Rachel Held Evans, 1981-2019
May 4, 2019 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Rachel Held Evans, who emerged from a conservative evangelical background to become a voice for progressive Christianity, has died at age 37 after being hospitalized in mid-April for flu complications.

Evans was the author of a popular blog, as well as four books. In her writing, she grappled with questions about women's role in the church, LGBTQ rights, white evangelicals' complicity in racism, and other social issues. She left evangelicism and joined the Episcopal church in 2014, but her work continued to be widely read and influential in evangelical circles. In 2015, the Washington Post called her the most polarizing woman in evangelicism. She is survived by her husband and two small children.

posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious (65 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I know a lot of mefites have issues with religion in general and evangelical Christianity in particular, but this is hitting a lot of people really hard, so maybe consider whether this is the right space for the airing of grievances. Thanks!
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:48 AM on May 4, 2019 [71 favorites]

So sad. Her baby daughter isn’t even a year old yet.

posted by sallybrown at 10:51 AM on May 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by Scattercat at 10:55 AM on May 4, 2019

Oh, no. This is so, so sad. I had been reading her husband’s updates and the last one on 4/30 had a bit of hope in it that her condition would improve. This is a big loss for their family, and also for progressive Christians (and everyone, really) in the US (and elsewhere).

posted by witchen at 10:56 AM on May 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by soren_lorensen at 11:03 AM on May 4, 2019

Oh, no. I was worried when so long went by without news.

posted by praemunire at 11:06 AM on May 4, 2019

I gasped out loud at this. What a person she was and what a voice she had.

posted by Flannery Culp at 11:07 AM on May 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by clew at 11:18 AM on May 4, 2019

posted by mordax at 11:25 AM on May 4, 2019

posted by Alexandra Michelle at 11:35 AM on May 4, 2019

posted by pril at 11:37 AM on May 4, 2019

Wow, FTA but worth posting here, her last blog post, on March 16 (emph. added):
It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on. Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called “none” (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Death is a part of life.

My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.
While it's maybe weirdly prescient, what's most striking to me is the last sentence, how Evans clearly recognizes and embraces the paradox of a self-aware, temporal existence, and that it creates the same comfort/horror/need in every one of us--and offers words of comfort for that. That's what religion is supposed to do for people (IMHO), in a very fundamental, utilitarian sense. Right to the end, she was reaching out to try to care for people, actually behaving in Christ-like ways rather than just talking about beliefs. May she rest in peace.

posted by LooseFilter at 12:00 PM on May 4, 2019 [65 favorites]

How awful.

Quite apart from the huge personal tragedy for her, her family, and her friends, this is losing one of your best generals in the middle of a civil war.
posted by jamjam at 12:20 PM on May 4, 2019 [29 favorites]

posted by JoeXIII007 at 12:32 PM on May 4, 2019

This is crushing. Selfishly, I think about how she has been such a comfort to me as I come to terms with the culture I was raised in.
posted by missmerrymack at 12:47 PM on May 4, 2019 [7 favorites]

posted by weathergal at 1:04 PM on May 4, 2019

I also gasped out loud. I am comforted, though, knowing that her incredibly important voice will live on her in her books. I know what I'll be rereading this weekend.
posted by Ruki at 1:08 PM on May 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

This is so sad. I hadn't heard of her but Christianity desperately needs people like her.
May she rest in peace.

posted by RandomInconsistencies at 1:22 PM on May 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

posted by parm at 1:38 PM on May 4, 2019

posted by nicething at 1:48 PM on May 4, 2019

posted by bilabial at 2:02 PM on May 4, 2019

posted by Cash4Lead at 2:03 PM on May 4, 2019

What a horribly young age to go at. I'm comforted knowing that she was celebrating and grieving death and that she knew she wasn't alone. What a way to go out.

posted by allkindsoftime at 2:04 PM on May 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Very sad. I'm kind of amazed that a person in their prime can be knocked down by something as common as the flu.
posted by zardoz at 2:05 PM on May 4, 2019

This hit me super hard. A woman of valor indeed.

posted by sgranade at 2:05 PM on May 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

As someone raised in progressive mainline protestantism, I found it fascinating to watch her basically create a progressive Christianity like mine from scratch and largely by herself. When she announced that she had joined The Episcopal Church, there was a little sigh of “finally” in my feelings, but I also was deeply and genuinely happy that she was no longer alone or being beaten up by people who would never accept her. I’m completely shocked by her death, but as others have mentioned, RHE of all people understood her mortality and had nothing but a deep security and comfort in her faith. I hope that all those who loved her can find peace in that.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:34 PM on May 4, 2019 [18 favorites]

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 2:41 PM on May 4, 2019

posted by honest knave at 2:50 PM on May 4, 2019

posted by Coaticass at 3:00 PM on May 4, 2019

posted by sleeping bear at 3:12 PM on May 4, 2019

Heartbreaking. The world needs more people like her, now more than ever. A loss to everyone everywhere.

