I really didn’t want to write this post.
First, I didn’t want to write it because I was hoping and praying for Rachel Held Evans to pull through and fully recover.
Second, I didn’t want to write it because I don’t want to leverage her death into profit for myself.
But I feel like I need to write something now. I feel like I need to go on record.
Because of Christianity Today, which lost any remaining credibility with me this week after they published a nasty piece, withdrew it, apologized for it, and then basically reiterated it all through a backhanded apology by editor in chief Mark Galli.
Because of Doug Wilson, a monster of evangelicalism, who essentially pronounced damnation on her soul on his blog.
This morning, when I read yet another post by Anne Kennedy here on Patheos, I decided I needed to say something. Her piece, called “Death in Eastertide,” was actually a pretty good piece of blogging. Until she added this on the end:
And so I prayed before, but now I mourn, and hope that Rachel turned in her final hours to the true Christ, the living Word, the resurrected One who overcomes death, even in Easter.
I don’t know what it is about evangelicals that makes them feel it is appropriate to separate themselves like this. Even as they profess their mourning, their words say something different. It’s as if they take some sick and deranged pleasure in the hope that God is alread punishing their opponent.
Between the lines, sometimes even from the lines themselves, I hear, “She took us to task. She pointed problems with our hermeneutic. She voted for the wrong people. She didn’t accept our party line about women, gays, the poor and disenfranchised. Worst of all, she admitted she had doubts about the Bible sometimes!”
Boiled down, it all ends with this:
“She must be burning in hell.”
Whatever it is, it’s one of the things I find most distasteful about evangelicalism. It’s one of the reasons I’ve ultimately left the evangelical movement.
Maybe, hopefully, in death she can teach us one last thing: the evangelical gate-keeping needs to die.
If you know my writing, you know that I don’t shy away from saying strong things, from calling out other people when I feel like it’s necessary. I believe with all of my heart that it’s necessary.
But this is totally beyond the pale. It’s not okay to pronounce God’s judgment on people who disagree with us. It’s cruel, especially in such a heartbreaking case, when there are motherless children and a young widowed spouse. But more than cruel, it’s blasphemy. It hearkens back to the age old story when our first parents coveted knowledge and power that was God’s alone.
It feels like betrayal.
But I’m strengthened a bit by something Rachel wrote a number of years ago in one of the best pieces she ever wrote:
Sometimes true faithfulness requires something of a betrayal…
So when the thought of my Sunday school teachers’ disapproval crossed my mind, the only words to surface to my lips were, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”
Friends – evangelical, post-evangelical, liberal, agnostic, and anything else – Rachel was a gift to the church. She was a gift to hers and every living generation. She was a gift to disinterested outsiders, and she was a gift to insiders struggling mightily with shame and doubt. Her faith, for which she lived and died, was thoroughly orthodox, even becoming more so through the years. Even in disagreement, she loved, she encouraged, and she was thoroughly faithful. The fruits of the Spirit, by every account I’ve heard, were abundant in her life.
And here’s one more thing for all you folks who desperately want eternal wrath taken out upon her.
In the end, she was faithful. She struggled with the church, she fought for her faith, and, unlike so many others from our generation, she stayed in the church. She didn’t leave, not for good. She was faithful.
It’s impossible for any of us to truly know the substance of a person’s faith.
But if we can so easily condemn a person like Rachel Held Evans who demonstrated this kind of faith and commitment to the Gospel.
Like her, all I can think of is this:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”
Eshet chayil, Rachel Held Evans.
Rest eternal grant to her, O Lord:
And let light perpetual shine upon her.