What Does Rachel Held Evans Want?

Now that's a loaded question.

(Incidentally, I know Rachel will be reading this at some point. Hiya, Rachel!)

As many of you know, Rachel wrote an opinion piece for the CNN belief blog entitled "Why Millennials are leaving the church." The blog went viral which kicked up some backlash, and then some backlash to the backlash. That's what I'm doing here. Backlash backlash.

What does Rachel Held Evans want?

Well, to start, I think she wants the voice of her generation to be heard. And toward that end, she's done an amazing job. The CNN post going viral is an example of that. I don't care what you think about RHE, her popularity is driven by her vulnerable autobiography and that biography resonates. You might not like all the conclusions she might draw about why there is such a resonance or what to do about that resonance, but there is a resonance. So let's pay attention to it. She saying something that many people are trying to say.

What does Rachel Held Evans want?

I think she wants some respect and charity. Don't we all? Don't we all want others to put the best spin on our words? Give us a charitable reading?

To be honest, let me just say this, I think a lot of people are jealous of Rachel. Maybe it's her gender. Maybe it's her lack of a graduate degree in theological or biblical studies. Maybe it's her success. Likely it's all of the above.

For my part, I'm jealous of Rachel because 1) she lives in Tennessee and 2) is married to someone who can help her with web design. I, by contrast, live in West Texas and Jana is of no help--no help at all!--with HTML code. I live in a desert and I'm on my own when it comes to this blogging thing. It's all very, very unfair. So, yeah, I'm sort of jealous of Rachel Held Evans. She's the worst.

But seriously, I do think there is a bit of jealousy--don't you?--about a lot of the reactions that Rachel gets. So my encouragement is this: Rachel, stay strong.

What does Rachel Held Evans want?

Well, she tells us in her CNN piece.

First, she wants a church that isn't concerned about marketing itself as hip or cool to "get the young people in the door." Funny thing about that observation. A lot of people who pushed back on Rachel have made for years, and reiterated in their responses to her, that exact same criticism, lamenting the consumeristic, Starbucks-feeling, Christian rock band and laser show vibe of so much within American evangelicalism. So I don't get why Rachel was knocked for that observation when most of her critics actually agreed with her.

So what does she want? Let me try to put it this way, and I'm just guessing with this. I think what Rachel wants is what a lot of us want. We want a mainline theological and social sensibility combined with an evangelical church expression.

Rachel gets dinged a lot for not just moving over to the mainline. Why not just become an Episcopalian? That's a good question, and I can't answer it for Rachel. But growing up in a low-church, fundamentalist tradition I know what it's like to be spiritually formed in a certain way. This isn't a news flash, but it's just different going to my church compared to going to a mainline church. To be clear, I love mainline churches and Catholic churches, especially during Advent and Lent. But the preaching is very different. So are the bible classes. And, if you are Church of Christ like me, where's the four-part harmony and can someone shut off that damn organ? And finally, confession time, I can only take so much high-church liturgy. Sort of like how I can't sit through five acts of Hamlet.

Plus, Jana has strong allergic reactions to incense. So there's that.

I'm being a bit silly, but I hope you see my point (and those in the mainline tradition will have similar reactions coming to my church). We are formed in certain ways, many of us, like Rachel, from when we were babies. Babies. So it's hard when your head and your heart can't connect. The mainline might connect with Rachel's head--as it does mine--but it's hard to feel comfortable there. Emotionally, deep down, it's hard to feel at home.

But it's also hard to stay at home when the theology just isn't tenable for you any longer. Emotionally, it feels right. The songs, the bible classes, the pot lucks, the whole vibe. There are songs of my youth that if you started singing I'd break down into tears. That's how deep this stuff goes. But the theology is so, so hard to stomach. The heart says stay and the head says leave.

I think this sounds a bit like what Rachel is trying to describe. An evangelical heart/church-expression that thinks and loves, in her words, like this:
We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against. We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers. We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation. We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities. We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, but also when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers. 
That sounds like a progressive vision of the evangelical church. And that, I'm guessing, is what Rachel is wanting. That's why she stays and fights for it, a home in evangelicalism for her generation and the older like-minded.

