On being ‘divisive’, On being Christian

“divisive” and “harmful to Christian unity.” ….

This is a common response to those of us who speak from the margins of evangelical Christianity about issues around gender, race, and sexuality, and it’s an effective one because it appeals to something most of us value deeply: Christian unity.

Rachel Held Evans wrote the above after tweeting the following:

Rachel Held Evans is what the church looks like. She speaks up and speaks out as a Christian, as a sister among her brothers and sisters.

She hints, only hints at, the sexism. She calls out the privilege of males without calling them out as privileged males. She compares their blatant or subtle sexism with the blatant or subtle racism of white male pastors opposing the efforts of American black people in the 1960s to gain equal civil rights. Her comparison is not shrill but is soft and understated. Her comparison puts her tweet on par with Rosa Park’s taking a front seat on the bus and the friction it intended:

Obviously, there are issues of privilege at play here. Because the reality is, some folks benefit from the status quo, and it is in their best interest to characterize every challenge to the status quo as wholly negative and a threat to Christian unity. This makes it difficult for those who perceive inequity within the status quo to challenge it without being labeled as troublemakers out to make Jesus look bad.

In other words, the advantage goes to the powerful because things rarely change without friction. And if friction is equated with divisiveness, then the powerful can appeal to Christ’s call for unity as a way of silencing critics. This was an effective strategy for white clergy who opposed Civil Rights.

Meanwhile, those on the margins are typically working with less power, smaller platforms, thinner finances, and fewer numbers and in the face of subtle but pervasive stereotypes, prejudices, and disadvantages that make it nearly impossible to advocate for change without causing friction.

For example, it always makes me laugh when I’m told that women shouldn’t use social media to advocate for gender equality in the church, but should instead do so quietly within their own congregations. These people seem to have forgotten that social media is often the ONLY platform women have for speaking to the church! That’s kinda what we’re trying to change! And when it comes to discussing gender issues in particular, things get extra challenging because where outspoken men are often described as “passionate,” “convicted,” and “strong,” outspoken women are often perceived as “shrill,” “emotional,” “whiney,” and “bitchy.”  So women speaking about gender issues in the church have a lot working against them when public questions or critiques are automatically dismissed as divisive and whiney.

Just to be clear, Rachel Held Evans is a woman, is a Christian, and is not black.

To be as clear, Rosa Parks was a woman and Christian, but racial equality and racial unity within the churches in America are not issues of the past. And African American men and women, in the church, found more allies in the Jewish community in the 1960s than they did in the white church.

Fortunately, Rachel Held Evans not only blogs and tweets about being a Christian for Christian unity, where the sisters are marginalized by the brothers. She also gets these siblings in the would-be-unified church of Jesus Christ listening to and asking questions of “others.”

For example, she herself asked questions of a “(liberal) [non-Christian, Jewish] Rabbi”; and Rabbi Rachel Barenblat responds:

From RHE: Are there any common assumptions that Christians tend to make about Jews that bug you?

I think the assumptions which bug me tend to be about Judaism writ large, not about Jews as individuals. For instance: the assumption that the Christian understanding of covenant has superceded and obviated the Jewish one, or that Judaism isn’t a legitimate path to God in its own right. That Jesus rendered Judaism moot or obsolete. That Judaism is a tradition of dry, unforgiving legalism while Christianity is a religion of love. That last one probably frustrates me the most, not only because it’s been used to justify some real unpleasantness toward Jews over the last two thousand years, but also because it’s so antithetical to my experience of Judaism.

At the end of the responses, Rachel Held Evans invites her blog readers to continue the dialogue, the listening, beyond their would-be-unified Christianity:


So great, right?

Be sure to thank [Rabbi] Rachel [Barenblat] on Twitter. And you definitely want to check out her blog. (Her latest post is about Dinah and rape culture!)

The very interesting thing to note here is that this “post … about Dinah and rape culture” is not very Christian at all. It is as Jewish as Jesus.

In her post, Rabbi Barenblat herself speaks up and points out this fact of “Biblical rape“:

In Torah, Dinah is silent (or silenced.) And Dinah is raped. I believe that these two acts of violence against women are connected.

There is the need, the call for, voices and actions of women and men outside the boundaries and borders of the church as well as inside it.

Rachel Held Evans at one point quotes Paul and paraphrases:

we’re called to love each other as brothers and sisters, as people united in one baptism, one communion, one adoption.

There was this point in which Paul exclaimed there’s no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free, no “boy and girl.”

Couldn’t that also mean there’s no non-Christian and Christian? There’s unity beyond the Church? There’s no Christian privilege? No baptismal privilege? No communional privilege? No adoptional privilege?

No black nor white. No male privilege, no female privilege. No silencing. Period.


2 responses to “On being ‘divisive’, On being Christian

  1. “These conversations about the status of women in faith communities are not just coming from the evangelical world; they are also being discussed in Mormon, Catholic, and Jewish circles.”


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