Ed Stetzer: Reflecting on Rachel Held Evans

Yesterday, Beth Moore tweeted:

Thinking what it was about @rachelheldevans that could cause many on other sides of issues to take their hats off to her in her death. People are run rife with grief for her babies, yes. But also I think part of it is that, in an era of gross hypocrisy, she was alarmingly honest.

I noticed the same thing—people everywhere, from multiple streams of thought and faith, were expressing personal grief and often showing her honor.

Like many others, I am praying for Dan and her small children. But, I’m also reflecting a bit on her influence and our interactions.

Rachel Held Evans mattered in many ways to many people, of course, but I think she also mattered to evangelicals and evangelicalism, and it’s worth some time to reflect on those realities.


Rachel trended on Twitter for a long time the last few days. It started with #PrayforRHE and then shifted to #BecauseofRHE. The comments were often moving, often from people hurt by the church—particularly evangelical churches.

For many, Rachel Held Evans was a trailblazer. To them, she served as a model of what it means to question seriously what one believes when they need to and to take the time to discover the answers, no matter how long that may take.

She was a hero to many— a woman of valor.

She held the baton high for important issues the church and culture are wrestling with today—issues of gender, race, even socio-economic status—and encouraged many to wrestle with doubts, fears, and inequalities. And she pushed those of us who thought differently, encouraging us to wrestle with our assertions.

We’d do well to ask why she mattered to so many—and I will address that in a bit. But, let me first reflect on our own interactions.


I was reviewing our Twitter direct messages, and there was plenty of disagreement in there. But there was also was a lot that was, well, agreement and affirmation.

It is no secret that Rachel and I landed on two different sides of the line on more than one occasion. I worked at LifeWay for several years, and you can Google to learn why that might be important if you don’t know. But even amidst conflict (that was often quite personal, in that it mattered personally to both of us), she never stopped engaging directly. The effort that it takes to deal with people one-on-one is tremendous, and she did not run from it.

Rachel and I texted and direct messaged on more than a few occasions on areas of concern she saw in the evangelical church. I pushed back when it seemed appropriate, and so did she.

A few years ago, the Washington Post called Evans “the most polarizing woman in evangelicalism.” Indeed, many in evangelicalism simply didn’t know what to do with her concerns and thus wrote her off.

The problem is, failure to listen can make one tone deaf. Rachel was always trying to break into our echo chambers. I did not always like when and how she did it, but dismissing her in favor of the sounds of our own voices was not always the right choice.

Contrary to what some might think, however, she and I did not always disagree.

Actually, she reached out to encourage me (and to exhort me in positive ways) on more than a few occasions (and I, to her on other occasions). For example, I wrote an article about “a woman’s place,” reacting to some of what I had seen in evangelicalism.

She wrote me:

Thank you SO MUCH for your post today. My inbox is stuffed with messages from women who have suffered under Hilly-style pressure.

Again, really loved the piece. One thing to keep in mind – Perhaps a woman’s highest calling is not motherhood, but to follow Christ.

(I also get a lot of messages from women who can’t have children and this is sometimes painful to them.)

But, Rachel was not satisfied with the evangelicalism of her youth, and our direct messages reflect that divergence. (Perhaps ironically, I started my faith journey in the Episcopal Church and ended up a conservative evangelical. She started as a conservative evangelical and ended up an Episcopalian.)

What Rachel did, and what so many others in our churches are (sometimes silently) doing, is more common than most know: she questioned what she had been taught and what she was seeing.

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Source: Christianity Today