Remembering Rachel Held Evans
Remembering Rachel Held Evans

Remembering Rachel Held Evans

This is not the article I had planned on publishing this morning. I had planned a rather involved treatise challenging that political conservatism and Christianity do not go together. That article will have to wait for next week.

In the course of working on that article, I had reason to stop by Rachel Held Evan’s website. There, I discovered that she was in a medically induced coma after suffering seizures resulting from an allergic reaction to antibiotics. At that particular point early in the week, the tone was positive and hopeful, but it did not stay that way.

Rachel Held Evans died early Saturday morning, surrounded by her family and a host of dear friends at the age of 37. She leaves behind her husband, Dan, and two very young children.

There has been a flood of sympathetic response, a GoFundMe to help defray medical expenses and all the kind responses one might expect for someone who was loved and respected both within and external to the Christian evangelical community. That is what is appropriate for now. Many will have justifiable questions later but at this moment, there is a grieving husband and two confused babies who have lost the dynamic center of their universe. What matters right now is that they have the support they need to pick up the pieces and continue.

I focused on a Twitter rant from Mrs. Evans back in January of 2018. In it, she challenged church patriarchy and the climate of sexual abuse it hides and too often excused. Hers was but the first of many voices on the more progressive side of the evangelical movement to call out not only pastors but entire churches and denominations for their complicity in the abuse plaguing the Christian church.

Mrs. Evans was one of maybe four people in public Christian circles for whom I still have some respect. While I certainly didn’t agree with everything she wrote, she was one of the few voices of reason to stand up and object while the rest of the Church careens off a cliff following the path of Pharisees.

The world needs more voices like Rachel Held Evans, voices willing to stand up to religious traditions that make absolutely no sense, voices willing to call out the patriarchal nonsense embedded in contemporary Christianity, voices that don’t give in to political conservatism that flies in direct opposition to the teachings of Christ. Her passing is a tremendous loss to the community of people who want to believe but aren’t buying the bullshit of the religious right.

To remember Mrs. Evans, I decided to re-publish the article from January, 2018, that first brought her to my attention. Some of the social and political references feel a little dated now because we’ve suffered through so much other nonsense in the interim. Still, her words ring as strongly now as they did then. They always will. Rachel Held Evans had an incredible voice and we are blessed that, for a while, she shared it with us.

Here is the complete article:

Old Man Talking

Rachel Held Evans on Sexual Abuse & Patriarchy in the Church

Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) went on a Twitter rant in response to the standing ovation a Memphis megachurch pastor received after admitting he had sexually assaulted a teenager.

Let’s be very clear from the beginning that I don’t know Rachel Held Evans. I know she has authored three books: Searching For Sunday, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, and Faith Unraveled. She’s married, has a baby boy, and her online presence is carefully managed by her publisher. Honestly, she strikes me as the type of overly zealous “I came back to Jesus so you should too” type of millennial who is attempting to re-work Christianity so that it fits more comfortably with the worldview common to her age group. That’s not a criticism, necessarily, but an acknowledgment that, like most millennials, she has difficulty accepting the status quo and chooses to re-fashion the existing structure rather than chucking it and starting over. People her age are doing similar things in fashion, retail, beer brewing, banking, advertising, and even politics. So be it.

Until this morning, I had no reason to be interested in Ms. Evans or her books. I seem to vaguely recall seeing a publisher’s blurb for Searching For Sunday (or maybe a reference from John Pavlovitz?) but her story is her story, not something an old apple like me is going to find inspirational. I do best just letting those things be. I’ve no reason to comment. 

Then, I open Twitter this morning (@ThOldManTalking) and find Ms. Evans has responded to a news item in the way that is now most likely to have a wide-spread affect: Twitter Rant. The rant comes in response to news reports (I’m looking at the story in the NY Times) that members of the Memphis megachurch Highpoint gave pastor Andy Savage a standing ovation after he admitted to having sexually assaulted a teenaged member of his congregation 20 years ago.  No, I’m not kidding. They actually stood an applauded his admission of sexual assault. There’s video to which I won’t like because, frankly, it’s disgusting.

Obviously, and with good reason, the Internet did its collective spit take when the news came out and every pastor worth their salt, all four of them, condemned what happened, recognizing that the action is symptomatic of a Church that is woefully out of touch with Christianity, let alone the society it purports to serve. Ms. Evans’ tweet storm, though, goes a step further in addressing one of the root causes of many of the Church’s failings: patriarchy. We mention patriarchy as one of the sources of unwarranted privilege just last week. She hones in specifically on its role in maintaining an acceptance of abuse that the rest of society sees as untenable.

Here are Ms. Evans’ tweets, hopefully in the order they appeared:

This week: 1 James Dobson encouraged Christians to fast & pray for the protection a serial sex abuser (Trump). 2 When a mega-church pastor’s criminal sexual assault was exposed, he received a standing ovation from his congregation. 3 One of Roy Moore’s victims’ house burned down.

