Rachel Held Evans, a hugely popular progressive Christian writer, has died at the age of 37 after being hospitalized last month for flu complications.
Evans had tweeted from the hospital as recently as April 14, alerting her over 160,000 Twitter followers of her condition. “If you’re the praying type - I’m in the hospital with a flu + UTI combo and a severe allergic reaction to the antibiotics they gave me. (I’m totally going to miss GOT!).”
Evans entered the hospital in mid-April with the flu but her condition rapidly deteriorated after she suffered a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics. She developed sustained seizures as a result of the reaction, ultimately leading to swelling in her brain, according to her husband Dan Evans.
Dan regularly updated his wife's devoted followers on her condition under a page titled, “Rachel's Health Updates” on a section of her website. His updates documented the dizzying downward spiral Evan’s health took after she first began exhibiting “unexpected symptoms” on April 19, from a medically induced coma to control her seizures to a frantic scramble by doctors to save her after “sudden and extreme changes in her vitals” shortly before her death.
She died early Saturday morning on May 4, from “severe damage” caused by brain swelling that “ultimately was not survivable,” her husband wrote.
“This entire experience is surreal. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story. I cannot express how much the support means to me and our kids,” her husband wrote in his last post. “... We are privileged. Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her.”
Throughout her career, Evans worked tirelessly to challenge fundamentalist evangelicalism. She became a hugely popular author by tackling subjects typically left unchallenged by those in the evangelical faith. In her own words, she wrote about “faith, doubt and life in the Bible Belt,” according to her website bio.
She began writing online during the onset of blogs in 2006, gaining traction as a young voice among the traditionally older evangelical crowd. Evans eventually left the Evangelical Church in response to its activism against same-sex marriage. She instead joined the Episcopal Church, and continued to write about her love for the Bible and faith. Her writing often discussed the gender imbalance in church leadership, and questioned a literal reading of the Bible. Recently, she critiqued the widespread evangelical support for President Trump.
A New York Times best-selling author, Evans' four books include Faith Unraveled, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Searching for Sunday, and most recently, Inspired, published in 2018.
She also served on President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships during his second term, and traveled the country as a speaker at religious and academic institutions alike.
As news spread of her illness, Evans' fans, as well as some religious leaders—many of whom she had challenged in the past—took to social media to express their support, and eventual grief.
So well known in Christian circles, many referred to Evans online simply as “RHE.” The hashtag #PrayforRHE became a trending topic on Twitter earlier this month, and again on Saturday. And a GoFundMe page created on April 22 to cover her family's expenses has raised almost $150,000.
Writer Sarah Bessey shared on Twitter that her close friend was surrounded by family and friends at the time of her death. Bessey ended the post by praising Evans as “eshet chayil,” which translates to “woman of valor” in Hebrew.
“She put others before herself,” her husband said in an email to The Washington Post on Saturday. “She shared her platform. She always remembered how others had helped her. She enjoyed seeing other people in contexts where they thrived. She didn’t hold grudges, would forget as well as forgive. She had little time for pettiness and a big heart for people. And these are all things I wish I had told her more while I still had the privilege to keep her company.”
In Evans' last blog post titled “Lent for the Lamenting,” published March 6 (Ash Wednesday on the Christian calendar), she discussed how we all share in the inevitability of death.
“Whether you are part of a church or not... whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called ‘none’... you know this truth deep in your bones: ‘Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return,’” she wrote. “Death is a part of life. My prayer for you this season is that you make time to celebrate that reality, and to grieve that reality, and that you will know you are not alone.”