Rachel Held Evans Says Goodbye

Rachel-Held-EvansRachel Held Evans made a seismic announcement today:

But I’m done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table, done trying to force that culture to change.

While it’s not as drastic as if she announced a shift to agnosticism, I suspect that Rachel’s going to lose a large faction of her audience and her influence. I’ve always been a big fan of her, but Rachel’s main appeal to the masses has always been that she’s a role model for a different kind of evangelical, an alternative for millennials and Gen X’ers that confirmed that they could remain within the evangelical fold while they seek to transform it.

Now Rachel becomes a cautionary tale, and within the evangelical subculture it will be one that young people will have a very hard time refuting. Whereas before a teenager could point to one of her blog posts and show a youth pastor that not all evangelicals think the way he does, now that youth pastor has two counter arguments: she’s not an evangelical, and she left the faith.

So rather than wearing out my voice in calling for an end to evangelicalism’s culture wars, I think it’s time to focus on finding and creating church among its many refugees—women called to ministry, our LGBTQ brother and sisters, science-lovers, doubters, dreamers, misfits, abuse survivors, those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith or their compassion and their religion, those who have, for whatever reason, been “farewelled.”

Now I’m not saying that Rachel is no longer a Christian, or that her credibility has been damaged. But within a culture that only reads books by evangelical authors and never glances at anything written by a mainliner (save for CS Lewis) or Catholics, Rachel has cast herself far out of the universe where she had the most influence. That young evangelical who wants to use Rachel Held Evans as proof that there are liberal evangelicals can’t use her as an example anymore, and odds are she won’t even be on their radar:

For many years, I felt that part of my call as a writer and blogger of faith was to be a different sort of evangelical, to advocate for things like gender equality, respect for LGBT people, and acceptance of science and biblical scholarship within my community.  But I think that perhaps I became more invested in trying to “fix” evangelicalism (to my standards! oh the hubris!) than in growing Kingdom.  And as helpful as I know that work has been for so many of you, I think it’s time to take a slightly different approach.

I respect the fact that Rachel has taken time to reflect n her motives and reassess her goals. It’s Rachel’s life, her choices, and her walk with God. and I’m not trying to tell her how to worship or what to think. But I think shedding the evangelical label, even if it was just a label, will damage the liberal voice within evangelical churches.” You can’t cite Rachel anymore,” conservatives will say, “She’s not one of us. She’s confirmation of their slippery slope arguments. Stay away from that thinking lest you drift away from the faith.” For a culture that views anyone who leaves the evangelical church with leaving the big “C” Church,  Rachel joins Rob Bell and other former evangelicals as evidence that you can’t be liberal and stay in the faith.

More thoughts on the Rachel Held Evans/ Millennial Debate


After sleeping on it, I realized that the title of my last post was a bit too melodramatic.

Since a new crop of blog posts have chimed in during the past 24 hours, I  thought I’d address a few points. In response Rachel’s statement that the church should “sit down and talk” with Millennials, Brett McCracken at the Washington Post writes:

“How about the opposite? Millennials: why don’t we take our pastors, parents, and older Christian brothers and sisters out to coffee and listen to them? “

Here’s the deal, Brett. It’s simple relationship dynamics. When a member of your family has a list of complaints, you sit down and listen to them. No matter how absurd you may think their complaints may be. A classic example is the toilet seat question; if you have women in your family and you keep the toilet seat up, you’ll hear about it. If you’re like a lot of guys, you might wonder why it’s a big deal.  But you’re never going to solve the problem by sitting the female members of your family down to tell them why they shouldn’t be upset about the toilet seat.

Earlier in the column Brett states that the answer is “decidedly not to sit the Millennial down and have him or her dictate exactly what they think the church should be.”

Notice the contrast between Rachel statement and Brett’s. Rachel asks for a conversation, and Brett equates a conversation with dictation. Later on McCracken says that:

“Part of the problem is the hubris of every generation, which thinks it has discovered, once and for all, the right way of doing things. “

Except hubris isn’t always a bad thing. The Boomers had the hubris to believe that African Americans and women deserved equal rights. Gen X’ers had the hubris to believe that rock music deserved a place in worship. I could go on, but the point is that there’s no harm listening to young people. If you feel that listening to people means submitting to their whims, then you’ve got issues.

I think it’s time to get past the coy dance that’s taken place the last few days. None of the writers I’ve critiqued are willing to say it, but their point-by-point answer to Rachel’s post can be summarized as follows:

– Millennials are lying or misguided when they say they prefer the high church style of worship.

–  The substance in evangelical churches is just fine, and tinkering with it would produce disastrous results.

– It’s more important to stand against things than emphasize what you’re for. And the Culture Wars should rage on. And there’s no way we’d contemplate a truce with those evil scientists!

–  Every question we can think of has a predetermined answer. And if you believe otherwise, don’t ask it.

–  Gays welcome in the church? Are you serious???

–  Millennials are lying when they say that they want to be challenged.  They might be telling the truth about wanting to be peacemakers, but that’s because they don’t realize that the best way to handle our enemies is to bomb, torture, or kill them.

–  Jesus has always been in the church. If Millennials don’t see that, then it’s their fault.

–  Sure, Millennials long for Jesus. But they have to fall in line if they want to find Him.

– Ultimately, the church doesn’t care whether Millennials stay or go. If they stay, they should drop their grievances. The way to resolve these issues is to just not have them in the first place.

Like alcoholics, in order for the church to solve its problems, it needs to admit that it has a problem. Unfortunately it still has 12 steps to go.