Rachel Held Evans, who gave voice to a burgeoning community of progressive Christians, died this past Saturday in Nashville. She was 37.
Evans abandoned the evangelical church in 2004, describing herself as a “doubt-filled believer” on her Twitter profile. She was a master of using social media platforms to champion those who felt abandoned by traditional Christianity, including gay believers, women who felt called to ordained ministry, and people who did not want to choose between intellectual inquiry and faith. She was also a New York Times bestselling author.
Not one for shying away from controversy, Evans often challenged people on social media, especially evangelicals. Typical of her acerbic wit is this April 11 tweet: “I’ve written four books, hundreds of blog posts, and dozens of articles, and only once have I used a feminine pronoun for God. People still point to that as a reason I should be killed in order to quicken my eternal torment in hell.”
I count myself as part of the group that Evans sometimes rankled, but I kept reading her thoughts, anyway. After many years of living in an echo chamber, I have concluded that we Christians too often dismiss new ideas outright or exorciate people who don’t hold our worldview. This is dangerous for a number of reasons:
Living in an echo chamber stunts our personal growth.
Life is about challenges. Bodybuilders know that they will not develop muscles by snarfing down cheese puffs in front of the tube. They have to defy their natural inclination to take it easy. Similarly, we need to get out of our philosophical easy chairs once in a while and exercise our minds. That way, our beliefs won’t get fat and flabby. Listening to other viewpoints can motivate us to go deeper into a topic we only thought we knew.
Living in an echo chamber sets up a dividing line between “us” and “them.”
It’s a sad sign of our times when we think that those we disagree with are the enemy. We love to sit behind our comfort zone walls and lob epithets at those who don’t hold our beliefs. Are you a millennial? You are a “snowflake.” Lean on the right side? You must be one of those “deplorables.” On the left? “Libtard.” We don’t discuss or debate with class, anymore. Instead, we hurl verbal hand grenades at our political and theological opponents.
Living in an echo chamber can undercut our Christian witness.
Reading Facebook and Twitter, you would think the emotional default of a believer is rage. Pride sneaks in, too, when we decide that our worldview is more enlightened than the ones held by “those people.” Over time, we fall in love with the sound of our own voices bouncing off the domes of our echo chambers, even if they’re crackling with anger and arrogance. The Holy Scriptures have a lot to say about our words:
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1).
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29).
“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless” (James 1:26).
Here’s an invitation to all of us who hold the Bible as authoritative, yet flame others with whom we don’t see eye-to-eye: let’s take a good, long look at our hearts. Our words reveal what’s going on inside. We have been charged with a sacred witness to a world that sometimes can’t tell the difference between the behavior of a Christian and an unbeliever.
So thank, you Rachel Held Evans. I didn’t always agree with you — and sometimes your words got under my skin — but that’s okay. In fact, it’s healthy. You punctured a few holes in my echo chamber and let some fresh air in.