Who’s afraid of Rachel Held Evans?

Who’s afraid of Rachel Held Evans? October 16, 2012

The cover story on the current issue of Christianity Today is “50 Women to Watch.”

Many people seem to have misunderstood that headline. CT meant it in a positive sense — as in “here are a bunch of people you’ll want to keep an eye on because they’re doing interesting things.” But the self-appointed gatekeepers of the evangelical tribe never interpret anything positively. They’re treating this list as if it was a watch-list put out by the tribal Department of Homeland Security. For them, this is a list of “50 Women Against Whom One Must Be Vigilant.”

Denny Burke — Alfalfa to Al Mohler’s Spanky at Southern Baptist seminary — kicked things off by scrutinizing the list for “non-evangelicals” and criticizing CT for treating “high-achieving women excelling in their respective fields as something to be celebrated.”

That’s a no-no for Burke, because in his eyes, women should only be commended for “excelling in roles that the scripture commends.”

And, no, for Burke that doesn’t mean apostles like Junia, deacons like Phoebe, prophets like Huldah and kick-ass military leaders like Deborah. For Burke, “the scripture” is a lot smaller than that. Very, very small. Cramped. Stunted. Tiny.

Burke is particularly irked by the inclusion of Rachel Held Evans in Christianity Today’s list. Well, at first he just seems irked, but then when you read through his own comments in the long thread for his post it’s clear he’s not so much angry as afraid.

This is apparently a thing. Evangelical gatekeepers are scared of Rachel Held Evans. Her next book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, comes out later this month and already they’re panicking. See for example the patriarchal Gospel Coalition’s hatchet-job review, in which designated female complementarion Trillia Newbell slathers on faux-lamentation like a parody of the “it grieves me to write this” passive-aggressiveness that evangelicals resort to when they really hate someone. Or see Al Mohler’s panel discussion defending “Inerrancy,” in which Evans’ book was singled out for supposedly “mocking the Bible.”

This panic is so palpable it’s even getting attention outside of the subcultural bubble. Slate’s Ruth Graham has a rundown of the conservative effort to gin-up some kind of “controversy” over Evans’ book:

What’s oddest about this whole dustup is how uncontroversial Evans’ book is. For most readers, A Year of Biblical Womanhood won’t prompt any pearl-clutching. Its author is a devout Christian, the large Christian publisher Thomas Nelson is publishing it, and Evans calls its content “super-PG” — no bad words, and “not even that aggressively egalitarian or feminist.”

… Evans proudly identifies as evangelical, but not everyone will allow her that label. … Her offenses include insufficient deference to the concept of Biblical inerrancy — the notion that the Bible is completely free of error — and her willingness to serve communion to gay churchgoers.

Graham focuses on the Southern Baptist-controlled LifeWay bookstore chain’s decision not to carry Evans’ book. Graham notes that LifeWay has 160 stores in 26 states and, as one of the largest Christian bookstore chains, it sets the tone for many of its competitors.

That makes LifeWay very influential. They’re like the Border’s of Christian book-selling. And everyone knows it’s impossible for any author to reach any significant audience if Border’s refuses to sell their book … said the marketing analyst in 1994.

Border’s is bankrupt. It’s gone. Amazon.com and the Web killed it just as surely as they are killing the ability of would-be gatekeepers to control and constrain what their congregations are able to read.

LifeWay is bigger and more powerful than Rachel Held Evans. If that were the dynamic here — LifeWay vs. Rachel — then LifeWay might, as Graham fears, succeed at alienating Evans from the evangelical “community she loves and writes for.”

But I don’t think this comes down to LifeWay vs. Rachel. I think it comes down to LifeWay vs. Amazon. Again.

This will simply be a repeat of the same dead-ender logic that caused LifeWay to stop carrying the movie The Blind Side. Here’s what I wrote about that back in July:

More people shop at Amazon. More Southern Baptists shop at Amazon. More conservative, evangelical and fundamentalist Southern Baptists shop at Amazon. Southern Baptist evangelicals are still buying and watching The Blind Side, but LifeWay no longer sees any of the revenue from those sales.

The walls are gone and no one — not even conservative, sheltered, evangelical-leaning-fundamentalist Southern Baptists — needs to go through the gates or the gatekeepers anymore.

I think that’s the real cause of the panic we’re seeing from folks like Burke, Mohler and John Piper. Their control depends on preventing their followers from being exposed to other ideas, but they are no longer able to prevent those followers from accessing those insubordinate ideas because the Web has put them all one click away.

And because the Web exists outside the boundaries of the subculture they control, it also tends to operate according to the rules that govern the wider world. Inside their bubble, “controversy” is used to silence authors and to ban books. Label an author “controversial” and her book becomes viewed as dangerous — as something to avoid. But out here, outside the bubble, controversy sells books.