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

All of these stories point to why I’m sadly pessimistic about a #metoo-style cultural shift in evangelical Christianity (and, to an extent, the broader Church). I’m pessimistic because of the deadly combination of patriarchy & (as discussed recently) evangelical exceptionalism…

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

As I’ve stated before, evangelical exceptionalism understands “the world” or “the culture” to be filled with darkness & sin, teeming with people who are “lost,” and evangelicalism & evangelicals to be the sole bearers of light, the counter-cultural path to salvation…

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

…White evangelicals perceive “the world” to struggle with racism & sexual immorality, but not themselves. Because of this, it’s rare to see serious efforts made at examining the ways racism & toxic masculinity/patriarchy are embedded in evangelical culture…

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

…You see this so clearly in the fact that Andy Savage’s church rejects LGBT people, yet gives their abusive pastor a standing ovation! (This points to the reality that anti-LGBT sentiment is usually more about prejudice than a commitment to “sexual purity.”)…

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

The fact is, evangelical culture (and, generally speaking, the Church culture at large) remains mired in patriarchy. So someone who is perceived as a “man of God” doing “God’s work” will almost always be protected over women & children. It happens all. the. time.

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

When Savage’s victim came forward, who did she face? Who was in charge of her church? Men. All men. When churches sideline women from leadership, a culture of patriarchy is inevitable and toxic, abusive masculinity flourishes.

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

But you won’t see many churches challenging patriarchy or abuse or toxic masculinity in Christian culture. Instead, you hear sermon after sermon railing against immodesty, cohabitation, sex before marriage, LGBT people – all those real or perceived “sins of the culture”…

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

In order to turn #metoo into #churchtoo, the Church in America, and specifically evangelicals, are going to have to muster some humility and take a serious look at how patriarchy, sexism, and toxic masculinity have infected their culture…

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

It’s great to see women like @BethMooreLPM & @KayWarren1 speaking out. But as long as church leadership & evangelical culture are dominated by men (who believe God wants it that way!) I fear the voices of women & victims will not be heard and nothing will change.

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

TLDR version: In the name of Jesus, smash the damn patriarchy. / End thread.

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 10, 2018

Hold on, she’s not really done quite yet.

So I feel like this thread was too pessimistic and Oprah says we should be hopeful. So some hopeful thoughts: While the Church in America is perhaps not positioned to lead the charge against sexual harassment & toxic masculinity…

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 11, 2018

…there are some significant generational differences within the Church, including evangelicalism, that suggest attitudes are changing on gender & sexuality. I’m hopeful this means more introspective conversations about consent, inclusion, & patriarchy in the near future.

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 11, 2018

Also, our present cultural moment, as tough as it’s been, seems to have emboldened some voices of dissent among evangelical women. If evangelicals yield to their wisdom, there’s hope.

— Rachel Held Evans (@rachelheldevans) January 11, 2018

Wow. I fully agree with everything Ms. Evans says in that rant and more. Patriarchy is a significant part of what makes religious privilege so very dangerous to a fair and equitable society. As long as the prevailing thought is that women need to “stay in their lane and do what they’re told,” we’re not going to see any progress within that portion of society. Even evangelical women are supporting this abusive nonsense, which is symptomatic of long-term abuse.

Ms. Evans makes a couple of references in her rant that probably need some clarification for anyone not glued to multiple news feeds.

Re. James Dobson (sorry, I just threw up a little): The founder of the ultra-rightwing group “Focus on the Family,” Dobson said in a conference call, ” I’m calling for a nationwide movement to pray for him [the president]. I’m calling for a day of fasting and prayer. I hope that Christian people from coast to coast will join in that time. The date is your choice, but we do need to be praying for our president.” Dobson is afraid that the president is impeachable which would result in a loss of power for religious-based hate groups such as his. [source: Newsweek]

Re. Roy Moore: According to the Washington Examiner, “the family home of Tina Johnson, one of the several women who recently accused the failed U.S. Senate candidate of sexual misconduct in the 1990s, was destroyed in a blaze.” The fire has prompted an arson investigation. One has to admit it looks highly suspicious.

Re. Kay Warren: The wife of Rick Warren, pastor of the Saddleback megachurch, tweeted:

The church must lead the way in cleaning house over sexual abuse. We dishonor God if we expect those outside the church to be held responsible for their sinful/criminal behavior and applaud those guilty of the same actions in the church.

— Kay Warren (@KayWarren1) January 10, 2018

While the words are nice to the ears of some, she still bows to the patriarchy defended by her husband.

Re. Beth Moore. Ms. Moore is the founder of Living Proof Ministries, one of those organizations directed specifically toward evangelical women. Some claim the purpose of these organizations is to keep evangelical women in line, but I’m not familiar enough with this one to comment further. I’m not seeing any tweet from Ms. Moore that directly references matters of abuse and/or patriarchy but she did post this:

Grateful for brothers asking what you can do for your sisters. This would be my shot at a short answer: treat us with the same dignity with which you want to be treated. Don’t talk down to us. Value what we bring. And know that most of us have zero desire to reduce or seduce you.

— Beth Moore (@BethMooreLPM) January 10, 2018

I’ll be honest, that tweet makes me very uncomfortable and I’m not sure it’s the one to which Ms. Evans refers. If it’s not, I apologize. Something tells me Ms.Moore and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, though.

I’m going to restrain myself from commenting further and let all this information stand on its own merit or lack thereof. Arguing belief systems with people is a pointless waste of time and misses the greater issue that both religion and patriarchy establish and maintain a level of privilege that is unjust, unfair, and unequal on a grand scale. So long as such a system of privilege exists people are going to suffer in more ways than can be enumerated.

Consider this a sidebar to the greater conversation regarding a doctrine of fairness. More on that particular issue is coming soon. I hope. Depending on the weather (quite literally).

Abide in Peace,
-The Old Man

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