Sharing her work with my family has created some very useful inroads into trying to shift their deeply unexamined christian conservatism into something more in line with what they espouse and believe. She had the rare talent of putting the things I'm screaming inside my head at my family into calm words they can read and understand and accept, something I've never been able to do.
posted by neonrev at 3:14 PM on May 4, 2019 [13 favorites]

Evangelicals--if there are any of you on Mefi--you really need to come get your people talking about her on Twitter before they disgrace themselves any further.
posted by praemunire at 3:15 PM on May 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

I'm kind of amazed that a person in their prime can be knocked down by something as common as the flu.

According to her Twitter, it wasn't only the flu (which can be deadly on its own of course), but also a UTI. She was given an antibiotic for the UTI and had a terrible reaction to the antibiotic, which seems to be what led to this.
posted by wondermouse at 3:29 PM on May 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

A remembrance of RHE by Richard Beck:

Rachel's life was a sacrament of the kingdom, everything she did pointed in that direction. Rachel pointed us toward marriages characterized by mutual love and submission, and toward a church characterized by acts of love, joy, and peace and missions of mercy, kindness, and humility.
posted by Cash4Lead at 3:42 PM on May 4, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm kind of amazed that a person in their prime can be knocked down by something as common as the flu.

My neighbor got pneumonia secondary to the flu and died last year. He was young, healthy, athletic, had a two year old son. One day he was just feeling crappy and under the weather, a couple days later he was dead. Someone else I know had a similar thing happen to him except that he didn't die, thankfully. He was in the ICU for weeks in a coma, though and a year later is still recovering. Again, young, healthy.

Which is just to say, please please do not mess around with the flu. Even if you're young, even if you're healthy. Thus endeth my PSA in this memorial thread, but it's important.
posted by soren_lorensen at 3:49 PM on May 4, 2019 [36 favorites]

Get your flu shot.
posted by stoneweaver at 3:57 PM on May 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

posted by gauche at 4:27 PM on May 4, 2019

posted by bcd at 4:37 PM on May 4, 2019

This is awful.
posted by SLC Mom at 4:49 PM on May 4, 2019

I encourage everyone to check out the #becauseofRHE hashtag on Twitter to see people sharing stories of being inspired by Evans' writing or receiving encouragement from her directly. She was a lot more influential than even I realized.
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:15 PM on May 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

I kind of feel like I saw her grow up through her writing, from a mainstream Evangelical to a progressive believer. This is very, very sad.

posted by lhauser at 6:57 PM on May 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

For a while (basically, late Bush 2, early Obama, before the right jumped both rails and was only off of one), I hung out on evangelical forums, most notably Internet Monk. I'm an agnostic, (or apagnostic, depending on how granular you get), but reading Evans work was always a breath of fresh air. Despite religious differences, her work had an influence on how I think and especially on how I perceive evangelicals, especially those struggling to fix things from the inside. I haven't followed her work in years, but this was still such an unexpected tragedy.

posted by Hactar at 7:02 PM on May 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

Something that brought comfort to my family when we lost a family member suddenly at this age—the priest talked about how losing someone at this age makes us all feel robbed, and even sadder, angry that our loved one was robbed of the chance to have a full life and an impact on the world. He reminded us that Jesus was in his mid-thirties when he died, so those who believe can be certain that God knows and has experienced this pain, and that nothing can diminish the impact this person made on our lives and the lives of others, and we have no idea how living out the things our loved one taught us might impact the world.
posted by sallybrown at 7:07 PM on May 4, 2019 [23 favorites]

posted by wildblueyonder at 7:43 PM on May 4, 2019

posted by Sheydem-tants at 7:46 PM on May 4, 2019

God, some of the comments on Twitter and FB are just so vile and hateful that I had to get up and take deep breaths or I would literally have screamed. Unreal.

This is such a loss. RIP.
posted by O Sock My Sock at 7:51 PM on May 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of women who live in Evangelical circles who were able to connect with each other and talk together about their faith without the usual gatekeepers telling them what they could and couldn't say or think because of RHE, spaces she helped create, and bloggers she inspired and encouraged.

