Rachel Held Evans: It’s not faith, hope and ‘being right’

Jul 6, 2017 by and

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ORLANDO, Fla. — When best-selling author and blogger Rachel Held Evans saw Mennonite Church USA’s “Love Is a Verb” convention theme, she hoped organizers didn’t see her Twitter feed.

“There’s a lot of things I’m willing to sacrifice to follow Christ,” she said at the adult morning worship service July 6. “My time, my treasure, my reputation. But am I willing to relinquish having the last word? Am I willing to let other people win for the sake of relationship or the gospel? That’s really hard for me.”

Rachel Held Evans: "Death is something that empires worry about. It's not something resurrection people worry about." — Vada Snider for MWR

Rachel Held Evans: “Death is something that empires worry about. It’s not something resurrection people worry about.” — Vada Snider for MWR

Growing up in a fundamentalist context, Evans said she was raised to equate Christian faith with assenting to a certain set of truths, and evangelism was about bringing other people to knowing and accepting those truths. At the age of 9, she even threw a paper airplane scribbled with doctrine over the fence into her Mormon neighbors’ backyard.

Putting a spin on 1 Cor. 13:13, she wondered if these three things remain: faith, hope and being right. But the greatest of these is being right.

“We sure act like it, don’t we?” she said. “I know I do.”

But when people feel their worldview is being threatened by other ideas, they tend to dig in their heels. Arguments are a poor way to change someone’s mind.

Evans suggested looking to Jesus, who upended people’s communities and worldviews by telling stories, behaving in unexpected ways, turning the other cheek, healing on the Sabbath and sharing meals.

“You have to be willing to lose some ground, which took Jesus to the cross,” she said, noting his powerlessness revealed and disarmed an empire by highlighting its emptiness. ” . . . The powers today are trying to bring us down to our ugliest selves. . . . And we don’t resist by beating them at their own game, but by refusing to play their game.”

Responding in love isn’t about being nice or respectable, but is instead a matter of turning over tables: creating homes for refugees, bringing casseroles, marching with Black Lives Matter and planting gardens in “urban deserts.” Such a garden project is a community engagement project of Ripple Church in Allentown, Pa., and was highlighted in a video during the worship service.

“It creates a force that draws people in not through manipulation, but by fascination,” Evans said. “The challenge of love is to be doing right, rather than being right.”

But while she called the church to love in profound and unexpected ways, she declined to promise such a strategy will result in church growth. Evans rattled off the fruits of the Spirit, which don’t include success.

She said she attends many denominational conventions, and each body wrings its hands over fracturing bodies, millennial apathy and overall membership decline.

“Death is something that empires worry about,” she said. “It’s not something resurrection people worry about.”

She interrupted applause to suggest maybe God is starting something new.

“So if the church in America is dying, let it die to the old ways of dominance and power and control and let it be raised up to Jesus’ way of the cross.

“If the dominant white church declines, let us go to the margins where the Holy Spirit has always been working, and look for leadership there.”

As American denominations go, Mennonites are a bit outside the mainstream, making them better suited than most to ride out polarized and turbulent times. There is a way forward, using a faith that is not about merely believing something is true, but behaving as if that thing is true.

“Your ongoing resistance to power and empire stands in contrast to much of the church in America,” she said. “And I think we’re seeing what happens when religion gets entangled in politics and power. . . .

“I’m looking to you for leadership, and I’m grateful for it.”

Subscribe to see more coverage of the Mennonite Church USA 2017 convention in the July 17, 2017, edition of Mennonite World Review.

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