Rachel Held Evans, an influential progressive Christian writer and speaker who cheerfully challenged American evangelical culture, died on Saturday at a hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. Evans, 37, entered the hospital in mid-April with the flu, and then had a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics, as she wrote on Twitter several weeks ago. According to her husband, Dan Evans, she then developed sustained seizures. Doctors put her in a medically induced coma, but some seizures returned when her medical team attempted to wean her from the medications that were maintaining her coma. Her condition worsened on Thursday morning, and her medical team discovered severe swelling of her brain. She died early on Saturday morning.
Part of the shock of Evans’ death is, of course, her age: she was only a year younger than me, and the possibility of dying so suddenly, despite being relatively young and in apparent good health, is just overwhelming. “Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring.” I think about my two children, about the same age as Rachel and Dan’s, and the thought of them losing a parent this young in life is more overwhelming still.
Another part of the shock is realizing just how important a person it is that we’ve lost. I had not thought of her as a touchstone in my own thought in the way that, say, Richard Beck has been (though see his remembrance of her), but this weekend it hit me how much Evans, in her writings and in her person, had become for me the model of what that strange beast called progressive Christianity should look like. And looking through the #BecauseOfRHE hashtag on Twitter reveals the breadth of the lives she touched: fellow writers whom she elevated or encouraged; Christians whose faith had crumbled and who, through Evans, were able to rebuild it without the prejudices that had broken it down; LGBTQ Christians who felt heard and validated, perhaps for the first time, by her; and so many others. Ashley Wilcox puts it very well:
The grieving about Rachel Held Evans has been so public because she has meant a lot to so many of us. Even those who never met her are feeling this loss. She was a kind presence on a platform that often rewards those who are not kind. She was open about what she believed, and was willing to change. It is a loss for all of us that we will not get to see her grow as a writer and a speaker, that we will not read what she had to say at 40, or 50, or 75.
I’m holding her and her family and friends in the Light, and I hope you will too.