Today I happened across a 2012 review of Rachel Held Evans’ book A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Trillia Newbell. You can find the article at John Piper’s website. Near the beginning of her review Newbell observes:
“As I read the book, it became increasingly clear to me of one theme: God’s word was on trial. It was the court of Rachel Held Evans. She was the prosecution, judge, and jury. The verdict was out. And with authority and confidence, she would have the final word on womanhood.”
You know the old saying that when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail? By the same token, when you’re a religious conservative, everything looks like a trial. Want to raise a provocative question? Tell an ambiguous story? Offer a dissenting perspective? Fair enough, but from the religious conservative’s perspective what you’re really doing is putting something on trial (namely, the set of beliefs held by that conservative).
In other words, as I read Newbell’s review, it became increasingly clear to me of one theme: Evans’ review was on trial. It was the court of Trillia Newbell. She was the prosecution, judge, and jury. The verdict was out. And with authority and confidence, she would have the final word on womanhood.
The problem is that all the world isn’t a trial. You should be able to raise a provocative question, tell an ambiguous story, or offer a dissenting perspective without having the conservative religious judge, prosecutor, and jury calling a trial. Rhetoric like that of Newbell’s review is poison for thoughtful, critical enquiry.
When Pope John XXIII called the Vatican II Council, he observed that the Catholic Church needed to open a window and let in some fresh air. To switch metaphors, I’d suggest Newbell call off the trial and send the prosecutors and defendants over to the coffee shop for some conversation.