I could not believe the news that author Rachel Held Evans had died. She was so young and her children, just babies. Life can be so unfair.
If you don’t know of her, Rachel Held Evans was a Christian writer whose breakout text was A Year of Biblical Womanhood. She gave us permission to reject the rules of the church, and even church itself, without rejecting God. And she tried to recreate church as a safe space where all would be welcome. Brought up as an evangelical, she took issue with the conservative church’s rejection of women as leaders, and their exclusion of LGBTQ+ people. She shouldered the hatred from those who resented the larger table she was trying to create. Among her fans, she had the fiercest of loyalty. If you’ve been on Twitter over the weekend, you’ll know she’s left a huge gap. Time will remember her as the woman of valour she was.
I was familiar with her work, as I travelled from the Anglican church to the evangelical church and then rejected it all in favour of the rather Catholic altar in my office. When I was at a party a month or so ago, someone asked me if I went to church. My answer surprised me as I said something to the effect of: “I don’t. Because I used to be on Christian television.” It’s a weird explanation, but the truest one I have. My feelings towards formal religion are all tangled up in my head as I’ve seen the very worst of Christianity – abuse denial, religious discrimination, misogyny, and homophobia -that I simply could not tolerate. And yet, I also know so many excellent people of faith, including the people on the show. I just could not wear the Christian banner any longer, until I’d sorted out my thoughts.
Rachel Held Evans reminded people like me that there is a gate – a way to have one foot in the faith, and one foot out of the church. And she reminded us that Jesus wasn’t about rules and judgement and exclusion. She was like the woman at the local dog park when we first took Teddy, our terrier, there. It was our second or third visit and all had gone well as he was able to engage his big-dog-in-a-little dog’s-body’s desire to run and jump and play. He had been having a great time with all the dogs when a family came to the park with a large dog straining at the leash. Not once, but twice, the dog attacked Teddy, having to be pulled off him, while none of his people did a thing. As we left the park, a woman we’d been chatting with earlier ran over to us:
“We are not like that,” she said, catching her breath. “At this dog park. We are not like that. The dogs are good. Don’t let these people spoil that. I hope you come back.”
That was Rachel Held Evan’s role. To say to those whom the church had wounded: we are not like that. That is not what this place is about. And while I’m not quite ready to come back yet, because of her, I am closer.
Rest in Peace, Rachel Held Evans. Eshet Chayil. I know that you are at the large banquet table you were working so hard to create. And I thank you for your service.