Rachel Held Evans, passed away on the morning of May 4, 2019 after a several-week battle with a sudden illness. The 37-year-old best-selling author of A Year of Biblical Womanhood, was also a prominent progressive Christian theologian, blogger and speaker.
Evans’ death was shocking and unexpected. What began as a mid-April hospitalization for the flu, worsened as she developed a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics and then seizures. Doctors worked to treat her by placing her in a medically-induced coma. As news of her illness was made public, the hashtag #PrayForRHE was soon trending on Twitter as her supporters prayed for her healing. Unfortunately, her condition worsened as her team discovered severe swelling of her brain. She died early on the morning of May 4, 2019.
Devastating.#RHE was such an audacious woman, wise, deeply caring in her advocacy, and winsome. She invited everyone to the table; a herculean voice so desperately needed in our generation. Heaven’s gain is such an earthly loss.
— 𝐌𝐨𝐫𝐠𝐚𝐧–𝐑𝐚𝐪𝐮𝐞𝐥 ن (@MorRaqDav) May 4, 2019
Born in 1981, Evans grew up in Birmingham, AL and Dayton, TN in an Evangelical family. She attended the conservative Christian school, Bryan College. There, she met her college sweetheart Dan Evans, who she would marry shortly after graduating. For the past decade, Evans gained a steady and loyal fanbase as she blogged articulately about faith and theology. In recent years, her Progressive Christian views led her to move away from the Evangelical community, as she began worshipping instead within the Episcopalian denomination, preferring their liturgical traditions and more progressive theology.
Her most popular book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, hit the New York Times Bestseller list following its 2012 release. In it, she was both articulate and playful as she challenged Christian culture’s nebulous and frustrating definition of “Biblical womanhood.” Opting to embark on a one-year journey to take the Bible extremely literal by following its Levitical rules for women, Evans covered her head, sat on her roof and called her husband “master.” She illuminated the fact that many of the rules that Christian women feel they need to live by are dictated by their culture, not by the actual text of scripture.
She was even once dubbed ‘the most polarizing woman in evangelicalism’ by The Washington Post.
Evans went on to write other beloved Christian books including Faith Unraveled, Searching for Sunday and her newest release, Inspired. Her blog, www.rachelheldevans.com, as well as her Twitter and Facebook, accounts gained a steady following over the past decade. She was invited to serve on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. As Evans was becoming a voice of influence for the Progressive Christians, she became emboldened to advocate against the oppression of minorities of all kinds; best known for championing women’s rights in the Christian world. Where other Christians stayed silent on controversial issues, Evans boldly discussed social justice and systemic societal oppression. She was even once dubbed “the most polarizing woman in evangelicalism” by The Washington Post. Much like her dear friends and best selling Christian authors Sara Beesey and Nadia Bolz-Weber, Evans interpreted the Bible first-and-foremost through the lens of grace.
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“If you want to do violence in this world, you will always find the weapons. If you want to heal, you will always find the balm. With Scripture, we’ve been entrusted with some of the most powerful stories ever told. How we harness that power, whether for good or evil, oppression or liberation, changes everything.” #InspiredBook https://rachelheldevans.com/inspired
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In recent years, Rachel and Dan embraced the roles of parents. They had two children, a three-year-old boy named Henry and a soon to be one-year-old baby girl named Harper. A GoFundMe has been set up to support the Evans children and at the time of writing, over $201,000 has been raised.
On a personal note, I was able to meet Rachel at a Christian conference and went on to interact with her multiple times through social media. She was kind, warm and very quick to champion her fellow authors as they pursued their writing passions. She will be deeply missed by many like myself who felt touched by her faith and work.
Evans’ final blog post, published on Ash Wednesday of this year, struck a poignant note on the topic of death and grief:
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 you 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.