This morning, The Daily Beast published a review/essay by me about Nadia Bolz-Weber. A lot of people have written about NBW, and in thinking about adding my voice to that list, I wanted to be sure to say something original and interesting. As I read her book, I came up with the notion that she represents a kind of “evangelicalization” of mainline churches. So, I wrote the piece.
In the few hours since it went up this morning, NBW has responded, though not directly to me, by pointing out that the media gets some things wrong about her. She offers some points of clarification. They don’t all have to do with my article, but I want to address those that do and then conclude by offering some thoughts on why I think these perceived mischaracterizations take place. First, here is her response, via her Facebook page:
As more media outlets produce stories about me, a few points of clarification:
* I did a LOT of drugs, but I am not a drug addict. I’m an alcoholic. Booze was my undoing.
* I swear a lot, but have never dropped an F bomb in a sermon
* I did not live in a commune…I just had a lot of roommates.
* I have never said “God doesn’t have any answers” I said that we go to God for answers, but sometimes what we get is God’s presence.
* Yes, a couple times this year I have competed in Olympic-Style Weightlifting. But calling me a “competitive weightlifter” seems a stretch.
All of this has made me wonder how many times I drew conclusions or made judgements about someone I read about in the media based solely on exaggerated statements by the media outlet.
Now, those that relate to my article are the first one, about being a drug addict, the second, about swearing in a sermon, and the third, about the commune. The first two appear in the second sentence of my article: “A former drug addict and alcoholic turned Lutheran minister, she’s gotten attention for her eye-catching appearance—colorful tattoos, cropped hair, hipster glasses—and her reputation for dropping the F-bomb on Sunday mornings.”
The Beast piece does characterize her as a former drug addict and alcoholic. She says she was a serious drug user but not an addict, and I can’t argue with that. My editor informs me the that the piece will be updated to reflect this distinction.
Swearing in a sermon: I wrote that she has a reputation for dropping the F-bomb on Sunday mornings. I didn’t say that she swears in sermons. The emphasis here was on her reputation, and she certainly has earned a reputation for swearing a lot, as she acknowledges in her response. If she doesn’t swear in sermons or in church on Sunday at all, okay. But that doesn’t change her reputation. Be that as it may, we will edit this as well.
Here’s the sentence that mentions the commune: “Her return to faith involved a series of unusual events including living in a commune, a short stint as a stand-up comic, alcoholism and recovery, the death of a fellow comedian, the opportunity to give the eulogy at the memorial service of her friend, and the feeling that God was calling her to minister to these, her people.”
In her book, she describes her living situation, which she named “Albion Babylon,” as her “ersatz community.” She notes they shared their drugs and tried to make sure everyone was fed. And, in the same chapter, she writes of her goal to “live in a commune or intentional community.” Finally, the promotional material that accompanied my review copy of the book describes the living situation as “a commune of slackers.”
This brings me to my final point. These kinds of “exaggerated statements,” as Bolz-Weber calls them, are most certainly the result of the exaggerated image that my article is all about. This book was sold on the back of NBW’s image and that is why so many writers are focusing on that image. As I said, in writing my piece, I didn’t want image to be the sole focus; I wanted to be able to say something original about the important role that I think NBW is playing in American Christianity, but you can’t get there without addressing her image first.
All that said, to the extent that my writing misrepresented Nadia Bolz-Weber, I apologize. I hope the piece makes clear, I admire her and think she’s good for American Christianity. Further, I hate for the actual message of the piece to be lost in these details. As I think I pointed out above, none of the characterizations are quite the “factual errors” that some have accused me of, but to the extent that they give the wrong impression, I’m sorry and they will be corrected on the The Daily Beast site.
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