Evans, then, represents both of the things that terrify them. First, she’s a smart, engaging, outspoken woman who knows the Bible, and as such her words must be kept from reaching the flocks these gatekeepers are fleecing. And second, she’s a Web-savvy writer who has risen to prominence through her blog and through Twitter — the media forms these gatekeepers haven’t yet figured out how to constrict and control. She’s kind of their worst nightmare.

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  • Tricksteron

    Never got into Next Gen WOD myself.

  • Tricksteron

    I think the Ravnos adiice on Tzimisce sums it up best :  AVOID!  AVOID! AVOID! Mess with them and they will twist your head into a fucking baloon animal!

    Which pretty much sums up my attitude tawards fundgelicals so, yeah.

  • Tricksteron

    I gave up trying to comprehend Victor.  Except that now apparently one of his personalities is either a woman or transgender.

  • Victor

    (((LL (unregistered) wrote, in response to 2-D Man: This. It read as if someone was having a stroke while typing.    
    2-D Man (unregistered) wrote: You understood Victor’s wall of bizarre ranting? …How?)))Victor! Victor! Victor! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eqMNmn0mPS4&feature=relatedSay no more sinner vic cause “I” think me, myself and i know what you mean? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2lI1QE297QSorry Fred, I didn’t mean to UP SET some of your fans! :(Folk you will keep praying for sinner vic otherwise, he could be the death of me, me and me if ya know what “I” mean? :)Peace

  • LouisDoench

     That guy is a comedian? Man, when that joke was new we scanned it up and down for signs of Poe and missed it completely. Great joke!

  • Dammit, Red!  I *liked* not knowing BillyBob’s real name!

  •  Heh – sorry about that :-) Honestly, his real name was in several news stories after Maddow invited him onto the show…

  • The_L1985

     The only indie bookstores I know of are New Age/Pagan stores and second-hand bookstores.

  • The_L1985

    I know!  How DARE we womb-havers be good at things other than housework and baby-making!  The shame and horror!

  • The_L1985

    Still, $4 is pretty darn cheap compared to a softcover book, especially one as popular as the HP series.  I wouldn’t mind paying $4 for that many posters, myself. :)

    I’m surprised that the price itself didn’t make you suspicious.

  • The_L1985

     Yet when men make self-righteous pronouncements, they are Godly Men and are writing Good, Relevant, Christian Books, and we need to just shut up and let the men do the talking.  Gotcha.

  • The_L1985

     This is why I avoid trying to read Victor’s posts.  He may have valid points buried in some of them, somewhere, but to me Timecube is more coherent

  • EllieMurasaki

    After Atlantic Books closed, the only bookstore in the county was a New Age place. Couple of former Atlantic Books employees started up a new general-purpose indie bookstore, which, yay, but the selection is…limited. Eclectic–a bunch of the stock is, or was when I went on opening day, used-book donations–but limited. And it doesn’t seem worth the effort to drive over there and ask if they can order me something when it’s probably cheaper online anyway, and acquired faster. Particularly given that it’s in a strip mall and the parking lot is a major pain.

  • Katie

    I’m a fan of abebooks.com, its essentially a listing site for a bunch of used/rare/indie booksellers, so even if you aren’t supporting your local store, you’re at least helping out someone’s local store.  Plus, you can usually get really good deals.

  • EllieMurasaki

    Trouble is, if you buy through AbeBooks, you’re also supporting AbeBooks’s owner. You might have heard of it; it’s this little company called Amazon…

  • tommy9999

    Denny is definitely feeling threatened by Rachel.  Imagine if the women in the Southern Baptist Churches decided heck no I am not putting up with these men’s interpretation  of the Bible that make them a second class citizen.

  • Mary Kaye

      The_L1985 wrote: 

    The only indie bookstores I know of are New Age/Pagan stores and second-hand bookstores.

    University Bookstore in Seattle, WA.  Powell’s City of Books in Portland, OR.  The Other Change of Hobbit in Berkeley, CA.  They’re still out there, though not as many as I would like.

  • AnonymousSam

    That’s actually a pretty typical price for a used softcover book on ebay or biblio. The only time I buy new books is when it’s an author I rarely see in a used books store, like Brandon Sanderson. That and because I friggin’ love Sanderson.

  • Joshua

    In other words, he’s figured out how to use teach-the-controversy phony neutrality as a sword. Good for him.

    I hadn’t noticed it was ever anything else.

  • B-Lar

    Good use of “berk”

  • Tapetum

     Well – that explains the choice of screen name for one of the most toxic people it’s ever been my pleasure to meet on the internet.