And let's be clear. Progressive evangelical churches are rare. Yes, they exist. But the response to Rachel isn't to say, Hey, we're just like that, so why are you crying? The point is not that these churches don't exist. It's that they are so scarce, that there is not enough of them. Particularly in small town and rural America. There isn't any such church in Rachel's town. Nor in mine. And probably not in yours.

Which, come to think of it, helps me answer my own question.

What does Rachel Held Evans want?

I think she wants the same thing that I want.

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67 thoughts on “What Does Rachel Held Evans Want?”

  1. This community is a breath of fresh air! We belong to a church of skateboarders - meaning we literally involve church around skateboarding. It's crazy but it's like worshipping God to us. That all happened after my wife and I were kicked out of a church that we helped plant because the pastor said God "told him" to kick us out. That was basically it for us vs. the church. We wanted no part of it, but now...now in a completely different, non-judgmental, completely open and accepting church of skateboarders where the F-bomb is selectively used after someone just can't land that trick after an hour of trying. And you know what? I feel God just smiling down on us because he loves us and likes us being in his presence. Anyway, THANK YOU Rachel Held Evans and THANK YOU Richard Beck for giving us all a voice and telling us it's ok.

  2. Interesting response to RHE at http://pastormattblog.com/2013/07/29/rachel-held-evans-and-the-new-judaizers/ .

  3. And we love the people in the evangelical churches -- we want them to move forward with us. Otherwise we're just going to create another mess of splinters when we break away.

  4. Well, I think it's true. So I went ahead and said it. Plus, RHE and no woman could say it.

  5. You're so welcome. I have no idea how to encourage skateboarders, even after mad Googling "skateboarder sang" :-) So how about a simple blessings to you and your church!

  6. What did you make of this comment from the article: "Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. –precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic."?

    I agreed with almost everything else she wrote, but the trend towards high church traditions seems to be overstated. I, like you, would much prefer low church with more progressive theology. And this quote seems to go against that, or am I reading it wrong?

  7. I think she trying to show a deep spiritual thirst in her generation. Because I think you are right. There's not been a numbers shift in church attendance in that direction, but I do think there's been curiosity and a lot of borrowing directed that way (e.g., using the Book of Common Prayer, going to monasteries, using the liturgical calendar). I'm evidence of that, though I'm Gen X.

  8. Thanks for the charitable reading, Richard, and for understanding me so well. (It's a little creepy actually; get out of my head!) You said it better than I did.

    Honestly? If I had to pick a post of mine to go viral, it wouldn't have been this one. But such is the internet! The original post was titled, "For Millennials Church Is More About Substance Than Style"... or something like that...so I think maybe the changed title sounded more ambitious than I intended the post to be. I was basically just trying to make the point that coffee shops and skinny jeans aren't the solution to the dwindling numbers of twenty-somethings in church. But it's my fault if I didn't write with more nuance and clarity. So I take responsibility.

    I just don't understand why one of my 5,000-word posts on women in ministry go viral? ;-)

    Wrote a follow-up piece for CNN for tomorrow entitled "Seven Reasons MIllennials Need the Church." It's 1,000 words and the seven points correspond loosely with the seven sacraments. I suspect no one will read it.

    Oh and I read the line about Dan out loud and we had a good laugh!

    Grateful for you.


  9. Just a note by way of apology. In the first draft of this post, in trying to make some church contrasts in my own local context in an exaggerated and comedic way, I wrote some things that I regret as, given that I was writing about my local context, could have been taken very personally. That's a mistake on my part, and poor judgment. I've edited the post accordingly and would like to apologize for offending anyone who read the earlier draft.

    And many thanks to my friend Steven for calling me out on this.

  10. Thanks for this. But, not having even read the earlier version, I still think it hits me as personal. It hits me as personal when you say "any such church" doesn't exist in your town--I know the churches in your town. It hits me as personal when RHE implies that it is "our" fault (those of us who actually like and helped shape the current church culture) that millenials are leaving. It feels like we're being judged, and found wanting.

