A Story of Losing, Searching and Searching Some More
Many Christians will be familiar with author and blogger Rachel Held-Evans, though mentioning the name in some circles will spark controversy. She is a self-labelled “progressive” Christian who has publicly spoken out for LGBTQ rights and in favour of Hilary Clinton. In many ways, she has become a voice for Christian millennials who have become disillusioned with American evangelicalism and the institution of the Church.
In her latest book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel chronicles her journey from passion to disillusionment as a woman growing up in a small southern town in the United States while attending a traditional “right wing” congregation. Reflecting her growing shift to a more mainline tradition, she uses the framework of the seven sacraments to tell her stories of seeking to live out her faith in a context that grows increasingly uncomfortable for her. Her early stories of sitting in church eagerly taking notes in the pews filled with church youth, of arguing with classmates about Biblical issues in the hopes to convert them and of youth camp competitions that hinged on winning the game “chubby bunnies” also resonated with me. Her sincere struggles in young adulthood also resonated with me, as she began to wrestle with Scripture and issues of things like women in leadership and the role of the Church in the political sphere. We learn that as she became an increasingly influential blogger, speaker and writer, her place in her church grew more precarious. In what was for me the most poignant moment of the whole book, she writes about ultimately stepping away from the congregation of her youth. She tells of weeping into her hands after a final meeting with her much-loved pastor and lamenting to her husband: “Who will make us casseroles when we have a baby?” This summarizes her deep struggle between longing for Christian community while yearning for a place to struggle authentically with real questions of faith.
As a Canadian, and a Canadian Baptist, one of my frustrations when I read Held-Evans is that her context often feels removed from me. I am a woman in ministry and sometimes I feel like telling her: “It’s not that hard for all of us!” I suspect Canadian readers will also feel somewhat outside of the context of the American Bible belt in which she writes. However, I think this book still has value for many Canadian Baptist readers. I believe this book would be most useful for, or appreciated by:
- Those who want to better know Rachel Held-Evans. Love her or hate her, this book will help you better understand her perspective, and I think develop a greater appreciation for what she is contributing to Christian discourse at this moment in history.
- Those seeking to understand the struggle of many millennials with church. A lot of us simply don’t get it. We may still think that the younger generation should simply “do their duty” and go to church. Or we may think that we need to be more “hip” or “cool” to attract them. This book will give voice to why neither of these perspectives captures the struggle of millennials.
- Those who are struggling with church themselves. If you are someone who has wrestled with finding a place in the Christian tradition, you may find a soul companion in Rachel Held-Evans. I believe this is also a helpful book to pass on to someone who is struggling who would find hearing this voice validating.
You may be wondering if Rachel finds her way back to a church context. As a hint, her tag line for the book is “Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church.” You may notice that I gave a slightly different tagline as the title of this review.She is definitely still searching, but she is not giving up. For that, I applaud her.