Rachel Held Evans is my spiritual soul mate. I first heard of her when “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” was released and she was on the morning talk shows trying to explain to confused journalists how and why she spent a full 12 months living every biblical instruction for women as literally as possible. Some called her a fundamental nut. Others said she was making a mockery of the Bible. It’s pretty rare for a person to be accused of being two polar opposites. It was clear that she was courting controversy and I love that.
My mom gave me Rachel’s first book “Evolving in Monkey Town after she read “Womanhood” upon my recommendation. “Monkey Town” is resonating with me on a frighteningly deep level. Rachel went to William Jenning Bryan College in Dayton, Tennessee, home of the famous Scopes trial. As befits a college named after the man who tried to defend creationism in the Scopes courtroom and fought secularism his whole life, Bryan College taught Rachel a “biblical worldview.” Everything – from economics to literature – can be learned with a Biblical base and she was taught to question every non-Christian belief before she even personally encountered them. She is essentially describing my high school. She even mentions my textbooks and talks about performing skits mocking the New Age movement. It is EERIE. Most significant to me however, is that she describes a crisis of faith that I have begun to experience in the past few years. Why does a “Biblical worldview” bear such strange parallel to a “Republican worldview?” When having a conversation with an actual human person, does saying “So you are saying there is absolute right and wrong? Where do you think that comes from?” when they bring up the injustice of a rape/murder case ever not stop a conversation dead in its tracks? When looking at the world in terms of black and white absolutes, where does that leave mercy, grace, or compassion of any kind?
One section in this book especially struck me. After watching the execution of a Muslim woman, Rachel finds herself wrestling with the question of salvation. Zarmina was accused of murdering her abusive husband and despite the lack of evidence, was shot in the head by the Taliban. According to everything Rachel (and I) have been taught, this woman should be burning in hell right now. After a lifetime of punishment by a cruel world, she now faces the wrath of God.
“That’s not fair. How was she supposed to know any different? All her life she was taught that Islam is the one true religion, just like we were taught all our lives that Christianity is the only true religion? God didn’t really give her a chance.”
“Isn’t that why missionaries are so important,” Sarah (Rachel’s roommate) asked.
“Yes, but missionaries can’t get to everyone in time. There are millions of people, past and present, who have had no exposure to Christianity at all. Are we supposed to believe that five seconds after Jesus rose from the dead, everyone on earth was responsible for that information? How is a guy living in, I don’t know, Outer Mongolia in 15 AD supposed to figure out that Jesus died on the cross for his sins, was buried, and rose again on the first day. It’s impossible.”
It is impossible. I’ve asked this question and people always point to that line that Paul wrote that says that people are without excuse because of how beautiful the world is, or something like that. But that isn’t really talking about Jesus, specifically. It’s more about the existence of a God who created the universe. Well, other religions are kind of all about that. There isn’t a culture that is founded on atheism. So then are we saying that it isn’t the right God, so it doesn’t count? Native Americans who worshiped a Great Spirit while Paul preached in Greece are all just doomed because they weren’t born in the right place? Or the right time?
I think about another incident with Paul, where he saw a monument made “To A God Unknown.” He looks at his audience and says, “This is the same God I worship. You’ve been worshiping Him all along, you just didn’t know His name.”
Jesus never said we were supposed to have all the answers. That isn’t how Christians are supposed to be defined. Let them know us by our love. In my experience, the people who always have an answer, who feel the need to “fight the culture,” and “spread the truth,” are some of the least loving people around.