    Admittedly, no person (or institution) is perfect. But there's something weirder going on here, something that feels weighted and even incoherent (no predetermined answers to questions, unless those questions involve LGBT practices, or environmentalism, or . . .). In short, it feels like a power play--like that moment in an argument when someone says, "Let's not disagree, let's just all admit that I'm right." It's this sense of a power play that gives me such a love-hate relationship with progressive rhetoric.

  11. I often find myself thinking about what I want in a church and I always com back to the question, "do I go find a church that offers what I want, or do I stay where I am in order to be the change that I want to see. I don't have huge problems with my church, though I suspect that many attendees would take issues with my ways of speaking about and conceptualizing God.

    I guess that what I want in a church body is a community that is somehow able to avoid th fossilization of doctrine and church form, remaining open to the whims of the Spirit within each new generation of believers. I'm not sure how to make this happen, but I do sense that it is something that should happen where I am rather than looking for it somwhere else.

  12. Yes, Progressive Evangelical churches are rare, and, will be slow in coming. One reason is the confusion that exists among evangelicals from denomination to denomination as to what a Progressive really is. I know that in the denomination of my youth, the Church of Christ, especially in the South, there are members who call themselves "Progressive" simply because they no longer believe that the church down the street is going to hell. There are other conservative denominations that act as if they have discovered Micah 6:8 for the first time, "What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God". They have it proudly displayed in their vestibules and class rooms. In others, the word "Grace" fills every sermon. Yet, when you sit in Bible studies of some of these groups you here the same prejudices of past generations, just cleverly hung on the cross and wrapped in the American flag.

    Unfortunately, the culture of some areas is going to be giving the marching orders and defining what a Progressive is. In truth many will not be progressing, just "moving over"; what the business world calls a lateral move. The rest will find the confidence and strength to grasp the next rung of the ladder and tackle their fear of heights.

  13. Some Vineyard churches are making this same low-church form - more mainline high church theology as well. I'm grateful for my own church, which is one that is like that. At the same time, the Vineyard basically invented the hip church band approach, so we do have that. But it has never seemed tacked on to me. It isn't a ploy. It is an honest aesthetic representation of the values of the church, and I love that.

    I think that people who are comfortable in a tradition, but who have critiques of that tradition, are uniquely placed to be witnesses within that tradition. If they have the strength to do it, I think they should be encouraged to engage and help their own church reform. Always reforming. And isn't that the real heritage of the Reformation?

  14. I think this is a valid critique of a rhetorical move that I see frequently. Nice summary of it: "Let's not disagree, let's all just admit that I'm right." I've seen liberals use it quite a lot. In rhetoric among conservatives, it sometimes happens, but the analogue looks more like this: "This is not up for discussion. What I say goes." As someone who loves discourse, I dislike both. But I prefer the latter. It is honest about its use of authority.

  15. Or to move backward, in some cases. So much of what I think went wrong in fundamentalism, for example, were modern errors. The 19th Century was a time of great theological innovations, and so much of what is considered "traditional" in these churches are just a bunch of wacky and wicked innovations from that period. John Nelson Darby, I'm looking at you. Preterism is quite clearly the ancient position of the Church, and makes the best sense of the Biblical witness. So it strikes me as perverse to consider the teaching of Preterism to be "progressive." I think this kind of conservative reform is part of what some millennials want, and maybe it is part of why high church traditions are attractive to some. Revelation actually makes a great deal of sense, when you understand its liturgical context ...

    Also, always nice to meet another Dan H :)

  16. I guess I should make clearer that I don't think progressives are doing power plays more/ worse than conservatives. It's just that disappointing moment when, tired of all the power plays of conservatives, ready to see someone stand up for LGBT or creation care or the passions of millenials, I get that sinking, disappointing feeling that progressives are making power plays too.

    As am I (perhaps) in my responses. Lord Jesus, have mercy.

  17. That's how I see my situation in my own faith tradition, always reforming. And the same goes for me as I'm on a journey as well, with my church tradition re-forming me.

