BREAKING NEWS: Industry Mourns As Popular Writer Who Challenged the Evangelical Establishment Dies

Rachel Held Evans, a best-selling Christian author who was unafraid to wade into fierce theological battles over issues such as the role of ...

Rachel Held Evans, a best-selling Christian author who was unafraid to wade into fierce theological battles over issues such as the role of women, science, LGBT issues and politics on her blog and social media, died Saturday, after spending weeks in the hospital for an infection. She was 37.

Her husband Dan, who has been writing health updates, wrote on her blog on Saturday that she had been weaned from an induced coma, but swelling in her brain was not survivable.

“This entire experience is surreal. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake,” Dan Evans wrote. “I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story.

Ms. Evans tweeted in mid-April that she was in the hospital with the “flu + UTI combo and a severe allergic reaction” to antibiotics and asked for prayer. Dan Evans wrote that she then developed seizures, so doctors put her into a medically-induced coma.

The hashtag #PrayforRHE became a trending topic on Twitter earlier this month for Evans, who had two young children, ages three and almost one. Her friends set up a GoFundMe to cover medical expenses.

Writer Sarah Bessey, a close friend of Evans, wrote on Twitter that she was surrounded by her family and her close friend who sang and prayed. The Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber tweeted that she anointed her with oil on Friday night.

“Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her,” Dan Evans wrote on Saturday.

An Episcopalian, Evans drew a large following in the evangelical community in both progressive and conservative circles. She criticized widespread evangelical support for President Trump, encouraged women in church leadership, questioned a literal reading of the Bible, among other issues. From her home in Tennessee, she became a beloved progressive speaker at many conferences around the country.

Her books — including “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again” and “Searching for Sunday" — pushed theological boundaries for many conservative evangelicals, but they gave voice to many progressive evangelicals who had become frustrated with their churches. In 2012 she was named one of Christianity Today magazine’s “50 Women to Watch.”

Ms. Evans served on a White House council for faith-based and neighborhood partnerships during President Barack Obama’s second term.

Obama recognized that — at a young age — she had become an influential leader both within and beyond the religious community, said Melissa Rogers, who was the director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships during Obama’s second term.

“Rachel brought her usual piercing insights and deep compassion to the council’s work on poverty,” Rogers said. “She was also a beloved member of the team.”

Ms. Evans was born in Alabama in 1981 and moved to Dayton, Tenn. when she was a teenager, according to Slate.

Raised in an evangelical home, she received her bachelor’s degree in English from Bryan College in Dayton, Tenn. and then was a journalist for the newspaper The Herald-News before she became a pioneer in the Christian blogging world.
Dayton has long been famous for the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, a case about teaching evolution in schools that caused many fundamentalist Christians to feel alienated from the American mainstream.

She began to question her college’s teachings that shunned evolution when she published her first book on it in 2010 called “Evolving in Monkeytown” (published in 2010 and later re-branded to “Faith Unraveled”).

Ms. Evans spent a year following the Bible’s instructions for women literally before she published her second book published in 2012, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood.” The book explored women’s roles, encouraging women in church leadership and an egalitarian approach to marriage.

Many people forget that she was a trailblazer, said Jonathan Merritt, a popular progressive Christian author and speaker.
“She was talking about misogyny in the church long before the #MeToo movement emerged, and she was affirming LGBT relationships on the grounds of her Christian convictions when doing so could still get you run out of town,” he said. “Today, many voices are championing a more progressive expression of Christian faith, and Rachel helped create space for the movement we now see.”

Ms. Evans, who emerged during a blog renaissance in the early 2000s when younger voices were getting attention, has been compared to other progressive Christian writers like Tony Campolo and Diana Butler Bass. She once said that her evangelical church’s activism on a Tennessee campaign to ban same-sex marriage eventually led her to leave that church, but she continued to write about her love for her church and the Bible and joined an Episcopal Church.


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