“At times I’ve tried to wring the waters of my first baptism out of my clothes, shake them out of my hair, and ask for a do-over in some other community where they ordain women, vote for Democrats, and believe in evolution. But Jesus has this odd habit of allowing ordinary, screwed-up people to introduce him, and so it was ordinary, screwed-up people who first told me I was a beloved child of God, who first called me a Christian. I don’t know where my story of faith will take me, but it will always begin here. That much can never change.” -Rachel Held Evans (1981-2019)
Like a lot of us in the feminist, progressive Christian world, the news of Rachel Held Evan’s death was a shocking blow. She was a guiding light to so many of us who still remain Disciples of Christ while rejecting the patriarchal and hierarchical structure that Christ’s church has become.
Like Evans, I went through a faith crisis that ultimately led to me leaving the church of my baptism and embracing a theology that is much more radically inclusive and gathers and embraces those at the margins. When I first read the above quote in Evans’s book Search for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church, it hit me to my core and I wept. Even though Evans was raised Evangelical and I was baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the similarities between what she was taught, and the teachings I received, are striking.
My faith crisis has been a grieving process for me and one of the hallmarks of grief is anger. I will admit I have been so angry with the Church. I’m angry at doctrine that would exclude my non-member father from being with my family in heaven. I’m angry at rhetoric that tells me Women Are Incredible! While at the same time excluding me from being a witness to sacred ordinances. I’m angry at the policy of exclusion being rescinded, but then the church coming out against the Equality Act . I’m angry that those who have advocated for equality and the protection of children have been excommunicated and silenced. I’m angry that I’m expected to be obedient to imperfect men instead of following the dictates of my own conscious.
Even considering all of that, Evans helped me reconcile my Mormon heritage, and the claiming of that heritage, with my feminist, pro-LGBTQ, pro-child protection, values. I have ancestors on my mother’s side who left their countries and families for their religion. Who pushed handcarts across the Great Plains. Who sacrificed everything they had to worship their God in the way they wanted. I honor that heritage and it is why I will always consider myself a Mormon. Evans gave me permission to embrace the faith that allowed me to know God, while also embracing the fact that I never really fit in. My beliefs of radical inclusion will never align with the beliefs of a church whose disciples push vulnerable people to the margins, just like Christ’s disciples did to the Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28).
I credit Evans with helping me find my way after my faith crisis. Evans vocal journey out of Evangelicalism and into the Episcopal church gave me the courage to continue my relationship with Christ after I knew my values and beliefs conflicted with the LDS church. She helped me realize that there are other ways and other churches to worship in, than the church of my origin. That I could still call myself a Disciple of Christ while no longer considering myself a Latter-day Saint. Rachel Held Evans was a light in the darkness for me and so many others. The world is a little less bright without her. Now she takes her place among the angels.
This post originally appeared on The Exponent II.