It’s been a roller-coaster year for Christian author and speaker Jen Hatmaker.
She toured the country last fall, speaking on the Belong Tour to arenas packed with Christian women. Then this year’s tour was canceled.
She spoke out, welcoming LGBT Christians at events, in Facebook posts and in an interview with RNS columnist Jonathan Merritt. Then LifeWay Christian stores pulled her books from its shelves over her stance on same-sex relationships, and her name got pulled into an online debate over where evangelical Christian women get authority to teach and preach.
This summer, Hatmaker is launching a new podcast, “For the Love with Jen Hatmaker,” that already is set to hit a million downloads in its first month. And she’s releasing a new book — her 12th — in which she says she shares more about her family’s ups and downs than in any other book she’s written.
Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life will be released on Aug. 8. Hatmaker spoke with RNS about both mess and moxie, banned books, and maintaining a healthy outlook on life. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
You write about some of the challenges you and your family have dealt with recently in this book — and some of them have played out in headlines, too. How do you face those things with moxie?
For me, it’s simple. It is staying really deeply and authentically connected to my real community. If I’m too much in the internet world or I’m too much in defense mode or I’m out on social media and my grip starts slipping off my family and my people, I instantly feel it. That’s a red flag for me. I need to put my feet in some grass and just be still with God and listen, and that is incredibly renewing for me as it is for all of humankind.
And then no matter what is going on in my life, I need to make sure I am living a good story. I can’t write a good story if I am not living one, and sometimes the work of being a “professional Christian” in terms of being a writer or a speaker or a preacher and a teacher, it can take the life right out of your faith.
So I need to make sure that my faith is vibrant, that my life is vibrant, that I’m connected to my neighbors and to my city and to my church, and those things keep me grounded so when the winds start to blow in any way, whether it’s plain old-fashioned hardship or if it’s criticism or whatever those winds look like, those things anchor me down so I can stand in the storm.
You took a stand last fall saying LGBT relationships can be holy, and it got your books banned from LifeWay stores. Why was that important to you?
I just sort of have this dream for the church where it is safe and it is wide and it is generous and it includes all of our voices. For the longest time, the church has essentially had one voice — sort of the white, male voice. I’m starting to realize how much the church is missing when we silence whole people groups, like you’re either not welcome at all, or you’re welcome but not your voice, not your experience, not your life, and I saw that with the LGBTQ community.
When you see that much pain in a people group at the hands of the church, just my fundamental spiritual sensibility says something is wrong here simply because this is not the way God designed his community. In God’s community when you read Scripture he says these are the things you’re going to see in a healthy spiritual space: You’re going to see love, you’re going to see joy, you’re going to see peace and patience and kindness and generosity and unity and community. So when, in any scenario with any people group, we see the exact opposite — we see pain and harm and self-harm and broken families and rejection and loss in mass capacity, not as an exception, but as a rule — at some point, we just have to ask questions.
And so that was enough for me — of course, it’s a much longer story than that— to at least to begin to ask those questions and to say, “As far as it depends on me, I hope what I am doing not just in my leadership capacity, but just in my faith, my life, my obedience as a believer, is that I am always trying to widen the table and bring people in as opposed to shrinking the table and keeping people out.”
You write more about that in your essay “Sanctuary” in this book. It seems like the crux of your theology.
Absolutely. And I have a real heart for people who color outside the lines in any way, be it their history, their experience, their personality. Let’s be honest: There’s sort of a sanctioned personality that typically works within organized religion, the one that’s going to probably get the applause and the stamp of approval, and then there’s a personality that does not.
Speaking of “sanctioned” personalities, your name was invoked this spring in an online debate about female bloggers and a so-called crisis of authority in evangelicalism. What do you make of this debate?
I don’t think it is a crisis, and I think I appreciated at least the original intent of the article. Like these things do on social media, they often just take on a life of their own. Once everybody starts piling on and adding their two cents and taking this or that out of context and using it to bolster their agenda, at some point the tail starts wagging the dog and the best thing to do is just walk away until the dumpster fire burns out.
I just think we’re in unprecedented times. All of a sudden in our time we have a lot of powerful women who lead enormous spaces and have built and earned and garnered a lot of influence, and I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s fabulous. Back to my last point, it has brought in an important voice to the body of Christ — that’s the feminine voice and women who are smart and capable and godly. I think both in and out of credentials, so to speak, God is empowering and anointing women just en masse right now. You cannot deny it. You cannot look at the fruit of the ministry of women right now and claim we are in crisis. I think it’s the absolute opposite. It’s a wonderful time to be alive.
You headlined the Belong Tour last year. This fall’s tour was canceled because of low ticket sales. I know you’ve said you had nothing to do with that decision, but do you have any thoughts on why it was made?
As these things often are, it’s pretty complicated, and there is a lot of nuance to the whole dismantling that never really saw the light of day. There was more than one factor including new ownership, who ultimately made their own decision, and I think they’re going to take the brand in a completely different direction.
But I also think maybe the days of, like, arena tours are probably over. They had their place, and Women of Faith — which is, of course, the same brand — was an early adopter to that sort of gathering of women in that capacity to that scale and scope. This may just be my personality and my preference talking, but I think something less polished and more genuine is where we’re at. I’d rather see the content shift into something meaningful and deep, even hard. I think discomfort is one of the great deterrents of the church in our generation because nobody wants to ask the hard questions and sit in the tension or even be in a room where you disagree. We’d rather it feel comfortable and homogenous.
You do write about facing challenges in this book, but you also include a lot of humor. And you ask: “Is it even okay to have fun when there is so much suffering in our communities and churches and world?”
The truth is everything right now in our world — it feels like a circus. I absolutely could be at DEFCON 4 24 hours a day. I finally had to say I am not going to get up and watch CNN with my morning coffee because I was starting out my day in such awful headspace. Even closer in, all of us have a lot of struggle in our world. There’s no end to it, and there never will be.
So there’s this whole question of, “Golly, can I still be faithful and take a vacation?” “Can I still be faithful and laugh at a dumb movie?” “Is there any other response that makes sense to this world other than grief, sorrow, and outrage?” That’s the trifecta right now. That’s what I see everywhere.
Sometimes those are the right things. But the truth is we’re also surrounded by joy and beauty, and God gave us those on purpose. He created a lot of wonder in this world, and I think he gave us laughter and I think he gave us deep and meaningful relationships and I think he gave us fun. One only has to look at the world he made to deduce that.
Somewhere between those two things is a healthy life where we do not lose our optimism, nor do we lose our activism. We care about both. We can experience both and do both.