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Christian author Rachel Held Evans was fearless in her challenges to traditional authority structures. (Facebook/Rachel Held Evans)
Christian author Rachel Held Evans was fearless in her challenges to traditional authority structures. (Facebook/Rachel Held Evans)

#BecauseofRHE

Shattered fans share the profound legacy of progressive Christian writer Rachel Held Evans, who has died at 37

By WITW Staff on May 6, 2019

Rachel Held Evans, a best-selling Christian author whose work challenged conservative beliefs, died on Saturday, aged 37.

Her husband, Daniel Evans, said in a statement on her website that the cause was extensive brain swelling. During treatment last month for an infection, Rachel had begun experiencing seizures and been placed in a medically induced coma. “I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake,” he wrote.

“Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her.”

An Episcopalian, Evans left the evangelical church in 2014, to focus on establishing a community of the church’s “refugees”: women who wanted to become ministers, gay Christians and “those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith.”

She participated in enthusiastic discussions with that community via Twitter, and wrote four successful books, that engaged with evangelicalism, the patriarchy of her conservative Christian upbringing, and recorded her own evolution to a mainline Christian identity — “away from Biblical literalism and to affirmation of L.G.B.T. people,” the New York Times reported in an obituary published on Saturday.

Evans had organized a conference, Evolving Faith, to be held in Denver in October, describes itself as a “gathering for wanderers, wonderers and spiritual refugees to help you discover … You are not alone.”

Evans was fearless in her challenges to traditional authority structures and their leaders — often conservative and male — and in her online debates. Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said she always treated him with kindness and with humor, in spite of their extremely opposing points of view.

“I was on the other side of her Twitter indignation many times, but I respected her because she was never a phony,” he said. “Even in her dissent, she made all of us think, and helped those of us who are theological conservatives to be better because of the way she would challenge us.”

That way of operating was borne out in a roundup by the Washington Post of a hashtag that trended across the weekend, #BecauseofRHE, as women came forward with testimonials of how her writing and heartfelt encouragement had changed the courses of their lives.

Some writers sent extracts of encouraging emails she had sent them, while others shared how she had helped them persist when they felt alienated within their own faith cultures, and had she had empowered women and simultaneously raised the consciousness of their male peers.

Pastor Nate Pyle, having read through the tributes on Sunday, penned by “a collection of misfits and outcasts, seekers and doubters,” summed Evans’s profound legacy up thus:

“Woke and read #BecauseOfRHE. It’s a collection of misfits and outcasts, seekers and doubters; people dubbed ‘lost’ who found solace and belonging because of her commitment to love, kindness, and grace.

“Gatekeepers called her theology dangerous. But its fruit looks like Jesus’s.”

Read the full story at The Washington Post and The New York Times.

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