For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Rachel Held Evans. Rachel is a popular Christian blogger, author, and speaker. Her latest book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood was a New York Times bestseller, provoking conversations on gender roles in Christianity. She's been featured on NPR, in Slate, the BBC, The Washington Post, The Guardian (UK), The Times London, The Huffington Post, and on Oprah.com, among others. Her blog is widely read.
Today we asked Rachel about the writing process, the role controversy plays in building an online platform, and if she can get along with complementarians.
You're a popular Christian author, blogger, and speaker. Have you always enjoyed writing and when you did you first sense this calling?
I always knew I wanted to be a writer. In fact, in third grade, my mom tied my hair back in bun, placed a pair of fake glasses on my nose, and sent me out the door with a legal pad under my arm so I could dress up as an author for "career day" at school, just like I wanted. (Had I known the true author's dress code, I would have worn my pajamas and a pair of slippers to school that day instead!) Since then, I have been writing and writing like crazy, and I feel so blessed to get to do what I love for a living. Writing is how I process things. It's how I understand the world around me. And, in many ways, writing is how I pray, how I worship, how I share the Gospel.
You're known for your outspoken egalitarian position when it comes to gender issues and church leadership. Is there a way to hold an egalitarian position and yet respect the convictions of those who are complementarian?
Oh certainly! The best conversations I have with complementarians are those in which we recognize from the outset that our differences stem from variations in biblical interpretation, not a divergence in our esteem for Scripture itself. Many of my closest friends disagree with me on gender roles, so I know from experience how important it is to celebrate all the things we have in common—like the gospel, for example! And communion!— before engaging in another healthy, vigorous debate about the meaning of the Hebrew word, "ezer," or the context of the New Testament Greco-Roman household codes.
Now, I do think that because the complementarian position generally involves some degree of regulation and limitation when it comes to women's roles in the home and church, the impetus is on complementarians to show that their restrictions on women are justified. While I certainly do not consider women in ministry to be a "salvation issue" or fundamental to Christian orthodoxy, I do think it is an incredibly important issue because it affects more than 50 percent of the church. (Well, really, it affects the whole Church. What I mean is that women are not a mere issue; we are a significant part of the Body.) And so I advocate for gender equality with a lot of passion because I believe the Church functions at its best when all people—male and female, Jew and Greek, slave and free—can share the gospel in the ways that they are most gifted and most effective. I think of Phoebe Palmer, whose teaching converted thousands upon thousands of people to Christianity in the 1800s, and my hero, Leymah Gbowee, who launched a peaceful revolution to end Liberia's long and bloody civil war from the pulpit of her church, and I wonder how many more of these stories we could tell if all women were free serve as they feel called in the Church.