  • The_L1985

    That’s awesome, but I live on the East Coast and have honestly never set foot in any of those states in my life.  So I didn’t know about them.

  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    Thanks very much. It’s a rarely used word these days but I like to pull it out on occasion for effect.

  • P J Evans

    Vroman’s in Pasadena, CA.

  • Rbray7

     The kind of ‘evangelicalism’ promoted by the SBC and its brother [not sister!] churches has, it is noted, a paralysed gene that does not allow them to exercise compassion or Christian love for any that disagree with their little slice of the pie of Christian theology.  If you do not match them, thought for thought, error for error, then you are adjudged a non-Christian and, far too often, a non-person.

    One of the best studies of their kind of dangerous activity is described in RA Gilbert’s book, “Casting The First Stone,” [1993], in which this Christian scholar exposes the hypocrisy of religious fundamentalism and its threat to society.

    Southern Baptists are particularly egregious in their approach to women and this case shows them in their proper light. That they enjoy so much power and influence in American public life is a modern tragedy, redolent of the power that Pharisees held 2000 years ago.  Misogyny is anti-Biblical, anti-Christian, anti-American, and anti-sanity. Out with it.

  • Rbray7

     Thank you for exposing the content of your mind. How very revealing!

  • Speaking of which, has anyone mentioned Powells? They’re a rather decent chain in Oregon.

    Also, speaking of misogyny? Look at the buckets of crap that got dumped all over Anita Sarkeesian.




  • AnonaMiss

    I loved Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I enjoyed what I read of Ulysses, though I stopped about halfway when I couldn’t stand the point of view character anymore.

    So I’m reading Victor to prepare myself for Finnegan’s Wake.

  • Victor

    AnonaMiss! I don’t really know this http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnegans_Wake but I will tell you that a few hours ago I had written a comment here which could be called a post by some and believe “IT” or not “IT” was well written with the help of sinner vic and long story short let’s just say that in reality the internet so called gods, I mean police must have taken “IT” away cause “IT” just disappeared.

    Try to be nice!  :) 

    I’ll leave you with a song that I often sing with my twelve string guitar to my wife of almost 43 years of marriage and “IT” is kind of funny how sinner vic tries to pretend that he can also sing “IT”. :(



  • Victor


    GOD (God Old Dad) Bless your soul Smiley Bates and by the way thanks to your flesh for going out of your way to get one of your tapes for my father-in-law.

    Peace be with you

  • AnonaMiss

    I meant no disrespect Victor, I do generally read and understand your posts, and was glad to see you come back recently after your long period of absence from the comments! Not trying to do more than poke gentle fun and I’m sorry if I hurt ya.

  • Victor

    No problem AnonaMiss and “IT” won’t be the first time my heart was ever hurt and long story short, you’re forgiven cause my wife and I have raised five daughters and for that alone, let’s just say that we’ve lost our virgin ears if ya know what “I” mean!

    I’ll just leave you with one of our daughter’s favorite song and say “IT” is OK  but our daughter still won’t tell U>S (usual sinners) why? :) :(




    Will you help us get Rachel Held Evans on The Colbert Report? Join the movement: http://www.facebook.com/RACHELonREPORT or twitter: @RACHELonREPORT.

  • Sue Dent

    Lifeway Bookstores, formerly Baptist Bookstores, created their gatekeeper association CBA in 1950 to “monitor” fiction that “affiliated” publishers produced. The fiction had to meet strict-strict-strict denominational guidelines as the Baptist felt that “secular” or rather general market fiction, was too “secular” or worldly. They latched onto the broad label “Christian” to define their market . . . and the rest is a muddled up bunch of history.

    Sooooo, they don’t want to carry a book that might offend their store visitors or rather strict “evangelicals.” I don’t get it. What’s the problem? Seems like Rachel’s doing fine on her own. Move on.

    BTW, I’m one of many vampire writers who Lifeway won’t carry in spite of appealing heavily to their target market (and not on purpose either. Rather by accident.) But that’s because, after years of catering to that specific denominational market and writing for that market, Lifeway has learned that most of their store visitors don’t want to see vampire fiction on their shelves. I’d worry more about this except that it won’t be long before “Christian” bookstores will stop carrying “fiction” all together and return to being a provider of Bibles and Sunday School material. 

  • Carstonio

    Fred has answered this question in the broad sense many times. Those evangelicals aren’t really offended by Evans’ use of the word vagina. That’s merely a proxy for their hateful belief that women belong in the back of the metaphorical bus. Folks like Bryan Fischer are quite open about their objective of limiting leadership roles in religion and government to men. Obviously those stories have the right to decide what books they will or won’t carry, but the point is that their reasons for doing so with Evans aren’t morally justified.

  • Guest


  • what’s wrong with Blind Side? geez…