Hazel McHaffie

Rachel Held Evans

Last week I shared some stories of authors overcoming huge obstacles to pursue their art. This week I want to pay tribute to a specific writer/blogger who crammed so much into her life before it was cut short quite catastrophically.

Her name is Rachel Held Evans and I’ve been a fan for years. Her professional experience as a journalist, and humour columnist, shine through her lively, no-nonsense, writing. She has a lovely line in self deprecating honesty and an endless thirst for personal integrity and authenticity – and given the murky political shenanigans in this country (and hers) of late, there’s a high premium to be associated with that quality!

In brief, Rachel left the evangelical church in 2014 because, as she said herself, she was done trying to end the church’s culture wars and wanted to focus instead on building a new community among the church’s “refugees”: women who wanted to be active in the church, gay Christians, and those who refused to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith. That journey took her personally from a position of religious certainty to a faith which accepted doubt and questioning as part of the ongoing process of being a Christian. She faced the conflicts and uncertainties fearlessly, and as part of a vanguard of progressive-Christian women, she fought to change the way Christianity is taught and perceived in the United States. In the space of eleven years, she published six titles based on her experiences, some of them best-sellers, and became internationally famous.

I guess her story resonates with mine, which might be why she appeals to me so powerfully. Like her, I was brought up in a faith community with clear parameters for both belief and behaviour; like her, I’ve since found a different, much wider, understanding of what it means to be truly Christian. Unlike her, though, I have not shared my journey in public, but she speaks for me in so many ways. She doesn’t shy away from the anomalies and the hard-to-believe elements of the Bible; instead she tries to unravel them and find a meaningful way to understand them. She stares squarely into the face of the challenges not only in the Bible but within the church too. She appeals to the die-hards and those who believe they have all the answers, to think again.

Sadly, in 2019, when she was only 37, Rachel had an allergic reaction to medication for an infection. Her brain swelled up to a severe degree and she was placed in a medically-induced coma. Her condition continued to deteriorate and she died on May 4. I am part of a group who honour her memory.

Her very public sharing of her personal vulnerability, and her honest exploration of a faith filled with doubt, leading to her empowerment of a rag bag of disenfranchised people, form an awe-inspiring legacy, and I for one am indebted to her.

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