Walking in Rachel Held Evans’ Shoes

Kate Wallace Nunneley

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RHE shoes

 

It was November 2013. The conference had already started, and I was running late.

I walked quickly along the sidewalk with my lunch crew, and we made our way inside. They went straight to their tables, but I wanted to put my coat and scarf away. I walked to the coatroom and grabbed a hanger. I tried to move quickly so as not to miss too much of the current session. Little did I know that God had other plans.

Coat and scarf successfully put away, I turned around just as Rachel Held Evans was rushing in (ala me 10 seconds earlier) with shopping bags in tow.

“Oh good! I’m so glad you’re here! Would you mind helping me? I don’t know why I thought a carry on bag would be big enough.” She walked into the coatroom and sat down.

Hmmm…stand in the back of the room listening to the second half of a panel discussion, or sit and chat with Rachel Held Evans?

I quickly found my seat on the floor next to her as she began unpacking her little suitcase. “Did you go shopping?” I asked, curious how she managed to fit an obviously successful shopping trip into an hour lunch break.

She laughed and told me that these were thank you gifts from the conference for speaking, and “how did I not know by now that I need to bring a bigger suitcase?”

As she re-packed she asked me my thoughts on the conference, about my blog, about my family. She told me she was a fan of The Junia Project, and that she prays for us. We talked about life and writing and hair and smashing the patriarchy. I’m not sure how long we sat on the floor of that coatroom, but no matter the time, it was sacred.

“What size shoes do you wear?” She was struggling to fit the last gift, a pair of Toms boots, into her tiny carry on. “Try these on, I think they might fit you.”

And they did. It was like the egalitarian writer’s version of Cinderella.

It took the strength of both women to zip up that suitcase, but in the end we were the victors.

I had flown to New York specifically for that conference, but the best part of the trip didn’t come from the stage. God spoke to me through the demeanor and grace a successful blogger showed to a brand new one – through her encouragement and support for my calling. The same grace that came through my study of her “Year of Biblical Womanhood” was shown to me in person. I was blown away.

This all happened years ago. So, why do I bring it up now?

 

Last week I read two blog posts that were going around social media, written by Douglas Wilson and Rebekah Merkle. These were the first blogs of theirs that I have read, and their patriarchal views came across clearly. With that in mind, the content of their posts didn’t surprise me, although I understood why others on social media were upset.

The thing that did stand out to me, though, was the demeanor of their writing.

There was quite a lot of name-calling, over-generalizations of people groups, and a hint of defensiveness. Their writing reminded me of a schoolyard bully, and made me think they were going for the shock factor. This style of writing (and preaching) usually rubs me the wrong way because in order to achieve that reaction from their audience, authors must objectify and dehumanize those they are opposing in order to make their points seem like black and white truth.

Also, I couldn’t help but notice that both Wilson and Merkle took time out of those blog posts to say something negative about Rachel Held Evans.

  • Wilson was obviously offended at the way Rachel called out his writing tactics and bullying methods – reacting to her as if he had been scolded.
  • And then you have Merkle who said that Rachel acts like “an indignant jack-in-the-box suffering an emotional spasm”.

Perfect examples of the aforementioned defensiveness and name-calling.

It struck me as I was reading their blog posts that I have read similar writing before. It took me back to the days when I was seeking out the truth about women’s roles in scripture and Christian community – back when I studied complementarian theology written by complementarians, patriarchal theology written by patriarchalists, and egalitarian theology written by egalitarians.

Each viewpoint had its own strengths. All of them made good points about scripture. I put on each viewpoint like a pair of shoes and walked around in them until I found a pair that fit. And while many factors went into my embracing egalitarian theology, there was one big difference between it and the other two viewpoints – demeanor.

As I read the words of complementarians and patriarchalists Piper, Grudem, Kassian, MacArthur, and others, I was struck by their negativity. They called those they disagreed with “wimps” and “witches”. They caricatured egalitarians as liberals bending to the whims of feminism. The demeanor of their writing reminded me of the bullies I dealt with as a kid.

On the other hand, as I read the words of egalitarians Pierce, Bilezikian, Groothuis, and Fee I was struck by the graciousness with which they wrote. Their yearning for the truth didn’t overshadow their love for people and the Church. They were kind even to their opponents. To put it simply, I saw Jesus in them – and that really is something.

The difference in demeanor was a major factor in my becoming an egalitarian. I wanted to learn how to project the love of Christ the way egalitarian theologians did.

 

Rachel Held Evans and I do not agree on every topic. In fact, there are some big differences in our beliefs. But when she blogs on those issues that we take different sides on, I feel invited into conversation with understanding and grace – a very different feeling than I get from blogs by folks like Wilson and Merkle. In that way, I believe Rachel walks in the way of egalitarians before her, and every time I put on those Toms boots, I am proud to be walking in her shoes.

 

——–

Note: There are 3 fantastic responses to Rebekah Merkle‘s post about egalitarian women, see Missio Alliance and Jory Micah’s 1st & 2nd replies .

