She doesn't really know me from Adam, but Rachel Held Evans and I really don't see eye to eye very often. Her latest blog post is no exception. In it, she offers 15 reasons why she "left the church." Now, I freely confess that I don't know what she means by the term, since she claims to be in the process of looking for a church where she fits in. I'm assuming she now sees herself as "out" of the church somehow, but am too terrified to read the 400+ comments on the post for more clues, as they almost always seem bring out the worst in everyone. Perhaps a braver soul than myself will journey into that abyss and report back.
Regardless of the poor ecclesiology which almost certainly underlies her entire post, and whatever she means by saying she has "left the church," one thing is for sure: she considers herself "out." In the post, she offers 15 reasons for her departure, and I have some frank observations, though I admit my title is a bit deceptive. I don't have 15 reasons why she shouldn't have left the church, but I hope to comment on many of her reasons.
Before I begin, I wish to openly observe that Mrs. Evans would almost certainly add blog posts like the one I am writing to her list of grievances with the church. Therefore, Mrs. Evans, if you are reading this post right now, I hope you will hear me out in spite of the fact that I am choosing to disagree with you. As G.K. Chesterton said, minds are meant to be open in order to let something in and then close again.
Several of the reasons Evans lists for leaving the church have to do with gender roles in the church. I don't know her personal experience, but it seems like there are more than a few denominations which allow women to preach and teach. The Methodist Church down the street... the Congregational church down the street... the Anglican church next door... The Free Methodist Church down the street...
She lists one reason: "1. I left the church because I’m better at planning Bible studies than baby showers...but they only wanted me to plan baby showers." The PCA, to which I belong, would allow her to teach Sunday School to other women and to children. Perhaps she wants the whole kit-and-caboodle and won't settle for anything less than the pulpit. If so, she can join my club. I am not licensed to preach in my denomination, either, but I get to do lots of Sunday School teaching and leading small groups, which I consider to be no small thing.
"4. I left the church because sometimes it felt like a cult, or a country club, and I wasn’t sure which was worse." When given a shot at making this work, I'm sure Mrs. Evans was able to keep her house church from feeling neither cult-like or country club like. Actually, I take that back. All house churches feel cult-like. There's no avoiding it.
"8. I left the church because it was often assumed that everyone in the congregation voted for Republicans." She could have come to our church. We're all libertarians, as best I can tell.
"9. I left the church because I felt like I was the only one troubled by stories of violence and misogyny and genocide found in the Bible, and I was tired of people telling me not to worry about it because 'God’s ways are higher than our ways.' " Didn't she have access to any books? Just because people in her church didn't have satisfying answers isn't a reason to leave. Perhaps Mrs. Evans should have been the one to find the answers and help out. My thinking is, if my church is lacking something, I should seek to build it up, not retreat from it.
"13. I left the church because I had learned more from Oprah about addressing poverty and injustice than I had learned from 25 years of Sunday school." Give them all free cars! The keys are under your seats, ladies and gentlemen.
Her most honest admission of all: "10. I left the church because of my own selfishness and pride." I don't mean this in an accusatory or cruel way, but if you read through the list of 15 reason she left the church, they are all profoundly self-centered and self-focused. This is very revealing, because this answer (#10) should really be appended to each of her 15 points. How does it benefit the church for Mrs. Evans to leave it? In what sense does she build up the body of Christ by removing herself from it? Her church clearly doesn't seem to have had knowledgeable people who could explain something as simple as violence and misogyny in the OT. There appear to have been needs there which people were not stepping up to fill.
In the end, we do have a whole world of selfish human beings. Some of them choose to attend church for numerous reasons - some good, and often some self-serving - but those who choose to run from it while manufacturing smug, self-justifying excuses couched in self-righteous condemnation of their former places of worship are doing harm to themselves by kidding themselves that separation from Christ's body on earth is actually a moral, righteous, and good thing to do. (Maybe they should join Harold Camping in proclaiming the end of the Church Age.)
I am no fan of Mrs. Evans' theology, and I am certainly no fan of her ecclesiology. But if Mrs. Evans is indwelt by the Spirit of Christ and considers herself saved of Jesus Christ, she owes it to herself to return to her family - her brothers and sisters.
"14. I left the church because there are days when I’m not sure I believe in God, and no one told me that “dark nights of the soul” can be part of the faith experience." I go to one of those traditional, conservative, scary Calvinistic churches, and people are so open with me there. One morning I asked one of our elders how he was doing and he just paused and said to me, "Sometimes it's hard to follow Jesus. And it's really hard to come in to church when you were only yelling at your kids 5 minutes ago in the car. But I'm glad Christ's still lets me come and worship him anyway." I guess her problem makes me feel really grateful to be part of a body where transparency is encouraged and sin is looked at as something to be defeated rather than celebrated.
I don't share these things to say, "Look! I found a perfect church!" but rather to say that every church will have blind spots and areas they're really good at. Rather than contributing and making her church more the way she thinks Jesus wants it to be, she has left it. And leaving it altogether is a mistake. (I keep repeating this point because it's my main point.) It does seem, to me, that there are plenty of liberal mainline churches where she could go and feel welcome.
I'm trying to speak to Mrs. Evans on her own terms and not to bring her around to my Reformed, Presbyterian way of thinking of the Church (though I'd like that) because it's wiser to deal with the big error and then deal with the small ones. My gut feeling on posts like Mrs. Evans' is that they arise out of a need to justify oneself before one's peers. When two people break up, questions are inevitable. It's impossible to answer the question of why the breakup happened without insulting the other. The fact is, Mrs. Evans sees problems in the church, and that's enough for her to break it off. We should be grateful that Christ doesn't divorce the church just because he sees his church when she wakes up in the morning with that nasty green facemask with cucumbers over her eyes and rollers in her hair.