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Tributes Pour In For Rachel Held Evans, A Beacon For Progressive Christianity

The popular religious writer, who died this weekend, is being remembered for the light she brought to the world.

Tributes are continuing to pour in for Rachel Held Evans, the popular progressive Christian writer who died on Saturday following an infection and brain seizures.

Evans’ fans and friends have gone online to reflect on how her writing and advocacy affected their lives ― remembering how she encouraged women to preach from the pulpit, spoke up as an ally for LGBTQ Christians, and assured those walking away from conservative evangelicalism that it was normal and healthy to wrestle with doubt.

Queer Christian author Glennon Doyle, who wrote the foreword for Evans’ 2015 book, “Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church,” called Evans a “friend to the hurting, questioning, outcast, the underdog & forgotten.”

“I’ve never seen anyone match her courage & relentless commitment to use her pen, heart & might to fight for the least of these within the religious establishment,” Doyle tweeted on Saturday. “She refused to abandon us.” 

“She was our warrior. We needed her. Without her, I feel scared,” Doyle wrote.

Rachel Held Evans died on May 4, 2019.
Rachel Held Evans died on May 4, 2019.

Born on June 8, 1981, Evans grew up in an evangelical family in the Bible belt. She worked as a journalist for Dayton, Tennessee’s local newspaper, the Herald-News, and began blogging about her experiences with Christianity in the early 2000s. Over the years, she wrote several popular books about her journey away from her childhood faith and toward a more progressive Christianity that is committed to feminism, inclusive of the LGBTQ community and accepting of doubt. 

Evans became a popular presence in progressive Christian circles. She appeared frequently on podcasts and spoke at churches, conferences and universities around the country. Before her health issues became serious, she was tweeting about her plans to co-host the Evolving Faith Conference this October, a gathering for progressive people who may not feel like they have a spiritual home. 

The 37-year-old writer was hospitalized last month while seeking treatment for an infection, according to her husband, who posted updates about his wife’s health to her blog. Evans was placed in a medically induced coma after doctors realized she was having brain seizures. They later worked to wean her from the coma medication, but on May 2, there was a sudden change in her vital signs. Doctors discovered extensive swelling in Evans’ brain, which caused severe damage. She did not recover. 

When news about Evans’ illness first became public, fans started tweeting their support and prayers with the hashtag #PrayForRHE. Her friends created a GoFundMe campaign last month, which has raised over $200,000.

After two weeks in the hospital, Evans died in Nashville early Saturday morning. She was surrounded by family and friends who sang for her and offered prayers. She is survived by her husband, Dan Evans, and two young children.

“This entire experience is surreal,” he wrote. “I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story.”

Rachel Held Evans’ friends and fellow Christian writers have been sharing memories about her on Twitter. Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a friend and fellow progressive Christian, said that she anointed Evans with oil on Saturday before her death, in a Christian ritual for the sick and dying.

Canadian Christian writer Sarah Bessey, who has been sharing updates about Evans’ health on Twitter, called her a “woman of valour.” The phrase refers to a Scripture passage describing the characteristics of a righteous woman. 

Other progressive Christian writers and preachers chimed in.

Some people started sharing specific reflections about the ways Evans had changed their lives, using the hashtag #BecauseofRHE.

Several women said that her writing had encouraged them to attend seminary.

 

Others wrote about her vocal and tireless support for LGBTQ Christians.

Fellow writers tweeted about how Evans used her platform to amplify marginalized voices and encourage others to pursue their own career goals.

In a statement on Monday, leaders of the Evolving Faith Conference said they still intend to hold the event in October. 

“We don’t know how we will carry on without our Rachel. We cannot even imagine it,” they wrote on the conference’s website. “But we know how much she loved this space, how much she loved all of you, and so we will do our best to do right by her here.”

Jeff Chu, a conference co-host and gay Christian author, wrote on Twitter that he was one of a few friends who gathered at Evans’ bedside to say goodbye. He said he got to hold her hand and “thank her for being who she was.”

“Rachel saw the architecture of so much of the Church for what it was: facades and false walls, built to exclude so many of us. She realized that what seemed like the center wasn’t the center, and what we’d made to be the margins weren’t actually the margins,” Chu wrote. “She recognized the real geometry of God, and used her stories and her words to [break] down what wasn’t/isn’t of God and to construct what was, building up bridges and walkways and all kinds of connecting paths for so many of us to find our way back to God’s love and to one another.”

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