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31 Comments

  • Such great points here! My church has recently deteriorated from a place of equality and freedom of speech to a place of male dominance and rule-making.
    Don’t question the teaching.
    Don’t gossip i.e. Don’t discuss church policy or sermons.
    Give, give and give to support 3ministers in a shrinking church.
    Listen to a Sunday school story given the name of mature teaching from the pulpit.
    Now, how to deal with this? We’re not leaving but visiting a church plant for a Divine top up, then keeping on gently ignoring the push and acting just as we did before.
    Speak out politely, do the usual, and be heard to be equal in our treatment of each other.
    This post has affirmed for me the way forward, but I do feel demeaned and lacking true freedom at times, until I remember how the difference between servitude and serving.
    Thankyou for a timely Jesus filled session.

  • I also read Rebekah Merkle’s blog and was really disappointed that she, who sounded like a fun woman in some ways, had got caught up in catchy phrases that would sound clever, such as her Jack-in-the-box comment on RHE. I’m sure she doesn’t know Rachel, so her clever quip is hollow and ungracious and untrue. I think she’s probably a good woman with a different opinion of me, but I feel she demeaned herself by belittling people with a different opinion, and whenever someone demeans someone else, they don’t realise it’s themselves who look small.

    I don’t agree with Rachel on everything either, but she is a voice for change, and that’s a good thing.

    Good post, Kate… thanks.

    • I agree Bev. When we fall into that trap of belittling others, we only really demean ourselves. Great point!

  • I made the mistake of clicking on one of the links to the Femina Girls blog, and there’s nothing I regret more doing than that today. Appauling. How can “Christians” use disturbingly hateful language like that toward their “sister’s in Christ” and think they are encouraging others (that’s their tagline there) is beyond me. With faith sisters like that, who needs enemies?

    • I felt similarly Elena. Upsetting to say the least.

  • Amen Kate! I agree wholeheartedly! I believe that everything is spiritual, and I’ve come across many complementarians who have a mean and prideful and condescending spirit about them. (This is not to say all believers who hold this doctrine are as such.) Ultimately we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and the spirit of misogyny can’t help but to project its true nature through its tone. What I love about egalitarianism is that by its very essence, it invites all of us to sit down and have a conversation. We all, male and female, come to the table as teachers and as students to share with and learn from one another.

  • Interesting. I haven’t read those posts and I’m not going to, but I do follow Rachel Held Evans’ blog and, like you say, although I don’t agree with everything she writes, what I love and admire is the grace which she extends to those who disagree.

  • I 1000% agree, and had almost the exact same conversation with someone yesterday about Rachel Held Evans… well… except for the part about chatting with her at a conference. Thanks for sharing!

    • I was so encouraged by your posts Jory! You did a fantastic job!

  • Thanks Kate, and thanks to you and Gail for always practicing what you are preaching in this post. Thanks for offering a vision about how “smashing the patriarchy” doesn’t have to include sinner against others.

    • Oh my gosh, you are such a great writer! Thanks for sharing your blog! and I have to say “absolute power corrupts absolutely” – Amen sister.

  • Wonderful experience. Thanks for sharing that.

    Also, I am often struck by the same difference of graciousness and valuing people, versus the bully who steps on others to get ahead. Great encouragement for us all to stay gracious even when we think we need to speak “loudly”.

  • Great post and great reminder to be mindful of our words. Years of being on the defensive is a hard habit to break! There is great relief, however is letting go of the need to “win” in favor of a passion for progress. When any of us genuinely grow in Christ by the power of the Spirit, it gives us all a chance to grow together. Grace is the only way I’ve found for that to work. Thanks for sharing (and I love Rachel’s heart, too!)

  • Thank you, Kate, for putting into words so many of my thoughts and emotions that I had over the weekend. Well written (as ALWAYS) and beautifully said.

  • Thank you, Kate, for this especially timely and helpful blog post.

  • That is a good measuring tool, Kate: does the person remind me of Jesus? If so, then it is worth listening to what they have to say. If not, then what they say should be scrutinized to determine if there might be wheat among the chaff. Some are so unlike Jesus that I don’t spend much time reading them at all.

  • Oh my goodness. Me too! I went into seminary thinking Complementarianismistic. With a good systematic theology professor asking some good questions and my having to choose a term paper topic, I took a look at the very authors you did. The posturing of each group was so different that my paper ended up with the title, “Love: the Higher Calling of the Gender Debate.” Grace abounded in the egalitarian writers and harshness, name-calling, and arrogance filled the pages of the Complementarians. That affected me deeply. It niggled at my soul and gently pressed me to ask why the harshness? Why the heavy-handed responses? What are these people afraid of? Afraid of loosing? That same staunch meanness was found in my classmates who had their views. Thank you for posting your experience. Grace and love verses power and control speak into our souls.

    • Dawn, your story is so interesting! I do think you nailed it on the head too. I think they are afraid of something.

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