#ThinkerThursdays is a new series of interviews with Christians whom we believe are writing thoughtfully and gracefully in today's public square. You will likely have read articles by these Christian thinkers as they grapple with today's cultural, political, economic trends and issues. We hope to illuminate what goes on "behind-the-scenes" of their writing and thinking (I conduct the interviews with Michael's help). This is the fourth of the series.
Kate Shellnutt (@kateshellnutt) is an associate editor at Christianity Today magazine. She manages the social media accounts for @CTmagazine and @CT_women and edits the popular site by women, Her.meneutics.
A lot of my political philosophy and interests is really shaped by my background in journalism. I almost see it as something to observe as a journalist first – I’m interested in what makes news, what unsettles people, what shakes people. I’m just of the opinion, although I know it’s not a popular opinion, that it is actually necessary that we have substantial coverage of the race at this point. If this person is going to be the leader of our country, I do think we should spend more than a year vetting and getting to know who that person will be.
Q. One of the more political articles I saw on her.meneutics was an op-ed by Ekemini Uwan on why presidential candidates can’t ignore BlackLivesMatter. The writer is a woman, but she doesn’t address gender or women in her article at all. Why did you guys decide to place it in the her.meneutics section?
Her.meneutics site is a site by women for everyone; it’s not a site for women or for women’s issues exclusively. We think women have a unique perspective on general issues of interest to everyone, such as politics, economy, work, theology, church life. Sometimes you can point to it and say, “Yes this is a woman’s perspective,” and sometimes it just happens to be written by a woman, and I think those dual purposes are fine.
A third of our readers are men. I get a lot of emails and tweets from men who say, “I know I’m not supposed to be reading Her.meneutics, but this thing spoke to me.” I always have to assure them that you are not alone, and this is not a site for women, it is a site by women.
Q. What is the purpose of having a “women’s voices” section when you could spread those voices throughout the site and magazine? Won’t it create a “ghetto-ization” of women’s voices?
I understand the concern, but in reality one of the purposes of Her.meneutics was to introduce CT to more female writers to funnel into the magazine. In the past six years since we’ve existed, the proportion of women who are writing for the CT site, magazine and cover stories have all increased. A lot of the boundaries in the site are really flexible; a Her.meneutics story might be the lead in the CT magazine. I’m happy that many of my writers have written for CT, the main site, and other publications — it’s a win-win-win.
Q. Every media and press outlet is trying to figure out how to survive and thrive in the current changing climate. As an editor at CT, could you speak to what CT’s strategy looks like?
One of our ministry initiatives or campaigns is “Beautiful Orthodoxy.” It’s a philosophy of a way of reporting our stories that focuses on where can we be pointing to the good, beautiful or true. If you’re paying attention, you’ll see that we give a bit more nuance and care in the stories we care about and to treat the subjects in our story with honor and give readers a takeaway that is hopeful. It’s almost quietly revolutionary.
This is the oldest truth there is, but it is so refreshing in an era of hot takes, controversy, debate, being first and being striking. I see it changing me as a journalist, a Christian and a person.
Q. So how has it been changing you?
I’ll want to put out a punchy and edgy angle right away when something happens. But really by waiting a day or two, we’ve gotten writers to write something more deep, profound and not the same as what everyone else is putting up.
Even our design staff will really think through how they present subjects and stories. For instance, they’ll ask, “If this person is a victim, how do we show them not in that way? How do we show them in a way that is respectful and empowering? What does this mean for our color scheme, tone, design of the fonts, etc?”
Q. What’s story are you most proud of?
Our December cover story, “The Divine Rise of Multilevel Marketing.” A lot of women are sellers for multilevel marketing (MLM) companies, and a lot of them are Christian, stay-at-home moms. This is the biggest reported story I worked on.
Q. What do you want churches to take away from this article?
Is there a way that churches can learn from this, or even businesses too? MLM is offering flexible schedules and mentorship that women aren’t getting in the office; a lot of women get more attention and affirmation for success than they would in a typical work environment.
In the church, perhaps there is something to be said about discipleship of one another. Think of a pyramid structure where everyone is always bringing in people, and you are led by the person who brought you in. So there is always a sense of accountability and someone who is cheering for you. I personally wish that women’s ministries looked more like that - a real investment in one another.
Q. Last question: You wrote an article about Jimmy Fallon for CT and you recently tweeted about Aziz Ansari’s Masters of None. What drives your interest in comedy?
Evangelicals are usually the butt of jokes. There is the mentality that if you actually were an earnest Christian believer, you would be too cheesy to be famous or wouldn’t be in the comedy sphere, because it takes a bit of self-hatred, addiction, or brokenness to have fodder for comedy. So it’s always interesting to me to see people who are genuinely happy or who do seem to have faith, but still can get at some of those feelings.
Q. There is also something about comedy that is able to communicate a pointed message, even one that you might disagree with, in a more palatable way because it is entertaining. Maybe it’s an antidote to our current polarized culture?
That’s probably always been the case. They say the biological evolution of laughter is supposed to be a reflection of your defenses being down. The idea of laughing as a way of saying, “I am not threatened by you right now.” I don’t know what takeaway would be for the church is, but I definitely agree with what you’re positing.
Q. Stephen Colbert often says, “You can’t laugh and be afraid at the same time.” One of the things he said in an interview with a Catholic outlet was that he thinks fear stops people from giving to others (I wrote an article on Michael’s blog on this, comparing his theology to Pope Francis’).
Yes, there are so many reasons for Christians to let their defenses down. We know that in God’s economy that there is always enough. When some people have more, that does not mean I have less. I can rejoice with those who rejoice. I don’t have to feel threatened by others because I know my security and identity comes from the Lord. There is a real freedom that we have to be joyful and to not take things too seriously because of our identity as Christians.