Rachel Held Evans, 1981–2019
The Christian author who challenged evangelical beliefs
When Rachel Held Evans began blogging in the 2000s, the Tennessee-based writer had no idea that her candid reflections on faith would become a rallying point for progressive evangelicals. Online and in four best-selling books, she challenged theological boundaries and sparked fierce debates about the role of science, LGBT people, and women in the church. For her 2012 book A Year of Biblical Womanhood, she spent a year trying to follow the Bible’s precepts as closely as possible, including calling her husband “master” and camping in the front yard during her period—highlighting what she viewed as the absurdity of biblical literalism. She left evangelism two years later and became an Episcopalian. “Instead of fighting for a seat at the evangelical table,” she explained, “I want to prepare tables in the wilderness, where everyone is welcome.”
Evans was born in Birmingham, Ala., said The Washington Post, and as a teenager moved with her family to Dayton, Tenn., site of the famous 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial—“a case about the teaching of evolution in schools.” She attended Bryan College, a small Christian school in Dayton, but came to question its anti-evolution stance, a journey she charted in her first book, 2010’s Evolving in Monkeytown.
After leaving evangelism, Evans made it her mission to create a community for “spiritual refugees,” said The New York Times. Her death last week at age 37, caused by complications from an infection, inspired tributes from both progressive and conservative Christians. “Whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called ‘none,’” she wrote in her last blog post on Ash Wednesday, “you know this truth deep in your bones: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.’”