Wendy Farley and Claims of Heresy as Methods of Domination

Wendy Farley’s Gathering Those Driven Away: A Theology of Incarnation examines incarnation through the lens of the marginalized, claiming that the “witness of Christianity’s rejected and despised is essential to the gospel.”[i] She claims that the “true apostolic faith” only occurs when we listen to the voices that have been driven away.[ii] As such, in her first chapter she looks at how the language of heresy has perpetuated a dominating and isolating logic that contradicts the Gospel of love. She identifies Athanasius as a proponent of such logic, though she herself says this is somewhat unfair, as he is more “multivalent than his cynical strategies might suggest.”[iii] With the rise of Constantine, and the sudden condoning of Christianity, faith and politics became aligned. Athanasius, Farley suggests, attempts to consolidate political and ecclesial power by focusing by using doctrine and technicalities of language. While I would need to follow the footnotes before I weigh in on Athanasius, she does have merit to her claims. I especially appreciated the quote she had to say about the logic of heresy:

Constructing opposing points of view as “heresy” is a way of changing a debate into a struggle between merely human opinion and divinely inspired truth. Within a logic of domination, an opposing position is illegitimate simply because it is different from what a more powerful party has claimed to be true….The potency of the construction of heresy is ratcheted up when those who hold variant views are not only one’s own enemies but the enemy of God.[iv]

In other words, because I am orthodox, I do not believe in any heretical positions, and if you disagree with me, you disagree with God, too. This, as Farley will point out in chapter 2, is idolatrous. This, Farley suggests, is against the logic of love that permeates the Christian faith.

File:People burned as heretics.jpg
People burned as heretics. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:People_burned_as_heretics.jpg

I’m reminded of all the ways we have cried “heresy” only to change our minds later. Marguerite Porete, as Farley indicates, was burned at the stake for her theology in 1310. Galileo was convicted of heresy in 1633 for stating that the earth was not the center of the universe. Southern Baptists and other Christians used doctrinal superiority and biblical exegesis to justify slavery in the United States in the nineteenth century, claiming their position was from God. Persons have appealed to a variety of prooftexts to prohibit LGBTQ persons and women of full equality in ministerial roles.

Instead of a logic of domination, perhaps, as Farley suggests, we should look for a logic of love. In this logic of love, the Triune God’s gift of grace prompts us to love our neighbor, for to love our neighbor is to love God.

[i] Farley, 5.

[ii] Farley, 10.

[iii] Farley, 18.

[iv] Farley, 28-29.


Author: Kate Hanch

I like to laugh, study theology, the church, & Missouri sports. Sister, daughter, wife, Baptist, Christian feminist, friend, minister, PhD student in theology, wanderlust.

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