Dr. Chaney – A Woman of Valor

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Dr. Chaney – A Woman of Valor
By Hope Estes, Claire Nieman, and Heidi McElrath 

Dr. Chris Chaney is constantly found in the company of stories. And whether they involve racial reconciliation, sexual identity, or David Copperfield, she always sees them and lives in them through the lens of the Gospel, the most important story of all.

Her life itself is quite a story. She grew up in San Francisco, attended UCLA, UC Berkeley, and took time off to raise two children before returning to the University of Washington to earn a Ph.D. in narrative theory. She began her job as a professor of English at Seattle Pacific University in 2000, where she would become a heroic supporter of students and their right to tell their own stories.

In 2011, a controversial student group whose goal was to foster safe communication and the telling of stories that would have otherwise been silenced was, itself, silenced. Though the SPU faculty tried to stay uninvolved, when it really mattered, they joined the side of the students—the side of the silenced. Dr. Chaney was one of the spearheads of this effort. "You only have to have one student who comes into your office and tells you they would rather die than be apart from God's love because of who they are,” she would say. “That should never happen."

She decided to stand up for these stories at tremendous personal risk. She co-wrote an open letter from the faculty to the students, which was published in SPU’s student newspaper, The Falcon, and was even willing to have her name put as the first signature. Part of the letter says, “We commit ourselves anew to make a safe place for you to live, learn and grow. And we take heart, like Paul, that nothing—nothing unwise we say, nothing shortsighted we do, nothing unthinking we do—will be able to separate each of you from God’s love that is in Jesus Christ.” These actions directly led to the group’s rescue, but more importantly gave students the knowledge that grace and love were available to them, not just because of who they are but because of who Jesus is. 

Dr. Chaney is a professor whose door is always open and who always offers tea and comfort and a listening ear. She has decided to live out the redemptive story of the gospel with her life and every day she invites all members of the SPU community to live in that story with her. She is truly an instrument of Christ’s grace and mercy, and exercises daily the costly discipline of love. Dr. Chris Chaney is, without a doubt, a woman of valor.

And best of all—today is Dr. Chaney’s birthday! Eshet chayil! 


Hope Estes and Claire Nieman are fourth-year SPU students and Heidi McElrath is an SPU alumna. All of them want to b like Dr. Chaney when they grow up, if only because it would make them masters at reading 19th-century literature out loud.

This post is part of our Women of Valor seriesEshet chayil—woman of valor— has long been a blessing of praise in the Jewish community. Husbands often sing the line from Proverbs 31 to their wives at Sabbath meals. Women cheer one another on through accomplishments in homemaking, career, education, parenting, and justice by shouting a hearty “eshet chayil!” after each milestone.  Great women of the faith, like Sarah and Ruth and Deborah, are identified as women of valor.  One of my goals after completing my year of biblical womanhood was to “take back” Proverbs 31 as a blessing, not a to-do list, by identifying and celebrating women of valor. To help me in this, you submitted nearly 100 essays to our Women of Valor essay contest. There were so many essays that made me laugh, cry, and think I’ve decided that, in addition to the eight winners to be featured this week, I will select several more to feature as guest posts in the weeks and months to come.

The winners of the Women of Valor contest, will receive a flower necklace that is hand-made by the artisans of Hill Country Hill Tribers, a non-profit helping Burmese refugee women in Austin earn supplemental income and learn marketable skills. The necklaces and other new products in their fall line are available on their website now.  I enourage you to  read the stories of these women of valor in their Artisan Profiles and find out how you can become a Hill Triber Patron to support the artisans in their work. 

photo by  Charis Dishman

photo by Charis Dishman

 Get your own TODAY!

Read the rest:
Mrs. Foster - A Woman of Valor by Jenn LeBow 
Rebecca - A Woman of Valor by Cheryl Cash 
Sarah - A Woman of Valor by Jenny Everett King
Sky - A Woman of Valor by Jonathan C. 
Sofia - A Woman of Valor by Emily Allen 
Mala - A Woman of Valor by Joy Bennett 
Hulda Nite - A Woman of Valor by Liz Myrick 

I hope you will consider writing a tribute to a woman of valor on your own blog this week. If you do, leave a link in the comment section so we can all enjoy. I'll be sure to tweet/share some of my favorites. (Note: All the winners of the contest have been notified.)

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