“The Internet is a blessing because it connects people of faith who might otherwise feel alone in their questions and doubts with like-minded individuals interested in reform,” writes Rachel Held Evans.
I used to think I was the only one squirming in the pews of my conservative evangelical church on Sunday mornings, wrestling with questions I dared not ask out loud: Why are women forbidden from assuming leadership? Do I really have to be a Republican to be a Christian? What if I’m tired of the culture wars? What if I want to worship alongside gays and lesbians? Must I interpret every Bible story literally? Am I the only one who doubts now and then?
It was the loneliest hour in my week…until I started blogging.
Now, when I ask these questions out loud, thousands of people respond with two simple, but powerful, words: “me too.”
It took about four years to grow a significant online community, but this month, more than 300,000 unique visitors have stopped by the blog to read, share their stories, debate, question, and interact. When I posted a response to North Carolina’s passage of Amendment One that expressed my frustration with the culture wars and my concerns that young people are leaving the church over its treatment of LGBT people, readers shared the post more than 55,000 times on Facebook.
As it turns out, I’m not so alone after all.
Of course, not everyone is happy with the blog’s success. Evangelical leaders have issued impassioned warnings against the growing number of progressive evangelical voices online, particularly against young evangelicals like me who are challenging the status quo regarding gender roles, women’s ordination, political engagement, biblical interpretation, LGBT equality, interfaith dialog, and the place of doubts, questions, and uncertainty in the life of faith.
The tension reflects what has become the Internet’s blessing and challenge to religion: decentralized authority that gives voice to dissident and minority voices that might not otherwise be heard. As a woman, I may be forbidden from preaching at a Southern Baptist church on a Sunday morning, but when I blog, people listen.
In this sense, the Internet is a blessing because it connects people of faith who might otherwise feel alone in their questions and doubts with like-minded individuals interested in reform. It empowers the powerless, provides a platform for good ideas, helps hold leaders accountable, and exposes us to fresh, new perspectives from all around the world.
But it’s also a challenge because, as I’ve learned the hard way, it’s much easier to call for change than it is to make change happen. My generation in particular likes for things to happen immediately, in 140 characters or less, which is not really how lasting, significant reform happens. Furthermore, our penchant for sharing our every thought and feeling with the world often leads to shallow, ugly, discourse. (Visited Facebook recently?) The same impatience that inspires us to challenge the status quo can prevent us from engaging in the prayerful, contemplative, and disciplined work it takes to live inspired lives of faith, the kind of lives that really make a difference.
Still, as a young evangelical woman living in the Bible Belt, it’s hard to imagine life without my “readers.” Even after four years of daring to ask my questions out loud, I find myself smiling in relief and surprise each time I go to the comment section and read those two simple words: “me too.”
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