  18. Yes. My worries are that rather than making progress the CoC is moving backwards in many places, becoming more politicized and just another southern variant of evangelicalism.

  19. I also think there is value in going to a church that isn't exactly what you want. I think there is a spiritual discipline to learning to transcend disagreements. Love and not knowledge is what binds you together.

  20. I think you're being a bit over-dramatic Jonathan. I can't see how this is a powerplay. For example, I express my opinion at Highland about, say, woman's roles and I have absolutely no power to make that happen. Just patient conversation with the leaders of my church as I try to serve faithfully and lovingly alongside them. They know I've got certain opinions that find Highland "wanting" in certain ways (what member doesn't?), but they also know I got their back and am all-in with Highland's mission. How's that a powerplay?

    You know, we could flip this around and say that you're pulling a powerplay by trying to shut down any progressive dissent within local church contexts as the expression of any such dissent makes everyone feel judged and wanting.

    But I don't think you are engaging in a powerplay. We're just disagreeing.

  21. I'm not sure if this is exactly what Rachel wants or not, but its pretty close to what I want.

  22. Thanks for this, Richard. This is the paragraph that most strongly resonated with me:

    "But it's also hard to stay at home when the theology just isn't tenable
    for you any longer. Emotionally, it feels right. The songs, the bible
    classes, the pot lucks, the whole vibe. There are songs of my youth that
    if you started singing I'd break down into tears. That's how deep this
    stuff goes. But the theology is so, so hard to stomach. The heart says
    stay and the head says leave."

    That sums up almost exactly how I feel. It's an uncomfortable place to be.

  23. Wonderful. Thanks for this very needed charitable response to RHE, and to the backlash to the backlash. Exhaust the infinite regress of backlashes!

  24. OK. I admitted the flip before you posted this. I didn't mean to be dramatic, and I certainly don't want to shut down dissent.

    The weird thing is that I don't disagree. On any given specific issue I think I generally agree with you (and with RHE, and other progressives).

    The problem is that I often feel rhetorically manipulated--painted into a rhetorical corner where, even before I've thought about whether X is right or not, I already know that disagreement with X will be equated with non-compassion, non-obedience, non-acceptance. That certain theological ideas--ideas I don't particularly like, but I think belong in the church--will be treated as untenable, unScriptural, pernicious, abusive. Progressive are rarely overtly coercive. Yet sometimes they (we?) seem to be saying, "Feel free to be a bad person and disagree with me."

    This is largely a feeling, though I could (if pressed) talk about the specific rhetorical moves where I see it happening--rhetorical moves that I see myself making, too, especially when I'm not careful. Perhaps I'm simply over-reacting against dissent; I hope not. For what it's worth, I don't see that rhetorical threat in every post of yours or RHE's--but I do sometimes see it.

  25. Why do I have this deep, sneaking supsicion that this whole debate is an exercise in missing the point?

  26. Hi Alastair,

    First, I have massive respect for your intellect, command of Scripture (I really, really respect command of Scripture), and social media tone (the way you handle yourself in disagreements).

    Let me speak to the issue about jealousy. I'm ambivalent about having make that charge. On the positive side, I do think it's a factor. I think it's true or I wouldn't have said it. On the negative side, it's one of those blanket statements that can shut down conversation. For example, I personally think racism is a part of how many in America respond to President Obama. I think that's true. But if I say that then I create a situation where it looks like if you disagree with the President then you are a racist. And that's not true. So do you never bring up the racial aspect? I find myself in a similar bind with RHE. As noted above, I respect you too much to believe that you are jealous because you disagree with Rachel. Mainly because 1) you don't strike me as the jealous type and 2) your reasons are always weighty and well-considered. You don't snipe (which is often diagnostic).

    Should I have brought up the jealousy dynamic? Maybe I shouldn't have.

