Today, I want to add my voice to those in tribute to Rachel Held Evans, the popular Christian blogger and author who died this weekend following severe complications from an allergic reaction to antibiotics. Since hearing of her death on Saturday, I’ve wanted to say something about how meaningful her work has been to me, but I tend to be slow with twitter and hashtags. It takes me more time to process than our quick social-media culture often allows. So I didn’t think I could find the right words to respond to Rachel’s untimely passing in time for my Thinking Through Christianity deadline. In fact, I had an entirely different blog post ready to go. But as the hashtag #BecauseofRHE began trending, I couldn’t help but remember how important Rachel Held Evan’s writing has been for me, especially as a Christian woman who occasionally writes about matters of faith in a public forum.
Rachel was 37, an “x-ennial,” like me. Also like me, she grew up in the evangelical subculture of the Clinton-era Bible belt. This subculture came with baggage that many of us in that generation have spent our post-youth-group years painstakingly unpacking. Many of my peers who went through that unpacking process ended up with hollowness instead of freedom, and have left the Christian faith altogether. What I most appreciate about Rachel’s life and legacy is her willingness to wrestle honestly and publicly with those challenging aspects of Christianity and to persevere in faith through those challenges.
Because of Rachel Held Evans, I didn’t feel so alone in my own doubts about my faith. Because she asked the hard questions, I felt like I had “permission” to ask the hard questions too.
Because of Rachel Held Evans, I learned to read the Bible more deeply and more widely than I had before. Instead of ignoring the difficult parts, I dug deeper. I learned to explore the big picture of redemption in the context of history and culture.
Because of Rachel Held Evans, I listened to viewpoints I would never have heard of otherwise. As she gave a platform to marginalized voices, I gained the wisdom of multiple perspectives.
Because of Rachel Held Evans, I remembered all the very good reasons we have to love the church. Even as she moved into the Anglican tradition, she never stopped reminding us about the potlucks and the memory verses and the deep fervor for Jesus that make Evangelicalism so wonderful. As she explored her new Anglican home, she helped me appreciate the powerful truths found in liturgy and tradition. She made it “safe” for me to explore Christian traditions outside of my own.
Because of Rachel Held Evans, I learned that you can doubt and struggle and question and wrestle and still come out on the other side a believer. You might even be a stronger believer for all that struggle.
So thank you, Rachel, for making your struggle public so that none of us had to struggle alone. You persevered in the faith to the end. I look forward to the day when we feast together in the new heaven and earth, and see that all that struggle was worth it.
Christine Hand Jones is a singer-songwriter, a professor of English and songwriting, and has served as a worship leader and church music director. She has a PhD in Literary Studies from the University of Texas at Dallas, which she earned, in large measure, by listening to the collected works of Bob Dylan and writing about what she heard. When she's not playing music or fascinating her students with stunning lectures over comma splices, Christine can be found drinking coffee, playing devoted cat mom to Desmond and Molly, and roaming the shelves of Half-Price Books.