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Remembering Progressive Christian Author Rachel Held Evans


Rachel Held Evans has died. She was a bestselling author on matters of faith and an advocate for a number of progressive issues. She'd been hospitalized for the flu but suffered an allergic reaction to antibiotics. After her death yesterday, her husband Dan wrote, Rachel's presence in this world was a gift to us all, and her work will long survive her. She was 37.

Sarah Bessey is a fellow writer and a friend of Rachel Held Evans, and she joins us now. I'm so sorry for your loss.

SARAH BESSEY: Thank you very much. It has felt surreal, like it's a nightmare we'll wake up from here soon. It just hardly feels like it's possible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Tell me a little bit about your friend, who also happened to be a leader in what's called the Christian left.

BESSEY: Rachel was - is remarkable. She was fearless and was just very passionate about justice. And we regularly just marveled at her capacity and her intellect. One of the things that I have always loved about Rachel in all the years that we have been friends is that she always was someone who put what was right and what was true and what was good ahead of her own self-interest, even when it was, you know, jarring, I think, to people.

Over and over in these last few days, I just have heard over and over about how relentlessly she championed the voices and experiences of people who often were ignored or marginalized in the church and just kept resetting it. She was generous and loving and, God, just so supportive. I mean, and she was such a good mom and a good wife, a good sister, a good friend to so many of us.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And she also had a large following in the evangelical community in both progressive and conservative circles, which is remarkable in these times.

BESSEY: Yeah, it is. It really is. I mean, I think that that was part of what Rachel did so incredibly well was she honored where she came from. She loved it. I think that's part of the reason why she pushed so hard at wanting it to do better.

But even beyond all of that, she just - she said what people were longing for, what they were hoping for, what they were thinking or feeling. She asked the questions out loud that the rest of us had been told to keep in the dark. And she connected people to this beautiful vision of Gospel that was just so loving and good and whole and filled with peace and room. I just am so grateful.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Rachel went to Bryan College in Tennessee, and they teach a literal interpretation of the Bible there. And she'd also been a member of an evangelical church, but she left it to become an Episcopalian. Can you illuminate her journey a little bit - how she moved from one side to another?

BESSEY: Well, Rachel never did anything by half.


BESSEY: Anything she did was with her whole heart (laughter). It was a - it was a big change, but honestly, her hunger for God, her sense of justice and fairness, her curiosity really was the thing that led her on that path - her huge heart for people.

Yeah, it's an incredible journey, but it's one that she left as a trail for the rest of us to follow when we found ourselves in that place of saying, I don't know if I believe this anymore, or, what does this mean politically, or, what does this mean for my neighbors?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What do you think her legacy should be?

BESSEY: You know, I feel like I can't even begin to imagine what all of her work that she has done will end up meaning for the world. I feel like Rachel was in many ways a pioneer and a groundbreaker for us. Long before most of our churches and spaces were talking about things like #MeToo or abuse, she was pushing into that space. And she was illuminating it and writing about it and celebrating people who were pushing up against, you know, darkness in all of these places - that she was someone who pushed so hard into full LGBTQ inclusion in the church. She was an accomplice and an ally.

And to me, I feel like her legacy will be that work that she did that laid a path for the rest of us to follow. That would be a more full vision of what the kingdom of God actually looks like.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Sarah Bessey via Skype remembering her friend Rachel Held Evans. Thank you very much, and my deepest condolences.

BESSEY: Thank you, Lulu. I appreciate that.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.