Recently, Marilynne Robinson, author of several books including the Pulitzer-prize winning "Gilead," gave an interview at RNS in which she endorsed Gay marriage and paraded out a few tired liberal tropes on the issue. It was a bummer if you're an evangelical and a fan of her writing; her understanding of human nature (in her fiction) is so nuanced, yet her comments on this aspect of theology are so vapid.
But I don't actually want to deal with that here. Plenty of good work has been done to debunk this neo-liberal line of reasoning.
Instead, I want to comment on some folks' reaction to Robinson's interview, which was swift. Essentially, it was said, we can quit believing she has anything worthwhile to say. Since she's wrong on this issue, let's throw all of her writing out with the bathwater.
I think this is a bridge too far, and not helpful given the broad cultural shifts that are occurring. As Christians, we need to be a little more clever than that, and we'd darn sure better be consistent, whatever we do.
For instance, let's imagine you found some killer quotes from a contemporary preacher on the topic of grace. You start incorporating them into your sermons or sending them in notes to friends. Maybe you even included one in the signature line of all your emails.
Then, imagine someone said, "That guy? Didn't you know he's an anti-semite?"
Then they sent you these quotes of his, all of which are in reference to Jews:
- Moreover, they are nothing but thieves and robbers who daily eat no morsel and wear no thread of clothing which they have not stolen and pilfered from us by means of their accursed usury. Thus they live from day to day, together with wife and child, by theft and robbery, as archthieves and robbers, in the most impenitent security...
- However, they have not acquired a perfect mastery of the art of lying; they lie so clumsily and ineptly that anyone who is just a little observant can easily detect it. But for us Christians they stand as a terrifying example of God's wrath.
You'd probably back down from quoting him, right? Obviously this guy's got major issues…
Now what if I told you that this was from a publication called "On The Jews and Their Lies" by Martin Luther, the great German reformer?
Some would say that Luther was a "man of his day" in the same way that many Puritans were "men of their day" in their views towards slavery and African Americans. But that makes them no less wrong.
Which brings me back to Robinson: she, too, is a "woman of her day," and is committing a grave error. But to say that we have nothing to learn from her – or nothing to learn from other Christians with whom we have major disagreements – demands a purity in our teachers that I don't think evangelicals can apply consistently.
We lose the Puritans over slavery and race issues. We lose Lewis over his inclusivism. I would argue, as well, that we would lose Douglas Wilson over his Auburn Ave. theology and his bizarre take on slavery in the Antebellum south. And what about all that Roman Catholic sacramentalism? Say goodbye to all of their writings as well.
And of course, if we are to be consistent, we lose all non-Christian resources and teachers, too: No more quotes from David Brooks.
In some ways, this reaction is yet another expression of our celebrity obsession. It’s not enough to have people whose work we appreciate: we want heroes to venerate, and we want these heroes to agree with us on what we think matters about life and faith. If they fail at whatever our litmus test might be, then to quote the Foo Fighters, “Done, done, on to the next one.”
(Interestingly, this behavior slices both ways. Progressives enforce the exact same kind of fundamentalist orthodoxy on who is in, who is out, who gets TV shows, who doesn’t, etc.)
My point isn't that we whitewash Robinson or anyone else's errors, and neither is it that we don't express our disagreement. But the wholesale dismissal of a person's thought because of a single "litmus test" issue is going to force you to be terribly inconsistent, or terribly lonely.