Sunday, February 16, 2014

Progressive Christianity comes to Sioux City

Rachel Held Evans, my favorite among progressive Christian bloggers, is coming to Iowa Monday --- Sioux City, which seems a little extreme; but Iowa none the less. Her appearance, as the annual Morningside College Wright Lecture speaker, will begin at 7 p.m. at Grace United Methodist Church, 1734 Morningside Avenue, and is free and open to the public. You'll find the Morningside news release about her visit here.

Rachel is a gifted writer who is extraordinarily popular among younger people, many of whom grew up within fundamentalist and/or evangelical Christianity and now struggle to reconcile what they were taught in that setting with their own realities and the realities of others they've come to know since. Also among those of us who long ago crossed into disbelief, but remain in odd love/hate relationships with the church.

She also is extraordinarily unpopular among many others because of her generous and questioning spirit --- but also because she is (1) a woman and (2) has no formal theological training.

Evans began writing --- for newspapers --- not long after earning her B.A. degree in English literature from Bryan College, a nondenominational Christian college in her hometown, Dayton, Tennessee, where her father was an administrator.

Her first book, Evolving in Monkeytown, was published during 2008. It explores her transition from religious certainty into someone willing to embrace questions --- and doubt. Monkeytown refers to Dayton, home of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and also of her alma mater, Bryan College, founded to honor Scopes trial prosecutor William Jennings Bryan and to further his fundamentalist Christian views.

In case you've forgotten that trial, high school teacher John Scopes was accused and found guilty of violating Tennessee's Butler Act, which made it unlawful to teach evolution in the state's public schools. The trial was for the most part a publicity stunt and Scopes' conviction later was overturned on a technicality --- but it was a landmark in the creation wars, which curiously enough continue in parts of the country.

Her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood (subtitled How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband Master), was published in 2012. That book gained considerable pre-publication publicity when its publisher, Thomas Nelson, removed the word "vagina" from the manuscript in deference to the wishes of Christian booksellers. It later was reinstated.

Although Evans continues to identify with the evangelical expression of Christianity, her worldview has evolved to embrace science and equality in matters of faith and life for both women and LGBTQ people. I look forward to her Sunday Superlatives, published weekly when she's not on the road for speaking engagements or otherwise occupied. You'll find this week's edition later today on the Rachel Held Evans blog.

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