Rachel Held Evans. Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2015. See here to buy the book.
In Searching for Sunday, popular Christian author and blogger Rachel Held Evans discusses the church. She shares her experiences with the church: the community that she enjoyed when she was growing up as a conservative Christian; how her relationship with conservative Christianity changed when she had religious doubts; her search for a new church, and the time when she did not go; her attempts to start a new church with the youth pastor from her youth and others, and her disappointment when that church closed; and the joy that she has experienced at an Episcopalian church. Evans also reflects on the sacraments, such as baptism, communion, and communion, and she addresses church history (the good and the bad) and the ways that churches have treated the LGBT community.
Many of Evans’ critics believe that she promotes a consumerist mentality, and they stress that church should be about God and not the preferences of attendees. They say that church should be a place to learn to love difficult people and to serve, not a place to abandon when the going gets tough. They think that Evans wants the church to cater to the latest trends rather than the word of God. They maintain that she promotes acceptance of people where they are, when church should be a place where sin is challenged. They think that she and millennials who have left the church have a sense of entitlement.
I cannot agree with them after reading Searching for Sunday. Granted, I am a bit biased, for I am rather progressive, and I am inclined to choose Evans over her conservative detractors. But I could not read this book and walk away seeing her as some consumerist with a sense of entitlement. She has strong beliefs and a passion for justice. She is for service to others and the fruit of the Spirit. Whether or not one agrees with her on LGBT issues, I hope that anyone would read her stories about how LGBTs have been treated and be heartbroken.
Even though Evans leans more towards the progressive end of the spectrum, she is not a firebreathing progressive, for she acknowledges and values her evangelical heritage (even though she is honest about the times when she wants to walk away from it for good), the church that she helped establish had conservatives, and she critiques her own cynicism. She tries to practice love and acceptance, even towards her critics and people with a different ideology, and she narrates how church has helped her on that path.
While her prose can sometimes be a bit flowery or over the top, her stories are beautiful. She is honest and vulnerable when she tells her own story, and she also tells stories about others. Some of her stories made me laugh, some of them made me cry, and many of them resonated with me. I liked her story about how the pastor of the Baptist church that she and her husband left handled their departure: he said that he understood that people who change their beliefs may want to find another church, but he also made clear that Rachel and her husband were welcome back anytime. I liked the part of the book in which she mentioned and honored the faith journeys of people she knew, as some went to evangelicalism, and others chose other Christian paths. The story of the church that chose to close rather than obey the denomination’s demand that it rescind the membership of a gay couple brought tears to my eyes.
I have followed Evans’ blog for years, so I felt in reading the book that I was getting the inside story of some of the things that she has discussed on it, at various stages of her journey. In her book, she proceeds towards a resolution of accepting the church. In following her blog for years, I got to read some of the previous stages of her journey. She says that faith is a walk with God, and she has manifested that and continues to manifest it.
I received a complimentary review copy of this book through the BookLook Bloggers (http://booklookbloggers.com/) program. The program does not require for my review to be positive, and my review reflects my honest reaction to the book.