My brother called and asked why Rachel Held Evans’ death was so significant to so many Christians
I explained that she gave a voice in a powerful and moving way to a grounded and yet relevant faith.
She grew up in an evangelical, fundamentalist world. A world which she found herself alienated from more and more. But she was not alienated from Jesus. An all too common occurrence.
As an Episcopal priest we could claim her as one of our own. We could point to her and say she is one of us, the countless number of wounded Christians recovering from a fundamentalists faith that was ill fitting.
Many of the descriptions used of her included the adjective progressive. I have learned that words like progressive and conservative only have meaning when connected to something concrete, that is to a particular context.
Depending on you’re context what and who is considered progressive and conservative will be different. Rachel may have been a progressive in the conservative evangelical/fundamentalist world, but I don’t know if that description fits the mainline denomination she joined.
I can’t claim Rachel as a friend. I only met her once when she was speaking at our diocese fall lecture series. I did buy her a gift though, she lamented the lack of tools to teach a grounded yet open faith to teens. I gave her a copy of “Blessed to Bless” by Father Tim Sean Youmans.
That morning she shared that some progressives found her frustrating because she wanted to talk about the scriptures, the sacraments, the creeds. She wanted to talk about Jesus.
Progressives in my tradition often fit better in a Unitarian tradition than the creedal tradition we are a part of. I bought her book “Searching for Sunday” in bulk and gave them to people who had given up on church but had not given up on Jesus.
Rachel proclaimed the radical message of grace and love that comes from Jesus. She encouraged her readers to dive deeply in scripture; not so they would capture the literal meaning but its truth and beauty.
She wanted people to be nourished by the sacraments of body and blood broken and shed for us, all of us.
She wanted LGBTQ Christians to know that Jesus loved them and Jesus wants them in His church.
She spoke out against misogyny and patriarchy and gave voice to countless women who wanted to share their story too.
She warned about a Jesus movement that was more comfortable being attached to the power structures of this world than a Jesus movement found with those whom Jesus loved: the lost, the broken, the poor, the powerless.
It seems like anytime someone dies these days some people feel the need to apologize for their grief. Rachel was certainly controversial because she refused the status quo and wanted us to reclaim Jesus as found in scripture, tradition, and the breaking of bread.
Many of those grieving Rachel’s untimely death do so because the countless numbers of people for whom her writing reconnected people to the God they love.
Christianity is better because of Rachel’s voice.