    Regarding taking counter-arguments seriously. How to judge? You and I have disagreed before. Did I take you seriously? Did you take me seriously? For my part, I think I took you seriously. Did that come through? Because I tend to think that we all have this bias that if people really took us seriously they would agree with us. I know I feel that way. The point being, I don't know how to judge, in the midst of irreconcilable theological differences, who is or is not taking anyone seriously. My sense is that RHE does, for the most part, take people and criticism seriously. But she, like me, probably has blind spots and lapses where she blows people off. I've done it plenty of times. But for the most part I try to really understand others and I think Rachel does to. But any given commenter on her blog? I can't speak to that.

    Finally this point you make--"the progressive evangelical movement is not formed around a positive core of shared beliefs, formation, and a shared life and identity in self-confident and self-defined communities, but around a deeply felt and often visceral reaction against dysfunctional evangelical contexts and the isolation and anger that results from broken relations and a sense of betrayal"--is extraordinarily profound and powerful.

  27. Well, all the internet bickering is a black hole. I think healthy people know their limits and start clicking out when they stop finding the discussions helpful. Click out people. Click out.

    For my part, I think I was trying to make a point, if obliquely through the RHE dustup. Some of us were raised in traditions--it runs in your blood--that we think aren't as Christ-following as we think they should be. But be sure, we could be wrong about that. But that does, it seems, go very much to a point. And when we reach that point we can either 1) leave (which is hard) or 2) stay (which is hard). And I think a lot of people find themselves in those situations. So posts like this are encouragements to them.

  28. This is perfect! My wife and I went to the Episcopal church for a time after we left ACU and moved to Tallahassee for graduate work. We loved so much of it. The discussions were great and we felt the way they did communion was perfect (minus the lack of a meal connected to it): Everyone would gather together around the altar, kneel down together as a group, and we would take it together. They would also bring al the kids out from nursery so the whole family would be there. Absolutely beautiful. Also the lead-up always had the same song each week and the recitation of the Nicene Creed. However, as you have said above. It wasn't home. Intellectually it was very stimulating, theologically they were hitting a homerun every Sunday, so why was part of us not happy? Because it wasn't home. We want some of this newfound intellectual discussions, liturgy, and sense of community in a Church of Christ. It's so hard to leave your home. Even when you're frustrated with your family, they're still family.

  29. Jonathan-

    I hear ya'. Both on the "I'm tired of other people's power plays" and the "I'm doing the same thing, Well probably... maybe..."

    I read this recently. It addresses this ex cellently.


  30. But I think the situation is symmetrical, no? If I articulate a progressive view in a conservative context I'll face charges of being a bad person and being non-obedient. For example, a conservative is called a homophobe and the gay person is called a pervert.

    Can I ask a question? Do your read a lot of progressive blogs? If you do I can't help but feel that you'd feel ganged up on. If you read a lot of people who are always disagreeing with you that's got to take an emotional toll. The point being, that feeling you are having might be a reflection of your blog reading. But maybe not. Maybe you read lots of blogs that deeply resonate and speak to you exactly where you are, theologically speaking.

  31. I don't have labels for most of my beliefs. Mostly because I haven't really paid much attention to the wider world of Christianity. But I do have one label for myself and that is egalitarian. I inherited it from my parents. Even though I was raised church of Christ and attended churches where women's riles were limited to certain arenas of ministry, I grew up believing that men and women, in the eyes of God, are permitted to worship and participate in worship equally. What does this have to do with Rachel and her viral blog post about millennials?

    I used to be very angry about how I was treated at church because of the form of my body. So angry that I couldn't bear to go to church any longer. While attending college in that desert town you now inhabit, I tried to go to Highland and Southern Hills. I couldn't do it. I was too angry and ashamed of myself for being angry.

    My anger wasn't healed when I became a wife, mother of two daughters, and a stay home mom (all positions I was determined to never hold). It was healed when the church we attend decided to study what the Bible says about women and women in ministry. I wasn't healed by their conclusion (after nearly a year of study and prayer that included the entire congregation) that women should be included in that holy sphere of serving in the worship service. I was healed by the discussion and study that surrounded the decision.

