Reflections on Rachel Held Evans

Here are some random reflections about Rachel Held Evans.

A. She was the envy of a lot of bloggers and aspiring authors. Her blog got millions of views each year. She attributed her success to two factors: (1.) her blog was a source of information, and (2.) she shared her platform with others, by inviting others to do guest posts. That was the advice that she gave to other bloggers who wanted to succeed. Maybe that works, but it may not work for everyone. Her success, I think, was due to additional factors. First, she was an effective writer. Her writings had humor, pathos, and honesty. She could turn a phrase and make her point with a punch, while still coming across as down-to-earth. Second, she asked the religious questions that were troubling a lot of people. She said what she said, and she said it well.

B. Did she say anything earth-shakingly new? Others have had problems with, say, God’s command that Abraham sacrifice his son. Their blogs do not necessarily attract millions of views, or generate discussions in their comments section that go on for hundreds of comments. As I said in (A.), Evans’s effectiveness as a communicator set her apart from many. But I think that, in a sense, what she was saying was earth-shakingly new to a lot of people. There were people in conservative churches who had the same questions that she did, and they actually wanted to follow Jesus rather than ditching their faith. They wondered if anyone else felt the same way, and if their only choice was between accepting a God who struck them as unfair and becoming an atheist and going to hell. Her social media presence provided a place and a forum for them, allowing them to wrestle with difficult questions and to arrive at alternatives.

C. There was a prolonged season in my life when I was recovering from right-wing evangelicalism. I thought that right-wing evangelicals were on a power trip and had little if any basis for their claim to authority. Reading Rachel Held Evans, for me, was like reading Ann Coulter during the conservative seasons of my life: “That will tell ’em! Hit ’em hard!” I would post RHE blog posts to show right-wing evangelicals what I thought about them and their pretensions to power! Nowadays, I do not have the energy to do that. I read both liberals and conservatives, and I like and dislike both liberals and conservatives. That is where I am, and I respect that others are in different places, since they are especially sensitive to the injustices that RHE challenged.

D. Critics see her as divisive, and does not the Bible criticize those who cause division (i.e., Romans 16:17)? I think such verses apply, primarily, to local church bodies. I attend a conservative LCMS church, and, when I am there, I do not go out of my way to challenge the church’s teachings on the ordination of women or homosexuality. Similarly, if I were to visit RHE’s church, I would not start arguments about social justice or identity politics. I would respect the rules of the place where I am. That may work for me, though, since I am an independent person who can come and go as he pleases. People whose families attend a church with beliefs contrary to their own, on the other hand, will have their own share of struggles.

E. The first post of hers that I read concerned what she was looking for in a church. I had gone three years without attending church, and I was starting to dabble my feet in the water again. Her post was helpful. She said that she wanted to attend a church, not out of guilt, but because she sincerely believes what it teaches and can commit to its cause. She also said that she would prefer a church that does not get into politics. I have been in various places in my church journey. I dabbled in liberal mainline Protestantism for a year and did not like it that much. Nowadays, I attend a church that is more conservative than where I am personally, but I feel fed there, both spiritually and intellectually. I also appreciate that it does not get into politics: it helps the poor, but it does not pompously declare that Jesus prefers one political platform over another.

F. RHE, among other people, sensitized me to the value of reading. In her very first book, Evolving in Monkey Town, she talked about the books that she read when she was struggling with the question of whether a slain Muslim girl in another country was burning in hell for being a non-Christian. These books presented different Christian views on hell. In her latest book, Inspired, she mentioned books that she read, across the religious spectrum (conservative and liberal), that wrestle with the biblical Conquest. She remarked that she is trying to read her way out of this faith struggle, but she is not always sure if she will succeed! Reading is good because you may find answers, alternatives, a sympathetic voice, or at least something to chew on.

G. As I said in (A.) and (B.), she was a success as a blogger and an author. People may covet that kind of fame: people hanging on one’s every word. RHE stayed down to earth throughout her fame, however. I recall one post of hers, and this was when she had become famous due to her Year of Biblical Womanhood book: she said “I am sick of me!” Fame can be like eating too many sweets: you get sick of it after a while. Moreover, with fame came intense criticism from those who disagreed with her. She was willing to endure that, though, because she saw value in what she was saying.


About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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