Rachel Held Evans is a writer, speaker, and online activist about faith-related topics, who sent shock waves rippling across Christian social media in 2015 when she said she no longer considers herself “evangelical.”
Readers of Evan’s books – including her first, Evolving in Monkey Town (Zondervan, 1994) and her New York Times bestseller A Year of Biblical Womanhood (Thomas Nelson, 2012) – and followers of her extensive social media presence and blog know she doesn’t shy from controversy.
Her new book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again (Thomas Nelson), which releases in June just two weeks before her second child is due, explores patriarchy in the Bible, her commitments to feminism and the LGBTQ community, and why she no longer considers herself an evangelical.
At the start of your book, you call yourself a “Bible bully”. What do you mean?
This book is an attempt to move beyond that “I’ve found a verse that proves you wrong” kind of thing that gets you into an escalating war of verses—and I’ve always liked to win those. Those of us who struggle with doubts and questions with the text have a tendency to lose the joy in engaging it. I wanted to offer critical analysis that honors doubts and questions, but that also recovers some of the joy of these beautiful, surprising Bible stories.
It seems you are still uncomfortable with the Bible, but you intend to remain so, by design. Is that right?
Save me from the day when I’m comfortable with stories of God committing genocide! Yeah, I’m uncomfortable and I hope I always am. I’m much more concerned about people who say they’re comfortable. The point isn’t to get everything to resolve. It’s to pull you into a story that is bigger than yourself, and that pulls in a lot of people who might interpret it differently than you. I think that’s beautiful.
How do you think evangelicals will react to this book?
Early readers said it made them want to read the Bible again. Some evangelicals may object to my more feminist interpretations of the stories. I feel confident in the sources I use, though I wouldn’t be surprised if some evangelicals question them because I’m not just drawing from typical evangelical scholars and sources. The Bible came from a patriarchal world, which means women’s stories are even more powerful when they are set against that background. In the book, it was important for me not to erase the stories of women who were abused and neglected, who suffered at the hands of the patriarchal culture they lived in. I didn’t want to forget that we have powerful stories from Miriam and Mary Magdalene and Junia and Lydia and Hagar. These women should be heard.
Why did you leave evangelicalism?
I can find my way around a Bible backward and forward because evangelicals gave me that foundation—I was raised to love and cherish and be hungry for the Bible. But I don’t use [“evangelical”] to describe myself anymore. It’s taken on political connotations that I adamantly oppose. Trump has become this figurehead of Christianity, which I think is really harmful. But evangelical is such a loosey-goosey term. You ask five evangelicals what it means and you get five different answers.
Also, most evangelical leaders would not consider me evangelical because I am affirming of LGBTQ people. That’s the line in the sand these days. The unspoken rule is that evangelicals are politically conservative and don’t support LGBTQ people in the church or their marriages—and I’m not politically conservative. I didn’t vote for Trump, and just got an invitation in the mail to a same-sex wedding I want to go to. It’s hard to stay positive in this political climate—this evangelical marriage to Trump is going to impact it a lot longer than folks think right now. But as frustrated as I am, I remain grateful they gave me the gift of knowing scripture and wanting to understand it.
Are you writing to your former evangelical Millennials?
I see two distinct audiences for this book—people who grew up in evangelical culture, and are realizing the Bible isn’t really what they were told it was—it’s not an answer book or a position paper or a scientifically, historically reliable textbook. The second is mainline Protestants and Catholics who encounter a lot of scripture in their liturgy and are hungry to get deeper into it. This is the first book where I feel like I have both the world that I came from and the world I’m in now with my readership.