    Because the discussion, though costly and painful for the whole church, was prompted by love for God and his Kingdom and because we were lead through the study with love, grace and humility. Did people loose their temper? Yes. Did people leave the church family? Yes. Did the elders, who had prayed and prayed before they came to the congregation with this study, cry when those they loved stormed out of the church? Yes, they did. What happened didn't change my opinion on women in the church. What happened was I learned about love and that love, not policy, is the glue that holds a family together. Love first.

    Ok, so, really now, what does this have to do with your blog post? It's sort of a tenuous connection but it also isn't. Jesus doesn't care what your label says. Jesus doesn't care about your gender, your social position, your education, your race. He probably doesn't care about laser light shows, coffee shops or the famous invited to speak either. Jesus cares about how you respond to his love. So have a coffee shop, that's awesome - if your coffee shop welcomes all, loves all.

    Is it presumptuous of me to say these things? Yeah, it probably is. Jesus doesn't need me to speak for him, he needs me to speak of him. So when it comes to the wider Christian world, my first thought is love. That corny phrase What Would Jesus Do? What would Jesus do about our huge, rich churches that seem so empty of love? What would Jesus do about the small churches that are set in their ways? What does Jesus want us to do with them?

    Love them. Isn't that the answer we're looking for?

  32. Some of us were raised in traditions--it runs in your blood--that we
    think aren't as Christ-following as we think they should be.

    This. Indeed this is what everyone is discussing. The black hole is that the debate has boiled down to a "no we aren't--yes you are" with the organization and/or institution called "church" at the pivot. Even your two options have at their center the church--leave it or stay in it. Change "it" or obey "it".


    My wonder is if the focus on the church is the point we're missing? Perhaps this is all an idolatrous dance around the principality and power that she has become.

  33. Wow. Pastor Matt's irony is lost on himself. His point is that reforming theology is bad and he illustrates it at the top with the most famous reformation of theology in Christian history. That *IS* interesting. :)

  34. Disregard my comments below, because these two comments, above, get to what I was trying to say.

    I'll only add one autobiographical note, on the final point that you thought was profound and powerful. Although I've been publicly pilloried (google "Postmodern Jon"!) for being too progressive, I've also belonged, all my life, to a family and church and context that was non-dysfunctionally evangelical. And I get severely annoyed when people from both sides pretend that these contexts don't exist (sometimes I wonder if they've heard of Ron Sider and Tony Campolo and Fuller and Asbury).

    Feel free to work out your own combination of dissent and loyalty, for which I deeply honor you. But watch that you don't simply take for granted that no reasonable readers will think that there are plenty of such churches, churches that are already thoughtful and accepting and open and questioning and healthy--despite the sins and flaws we all have.

  35. Of course it's symmetrical--except conservative contexts are (in my experience) usually far more overt, and pernicious, in their power-plays. It drives me crazy, and makes me not want to be around them. On the other hand, all the conservatives I love (for example, at Highland) have spent decades repenting of their power plays, and are extremely careful not to talk about you as a bad person if you're a universalist, gay, etc. Ironically, the progressives I love (for example, at Highland) seem less careful, less aware that they might be making power plays.

    Yes, I'm probably far more in the progressive world lately, and hence feel more "ganged up on" by progressives, whereas 10 years ago I was far more around conservatives, and felt "ganged up on" by them.

    Finally, I don't know how to get across that this isn't about disagreement. The blog I read that resonates most deeply, theologically, is yours. The second would be RHE's. So the idea that you two are just "people who disagree with me" doesn't quite cover it. I'm not here to check up on my theological opponents. I'm here to keep my theological allies honest.

  36. I appreciate that and you. We all need help avoiding the echo chamber.

    You know, I was out mowing the grass and pondering our situation, you and I, in this exchange.

    I feel compelled, as do all Christians, to get clear for myself what is or is not a sin, what is or is not a manifestation of love, what is or is not an example of following Jesus. And here I articulate the findings of those ruminations. This, in my estimation, is a sin. This, in my estimation, is loving and this is not. This is following Jesus and this is not. And I know articulating these things causes pain, but I'm hard-pressed to know what else to do. Except to stay, no one reports to me. And they shouldn't because I'm a human being.

