Owen Strachan is president of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Take a moment to appreciate what that entails and allow that to season what follow here with a bit of pity for the guy.
Strachan has a difficult and thankless job. Whether he is the last to preside over that “complementarian” interest group or the second-to-last hardly matters. His role, at this stage in the organization’s history, is to oversee its final waning days, attempting to steer it to the softest landing still possible. He’s been charging with stewarding the last remaining scraps of dignity available to its losing argument before making sure all the lights get turned off and the doors get locked one last time. Perhaps, as one last hurrah, he’ll be able to plan a big celebration of CBMW’s 28th Anniversary next year while it still has enough members who are young enough to travel.
But sometimes Owen Strachan forgets his role as the hospice nurse of 20th-century sanctimonious sexism. Sometimes he likes to imagine its still 1987, when the group’s biblical manhood was still tumescent and it still had enough cache and control to keep all these uppity Christian women in their place.
And that’s when Strachan tends to stick his foot in his mouth, as well as inserting other body parts in even less likely places, and to embarrass himself by taking to Twitter for some old-school 20th-century attempts to silence dangerous women. That didn’t work out very well for him. Using the phrase “God Herself,” Strachan wrote, is “heresy, straight up.”
The laughter over that still hadn’t subsided when Strachan dug himself a deeper hole by further mansplaining what he was trying to say in that Tweet. He titled that post — comments closed because the Bible says women should keep silent on Disqus — “Is Rachel Held Evans’s Use of ‘God Herself’ Biblically Faithful?” because a heavy-handed rhetorical question was more in keeping with the smarmily condescending tone of the piece than what he wanted to call it (“How Dare Some Female Intrude on Al Mohler’s Internet?”).
Strachan’s post is an unholy mess. He starts by treating any female or non-gendered reference to God as indistinct from an attempt to rewrite the Nicene Creed, removing the word “Father,” and then just gets more muddled and confused from there. One gets the sense that Strachan’s God is, in fact, Mr. God — a penis-bearing deity rather than the transcendent God of the scripture and the creeds. There’s also a suggestion of something Djinn-like about this Mr. God — as though He were a powerful creature we could bind to our will by using his True Name (in English, of course).
Rachel Held Evans responds graciously, with a scripture-packed post citing a host of verses that Strachan et. al. seem not to regard as inerrant or to read “literally.” (Kate Wallace’s response is pretty good too.)
Rachel also links to a series of articles by Mimi Haddad on the question “Is God Male?” (Short answer: No. God is God.)But since Owen Strachan has himself raised the question of “heresy, straight up,” it’s worth asking whether the position that he himself is arguing is, in fact, a heresy. Strachan, after all, goes far beyond the usual “complementarian” argument for patriarchal gender roles among us humans as well as going far beyond what even the most patriarchal patriarchs of the Christian church have taught. He’s arguing that God is male — intrinsically, actually and exclusively male.
That’s not orthodox Christianity. That’s not orthodox Reformed doctrine. But does this Bro-formed doctrine of an intrinsically, actually and exclusively be-penised deity constitute heresy?
I say no.
1. Owen Strachan is heterodox, but not all heterodox beliefs amount to heresy. No human has ever scored a perfect 100-percent score on the orthodoxy test. No human even knows what all of the questions on such a test might be. We’re all, at least partly, unorthodox. That doesn’t mean everybody’s a heretic.
2. Owen Strachan contradicts most major Christian theological traditions, but contradicting a major Christian tradition does not make you a heretic. Rejecting the doctrine of Transubstantiation doesn’t make you a heretic, it makes you a Protestant — or, at least, not a good Catholic. Catholics and Protestants disagree over the meaning of the Eucharist, but that doesn’t mean one side or the other is made up of heretics. Most Baptists disagree with both Catholics and Protestants when it comes to the Lord’s Supper because most Baptists don’t regard the sacraments as sacraments. But Baptists don’t regard the sacramental views of our fellow Christians as heresy because the Baptist belief in “soul freedom” pretty much rules out “heresy” as a category. (Does that mean it’s a Baptist “heresy” for a Baptist like Strachan to appoint himself the role of heresy hunter? I can’t work out the Moebius-strip pretzel-logic of that.)
3. Owen Strachan’s argument is not “biblically faithful,” but that isn’t the same as heresy. Strachan’s exclusively male view of God cannot be reconciled with the Bible, but again, we all believe some things that cannot be reconciled with the Bible. I personally believe in some form of just-war theory and in George Bailey-ism. I will argue in support of those views using biblical principles, themes and ideals, but the bottom line remains that any such acceptance of violence and usury is not strictly “biblically faithful” in the way that Strachan seems to mean. But my belief in the goodness of a police function and market economy, while not easily reconciled with the Bible, does not make me a heretic.
4. Owen Strachan is just plain wrong, but being wrong doesn’t make you a heretic. Again, we’re all wrong about some things. It’s best for all of us to try not to be wrong — especially not so egregiously, obviously, flagrantly wrong as Strachan and his fellow Mohlerettes. And it’s really not good to be wrong in a way that does harm to others, as Strachan’s wrongness does. Strachan’s cruel wrongness is a Bad Thing, and heresy is a Bad Thing, but they’re not the identical kind of Bad Thing.
5. Owen Strachan is a smarmy, sexist jerk, but being a smarmy, sexist jerk doesn’t make you a heretic. Being a Strachan-esque sexist jerk is not heresy. Being a Strachan-esque sexist jerk is much, much worse than that.