limbaugh and three evangelical blind spots." Here's a summary of the three blind spots she identifies:

1. Politics: "... evangelicalism has become so intertwined with conservative politics that it can be hard to tell at times where Republicanism begins and evangelicalism ends."

2. Women: "...  evangelicals, for all our good work in fighting sex trafficking and the exploitation of women around the world, often fail to see the sexism that pervades our own church corridors."

3. Sex: "There does not seem to exist a vocabulary within evangelicalism with which to talk about men and women who are sexually active, but not promiscuous."

It's an interesting post which drew, before she closed the comment thread, 325 postable responses, small stuff when compared against the verbal slugfests at more secular sites but a signficant number in the relatively esoteric fath-based blogosphere.

I'm going to go ahead and close the comment thread on this post because a few folks seem rather eager to prove my point there, and I'm tired of reading and deleting this stuff. (In just one day, through comments and email, I've personally been called a "slut", a "whore," a "feminazi," a "whiny feminist," a c**t, and a "dirty tramp." I expect a call from the president shortly.), Held Evans wrote as a postscript.


There's nothing in the Held Evans post that I'd disagree with, but it's useful to remember that the broader spectrum of Christianity is prone to these blind spots, too. There have been numerous costly slugfests in the Episcopal church, for example, about first women priests and then women bishops.

I'd also broaden the third blind spot, sex, to include the general church's relationship with LGBT people, another hot issue among evangelicals and others in this and recent election cycles.

Ordination of an honest gay man as bishop, for example, sent thousands of Episcopalians off into other more conservative denominations or into new "Anglican" congregations, a move complicated by the fact dissident Episcopalians are not allowed to take the family silver (or building) with them when they go (although some continue to try).

Similar divisive situations have developed more recently within the ELCA and the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as both moved a little closer to full inclusion of LGBT people. And should the United Methodist Church follow official suit, I'd guess a slugfest worthy of Baptists could follow.


Our weekly Bible study sessions always focus on the lessons for the Sunday following, including this week the temple cleansing narrative as recorded in John's Gospel.

So we got to talking --- If you look upon the Christian Church (universal) as the current temple, just what is it that Jesus would drive out? And how would Rachel Held Evans's three blindspots fit into the equation?

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