It’s heartbreaking to write this. Rachel Held Evans, the progressive Christian author who used her voice and platform to call out right-wing evangelicals whose actions never lived up to the words of Jesus, has died at the age of 37.
She had been placed in a medically induced coma weeks ago after an allergic reaction to medication, but her condition worsened over the past couple of days.
Her husband Dan wrote this in an update this afternoon:
Early Thursday morning, May 2, Rachel experienced sudden and extreme changes in her vitals. The team at the hospital discovered extensive swelling of her brain and took emergency action to stabilize her. The team worked until Friday afternoon to the best of their ability to save her. This swelling event caused severe damage and ultimately was not survivable.
Rachel died early Saturday morning, May 4, 2019.
This entire experience is surreal. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story. I cannot express how much the support means to me and our kids. To everyone who has prayed, called, texted, driven, flown, given of themselves physically and financially to help ease this burden: Thank you. We are privileged. Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her.
I’ve had the pleasure of communicating with Rachel, on and off, since nearly a decade ago. She was always eager to introduce her readers to different voices — including atheists — and we joked in emails about how there was a lot more overlap in our values than our religious labels suggested.
As her voice became more popular, and her books began selling well, it would’ve been easy for her to stay within the boundaries of evangelical Christianity and build a career on that. Instead, she burned all the right bridges. She called out the hypocrites on her own side.
She defended LGBTQ people and their inclusion within the church community, fighting back against those who used the Bible as a weapon against them. She was “pro-life,” but knew that progressive policies (like affordable health care and comprehensive sex education) lowered the abortion rate. Criminalizing the procedure, as Republicans have long championed, wouldn’t make anything better. It’s why she urged evangelicals who were one-issue voters to support Hillary Clinton in 2016.
She pushed for change within white evangelical Christianity, and when she felt she could do no more to change their hearts, she walked away from them. In the process, she made a lot of other Christians rethink their own allegiances, especially people who claimed to follow Jesus but ended up getting linked to a political party that treats Jesus as nothing more than a strategic tool.
I’ll miss her voice. I appreciate the courage it took to do what she did. My heart goes out to her husband and two children. And I hope her voice lives on among the many, many people she’s influenced.