    And key for me is that I don't treat anyone badly who disagrees. I go to a church more conservative than I am, serving it, I think, passionately and actively. No one could accuse me of being a church-abused, hate-filled bomb thrower in the pews.

    But to be clear, if asked, to go back to that post about men lording over women, I'd tell anyone in the church that I think what we are doing is sinful. I have a considered opinion about, it's the right word or me, and I'll share that view if asked. I think it's lording over, Jesus said don't do that, so we are "missing the mark." That's how I see things. But how to share honestly without making someone feel judged?

  37. Personally, I think it is fine to exercise power. The question for me is whether power is being exercised accountably, responsibly, in accordance with the law of love. So I don't think that saying, "this is a power play" is immediately disqualifying. It leads to other questions, like: "Is that a legitimate use of power? Is it accountable?" I think part of the trouble with non-overt power use is that it is harder to notice, and much harder to hold accountable.

  38. OK. I like your ruminations on what is following Jesus, and I love your awareness of potential sinfulness in your own thoughts/ tendencies. Only when you are talking about what isn't following Jesus, particularly when they are thoughts/ tendencies you don't particularly resonate with, do I sometimes think you are judging without understanding.

    C. S. Lewis once said he never spoke against the vices of gambling or sodomy, because those were the two vices he'd never been tempted by. I think you should never speak against Calvinism or gender-exclusiveness, since you don't seem to have enough intellectual sympathy to give a non-condescending account of why those may be wrong. Note well: even if I'm right on this, you could still advocate on behalf of gender-inclusion, or universalism, but you could do so without trying to figure out whether other views "work".

    But I'm probably wrong, and anyway, you put things so well that I love joining the conversation with you!

  39. Thanks, Kenton--that article does address the issue well. And thanks, Dan. I think in English the phrase "power play" assumes something manipulative, something cheating, in the way we exercise power. Whether any human ever exercises power without cheating is another question--one that may be related to the question of what Jesus meant by "lording over". . . .

  40. Richard,
    I really appreciate this post. You are on to something when you point out that she doesn't want to move on to a Christian tradition/"fellowship" that fits her better because she has visions of a brighter future from within the heritage that she already knows, as imperfect as it is. It is a sign of maturity to not feel like you have to be in a room full of people who agree with you on everything in order to feel at home. It is also a sign of maturity to not feel like you have to go somewhere else where things have already been ironed out by other people...and instead do the ironing yourself, right where you are. I see her doing this, I see you pointing it out in this post very succinctly and I appreciate both of those things.

  41. We lost our pastor last evening, the result of an accidental, inexplicable morning fall down the front steps of one of the two churches (Episcopal) that she served. In the hours since, many of us have found comfort in a prayer attributed to St. Francis (found on Page 833 of the Book of Common Prayer) because it so eloquently and accurately expressed the day-to-day (and to her quite ordinary) life of a wise and gracious woman who served us into her 75th year. I'll not quote it; anyone interested can find it easily online.

    Earlier last week, I read admiringly the RHE piece for CNN and then with mixed feelings many of the responses to it.

    If we merely lived this prayer-book "high church" summing up of the Gospel (most likely not composed by St. Francis at all) --- mainline, conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical, progressive, not --- rather than dividing into camps and squabbling about it, there might be hope. Of course I'm no better at doing that than the next guy.

  42. Thanks for posting this and thanks, to RHE, for linking her follow-up essay. The number of times (and from whom) the original essay showed up on my Facebook feed skewed my initial reaction.

    The lesson I learned from this is to go to the source and try to understand. Sometimes the message gets lost with the messenger.

  43. Thanks Matt. I'm trying to do the same in my own situation. My church is more "conservative" than I am, but I love them to death.

  44. Thank you as well. I still think about our exchange regarding the Whore of Babylon imagery in the Revelation. We had a sharp exchange, but I learned a lot and still think about the points you made. I think that's why it's worthwhile to "debate" from time to time if you get a good person to debate with. You might not agree in the end, but you are changed, often in lasting ways and for the better.