I have a little bit of hope that these women will be part of changes for the better in those communities (although for some, like RHE, that will mean drifting away from or leaving them).
posted by straight at 8:36 PM on May 4, 2019 [6 favorites]

"I thought God wanted to use me to show gay people how to be straight. Instead God used gay people to show me how to be Christian." - RHE
posted by straight at 8:38 PM on May 4, 2019 [47 favorites]

Oh Lord. She was a wonderful writer. I have several of her books and bought the audio versions - Searching for Sundays was deeply comforting at a particular point - so I could listen to her. I've recommended her to friends because she is so good at writing in a way that seems to listen to the reader, a conversational style that is quiet and thoughtful. That took skill - her essays were very skilfully written to feel effortless to read. And she was such a wide voice for women and people who felt marginalised by mainstream churches. She didn't just speak for herself but made an effort to point to other voices - I read other people through her, other blogs early on and quite a few other books on my lists.

Much love to her family and friends. Memory Eternal.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:15 PM on May 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

posted by socialjusticeworrier at 9:33 PM on May 4, 2019

I'm just gutted about this. What a blessing it has been to watch Rachel blossom from the poison of Evangelicalism and into a new, revolutionary understanding of faith and its place in the world. As a progressive Christian, these days I so often feel like there aren't enough of us to bring the justice, equality, love, and peace we pray and act for into reality. Connecting with and learning other progressive people of all faiths is the sunshine that keeps my hope growing. Rachel was a prophet for this hope.

As I said on Twitter today:
What a terrible loss. Rachel was a profound light for people making their way out a theology of hate and into one of boundless love. RHE did big things because she believed big things and asked big questions. She helped move giant boulders and carried a huge weight. I keep thinking about all of us who believe in a God of boundless love, of a faith without walls and judgement, of a world with peace and justice, we all have to pick up a piece of that weight Rachel bore and keep moving this revolution forward.
posted by mostlymartha at 10:36 PM on May 4, 2019 [16 favorites]

Thanks for this thread. I wasn't aware of her but periodically try to reconcile the moderate Protestant Christianity I was raised in with my view of the world today. I'll check out her writing. My sympathies go out to all who knew her or her work.
posted by salvia at 11:27 PM on May 4, 2019


I was not aware of RHE, but I clicked through to a few of her writings and can see that the Christian community and people in general lost a thoughtful person who was working out a lot of crap that needs working out. What a shame.
posted by Gotanda at 12:26 AM on May 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

@jackmjenkins: One more thing about @rachelheldevans: she was a religion writer, and would periodically reach out to many of us reporters — unsolicited — with random words of encouragement. Just because. Even if she disagreed.

People don’t do that.

It’s hard to overstate how beloved she was.

posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 3:36 AM on May 5, 2019 [15 favorites]

posted by coldhotel at 6:07 AM on May 5, 2019

I'm sad to hear of her passing. I'm also sad that I'd never heard of her until after she passed. She sounds like a wonderful person.

posted by brundlefly at 7:13 AM on May 5, 2019

posted by Gelatin at 5:58 AM on May 6, 2019

posted by dawkins_7 at 6:59 AM on May 6, 2019


like others above, i am gutted. i’d been off twitter for several months and happened on it last week and looked for her easter season writings. i tried not to start grieving her too soon, which is a habit of mine, and this weekend have felt devastated at the loss of such a powerful presence in my faith meanderings. her life was one of meaning and her voice, in my darkest times, was a salve and comfort for my old ideas that wouldn’t quiet or stop shaming me.

another stranger rattled by her loss
posted by ovenmitt at 7:01 AM on May 6, 2019 [3 favorites]

I may have my issues with Christianity, but Rachel Held Evans was someone I admired; hers was a voice that let me hold out hope for the faithful, and her ideas and writing were a lot of what let me reconcile the dull ache where faith had hurt me with the joy that I see it bring others.

This hurts.

posted by anem0ne at 7:49 AM on May 6, 2019

posted by mdoar at 7:52 AM on May 6, 2019

had not been familiar with her, read an excerpt from Inspired, & wow. what an incredible voice lost so young.

posted by taquito sunrise at 12:49 PM on May 6, 2019

A good appreciation of R.H.E. from the New Yorker.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:22 PM on May 6, 2019 [2 favorites]

Tribute from Laura Ortberg Turner: Why Rachel Held Evans Meant So Much To So Many
Rachel never posted a picture of her dishes piling up in the sink as shorthand for vulnerability, never posed in a floral print dress while bemoaning the state of her house or her kids. The idea of her doing so was laughable, even though she was a Christian woman on the internet, because Rachel wasn't trying to draw attention to herself. She was not a brand. She was a warrior in a cardigan.
posted by straight at 3:28 PM on May 7, 2019 [3 favorites]

A livestream of her funeral today will be shown here at 2 PM EDT: https://rachelheldevans.com/funeral
posted by lharmon at 7:42 AM on June 1, 2019

« Older The rise of conspiracy entrepreneurs and their...   |   I don't believe in golden ages / Or presidents who... Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments