I never met Rachel Held Evans, and have, to my knowledge, never read any of her work, except possibly for a blog here or there. I was saddened to hear of her death, as I would be of any young popular Christian writer. I also read the article that Christianity Today posted by John Stonestreet, her former teacher at Bryan College, where she received her degree.
When I read the article by Stonestreet, I sensed the awkwardness of the article. He was attempting to eulogize in an appropriate way a former student whom he respected but who had clearly gone in different theological directions than her Bryan College days. Indeed, Evans is known for her progressive views, at least so far as traditional evangelicalism is concerned.
However, I was later surprised to read an editorial also posted on the CT website in which the editor of the magazine, Mark Galli, essentially retracted the article by Stonestreet (and it was removed from the site). Galli offered what can only amount to a rather lame explanation of the course of events. He apparently was sent the unsolicited article, published it, but then on further reflection and rereading thought it was not appropriate.
I must admit that the CT of today is not the CT of yesteryear. I remember the days when some thought that CT was the evangelical Time magazine. Time magazine is in fact not the magazine that it once was. (Confession, living in Canada, I much prefer Maclean’s magazine, as it often offers a broader range of substantive articles from varying viewpoints.) But that is beside the point.
The point is what happened in the meantime that led the editor of CT to disavow the article by Stonestreet. It is really immaterial whether one liked Stonestreet’s article or not. I think that he was making a valid effort to come to terms with Evans’s death. The major matter of concern is what happened at CT to lead the editor to abandon him.
I have heard rumors and suspect that it had to do with at least three major problems. The first was that the blogosphere and tweetersphere went wild with Evans fans who thought that anything short of beatification was in order. The strength of their social media outcry overwhelmed the poor people at CT. The second problem was that CT has apparently lost its editorial nerve. I suspect similar events may happen more and more with so-called news sources where the public outcry causes them to back down.
The third problem—and perhaps the most troubling—is that we seem to have lost a sense of how to conduct civic discourse. Whatever happened to being able to tell the truth as one sees it, recognize that others hold differing opinions, respect the opinions of others while maintaining one’s own, and not feeling compelled to shout down everyone else? We see this kind of behavior all around us, as mob rule appears to dictate public opinion and shut down diversity of opinion.
I think that CT made a big mistake—not in publishing Stonestreet’s article but in backing down from it and allowing those who wish to censor the opinions of others through the sheer onslaught of social media to have their way. CT should recant again, and this time for failing to represent the range of legitimate opinion and perspective on an issue of our day and allowing their editorial policy and practice to be dictated by mob rule. Those who shouted CT down should learn to recognize that others may hold other opinions and they are entitled to express them and not be bullied into thinking otherwise. I hope that all parties involved do a better job next time.
— Stanley E. Porter