  45. What's with this word "progressive" as a political label? I don't get why anyone would use it. 1. It smacks of 19th century liberalism. 2. It smacks of arrogance 3. It's a way of defining oneself over against some equally poorly defined others. Why not become Neo-Anabaptist, at least there is a chance of a serious theological 'third way' that is neither neither catholic nor Protestant (in the magisterial sense) and neither evangelical nor liberal. Why not ditch the term evangelical altogether since it is not really a description (and if it is it tends to get the evangel wrong) but rather a boundary marker for a religious-industrial complex.

  46. Where you go is a really good church with some really great people and I am glad that you attend there and make that a better place. The theological spectrum (Conservative to Liberal/Progressive) is such a fluid concept because so much of how you determine where someone or a church is, is in relation to another reference point on that spectrum:

    1 - Where are they theologically in relation to me?
    2 - Where are they theologically in relation to Christianity as a whole?
    3 - Where are they theologically in relation to other churches in the same denomination?
    4 - Where are they theologically in relation to their surrounding geographic area?

    In the broad scheme of things you might be less conservative than the people you worship with but sit in a room full of universalist unitarians and you might be the old school conservative guy.

  47. I've been kind of amused by the way this article has been (the online version of) brandished with regard to proponents of church reform. Amused because I'm not a millenial but my faith journey included a falling away, leaving churchiness entirely only to return about 10 years later. I returned solely due to connecting with my sister and her family but, as I sat through services, it was very easy for me to use that pattern of familiarity to re-intro myself to the idea of this community. Thankfully, that was right when many of the ideas behind "missional church" were coming to the fore, and, to me, drawing those old poisons (i.e., the reasons I left) out from old wounds. So to the folks going all "Chicken Little" on this I'd say relax - those folks might just return down the road and maybe even in a better headspace.

  48. I'm a week behind in blog reading, so I just came across this piece and I really appreciate it. It's what I too want. I'm so tired of the kind of Christianity that requires someone to set aside their mind, as though truth can only be found among scripture and the very narrow way that some churches insist scripture must be read as. I'm also tired of the kind of Christianity where the church or doctrinal dogma, rather than Jesus, is the focus. Following Jesus results includes being the church and ascribing to various beliefs (doctrine) but when the later can never replace the former as our calling.

  49. "The point is not that these churches don't exist. It's that they are so scarce, that there is not enough of them." thank you!

  50. Well said, Matt. So many of us simply hit the eject button rather than engage in the long, messy, often frustrating process of getting folks to see another perspective. It requires grace, patience, forbearance, mutual respect and assuming the person with whom you disagree is motivated by the same love and conviction you are. It also requires an acceptance that you may not get, or live to see all the change you would like.

  51. Thankfully, others have expressed with far greater erudition and elegance than I'm capable of (particularly Alastair), some extraordinarily important and insightful critiques of the people/movement/generation Rachel represents in her piece. With those insights in mind, I would simply say that as someone who is a little older than Rachel (38), not raised in the Church, but very much a conservative curmudgeon, I find myself pretty much in agreement with her expressions of what she wants out of church. On their face, those aspirations do not in my view necessarily smack of a "progressive vision for the church." Do they?

    And even if that is what she intends, surely there is some shared space in the midst of those aspirations where both sides find themselves standing together with the gospel?

  52. LOL. Since I'm also from TX, I concur. Anyone from Tennessee has it better already. RHE is the best!

  53. No matter where or what I read from RHE, I keep coming back to the central irony of her stance, expressed in the block quote. Look at how many times the words "we want" are repeated. This is not just semantics; this is simply trying to create another brand in the consumerist church marketplace. (Some might argue she's succeeding.) As I look back over 37 years in the faith, there are an awful of things I didn't "want" (and they don't stop cropping up, either). That is the nature of a faith that ultimetely has its origins in something other than my will, and that is one of the fundamental issues of discipleship.

  54. Maybe it's just that her detractors don't agree with her? No, you're right, definitely the jealousy thing. Sheesh.

  55. The word is already a poitical term and has been for a long time--Progressive Party, etc. Look it up.

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