Friday Five Interview: Rachel Held Evans
Can egalitarians and complementarians get along? We asked a prominent author and blogger.

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, 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.

May 03, 2013

Displaying 1–8 of 8 comments

Alan Hirsch

May 06, 2013  6:14pm

Great interview with a great new female leader. Thanks Rachel. I hope you remain stirring the pot.

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May 05, 2013  8:55pm

If she thinks the divide between men and women is unBiblical, would she consider that the divide between clergy and laity is even greater. Why do women want to be a part of a clergy system that is cast in such tradition driven rationalizing justifying that the clergy to 99% of the personal expression of truth and the lay folk say nothing. They only speak out of a hymnal or prayer book or something prepared for them to recite. The scripture is so full of all God's people gathering prepared to speak to "one another" driven by what God has given them. Start with Heb. 10. So she gets it accepted that women can lecture the Word to the saints each Sunday - one a week till the day they die. How has that resolved anthing God has asked for? God never asked men to dominate truth expression like this nor women. Understanding true body of Christ life and doing it is the solution to equal honor among the saints. Adding seminary trained women to the list of expert oriented domination resolves nothing.

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May 05, 2013  7:53pm

I first heard of Rachel Held Evans when I read a blog post a year ago — and I liked her spunk. I posted my reaction on Facebook and immediately got a warning from an uptight ultra-conservative Christian friend, which I completely ignored. I picked up Rachel's book, The Year of Biblical Womanhood, and really enjoyed it. My daughter loved it too. Now I subscribe to Rachel's RSS feed. I don't agree with everything she writes but I love her honesty and integrity. It's refreshing. Keep up the good work, Raechel. BTW, I'm glad you took on John Piper, and pointed out the inconsistencies his view of women scholars vs. women preachers.

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Fran McHugh

May 03, 2013  9:16pm

I enjoyed reading the thoughtful answers to the questions. I was raised in the Plymouth Brethren and for the past 20 years have fellowshipped in a local Southern Baptist church, so my background and bias is complementarian. However, a dear spiritual aunt spent over 20 years as a missionary in New Guinea and when challenged on the subject of teaching men, her response was simple and pointed - "when a man comes to replace me, I will yield to his authority." Anecdotally I am aware of cases where women have indirectly taken over the leadership of local congregations with bad consequences. Historically, women like Amy Semple MacPherson have made a less-than-positive impression, but there a great many more negative male role-models. Biblical examples such as Lydia, Euodia, and Syntache, as well as Junia were clearly leaders "in fact" if not in title. In their absence of "worthy men" the Lord may raise up "these rocks" if need be so it seems clear that women are not prohibited from leadership roles. However, It seems to me that the simplest and safest course (neither of which is necessarily scriptural) is to cede leadership to "worthy men" when they are available.

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May 03, 2013  1:06pm

Great stuff. Too often I am dismissive, or angry, or an unholy combination of both, toward those who hold a complementarian position. I need the reminder that often, those I disagree with have a variation in biblical interpretation, to use Rachel's awesome words.

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May 03, 2013  10:04am

Here's a funny thing – I've never been in a Lifeway bookstore (I don't think they're around these parts) and I have no idea what the Gospel Coalition is. But I read Rachel religiously. (I mostlly ignore those discussions, since I don't really understand what they're about.) Boy we sure are ingenious when it comes to putting each other down.

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Debra Bryan

May 03, 2013  9:50am

Thanks so much for your perspective and insight! I hope that more and more Christians will come to know that they've been sold a "bill of goods" from all kinds of masters in the kingdom of the world. So much so, that I fear many in our spiritual family no longer recognize the One they worship. Please keep His face before us when we read your words!

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May 03, 2013  9:05am

LOVE. So much wisdom here. Young writers, listen up to what she is saying: Consistency. Focus on specific issues. Do your research. Look to Rachel as an example of how to engage criticism and keep the Kingdom as your #1 and we can see the Gospel going out into the nations (including our own!) :)

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