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Rachel Held Evans, Popular Evangelical Writer, Dies at 37

Rachel Held Evans, the popular and controversial evangelical writer, has died. She was 37.

I know many in the raceAhead community are keenly feeling her loss today.

Evans had become widely known for her inclusive and progressive Christian views. She was a popular blogger, the author of four best-selling books, and the co-founder of two conferences for progressive Christians, Why Christian and Evolving Faith.

Back when many white evangelical women preferred to avoid hot button topics like race, LGBTQ exclusion, sexual abuse, and politics, Evans took them on with a signature mix of earnestness, grace, accountability, and humor. For as many fans as she had, she had — and sparred with — a great many detractors.

She was a #TimesUp trailblazer. In 2013, Evans published a series on her blog about abuse in the church that asked everyone to do better. “Thinking “biblically” (…or perhaps, more accurately, thinking Christianly…) about abuse doesn’t mean keeping abuse in the shadows or shaming those who would come forward as troublemakers,” she wrote.

Slate’s Ruth Graham did a beautiful job explaining why Evans meant so much to so many:

Evans was a forceful and winsome public voice for progressive evangelicalism… She started her eponymous site more than a decade ago, and in her years of writing she confronted every controversial issue in American evangelical culture. She wrote about biblical literalism, racism, abortion, evolution, theology, marriage, patriarchy, women in leadership, and evangelical support for Donald Trump. She advocated for the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church and analyzed her own complicity in racial bias after the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. The Washington Post once called her “the most polarizing woman in evangelicalism.”

Evans’ political and cultural polemics attracted the most attention. But she also wrote passionately about her own evolving faith, her prayer life, her wrestling with doubt, and her love for the church. “Anyone who has loved the Bible as much as I have, and who has lost it and found it again, knows how a relationship with the Bible can be as real and as complicated as a relationship with a family member or close friend,” she wrote in her most recent book, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again.

Evans was admitted to the hospital last month with the flu. After a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics, she began having seizures. On April 19, two of her friends and colleagues, Sarah Bessey and Jeff Chu, announced #PrayforRHE, a global online prayer vigil. The hashtag trended on Twitter almost immediately.

Doctors placed Evans in a medically induced coma in an attempt to save her life, but the seizures returned after she was weaned off the medication. She developed swelling on the brain and died on Saturday morning.

Evans posted her last blog entry, Lent for the Lamenting, on Ash Wednesday, the solemn pre-Easter season for many Christians around the world.

It’s worth noting that her last public words were ones of inclusion:

As the season of Lent commences, I am aware this year of all who find themselves in a season of frustration, grief, and lament over the church or their place in it. The evangelical embrace of Trumpism. The abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention. The United Methodist Church’s divisions over LGBTQ inclusion. Not a day goes by that someone doesn’t reach out to me, in person or online, to tell me they feel betrayed by their family of faith—by what has been done, and by what has been left undone…

It strikes me today that the liturgy of Ash Wednesday teaches something that nearly everyone can agree on. Whether you are part of a church or not, whether you believe today or your doubt, whether you are a Christian or an atheist or an agnostic or a so-called “none” (whose faith experiences far transcend the limits of that label) you know this truth deep in your bones: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.”

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.

 

On Point

It’s a royal boy!It’s been a minute since Britain’s had a mixed-race blood royal, so the news is pretty exciting: The Duke and Duchess of Sussex welcomed a baby boy just a few hours ago. The newborn is seventh in line to the British throne, behind his father, Prince Harry, and there is no word yet what place he will take in the line of Hollywood royalty, behind his mother, Meghan Markle. The couple will continue to flaunt all sorts of traditions, for example, there will be no immediate-post-baby photo op. And, as points out The New York Times, while Britain remains predominantly white, mixed-race kids are the fastest growing demographic. “It’s hopeful for people of my kids’ generation to see a princess of mixed race,” says one darker skinned mom who is raising a lighter child.New York Times

Viola Davis and Merck team up for on a diabetes-awareness documentary
Davis narrated Merck’s A Touch of Sugar, which debuted at the TriBeCa film festival. The film covers America’s diabetes epidemic, including how it disproportionately affects black and brown people. Davis, who is pre-diabetic herself, told Ebony about how the disease has impacted her family. Back in the day, they called it “the sugar.” “When we were growing up it was, ‘umm hmm, you know, aunt so-and-so got the sugar,’ and then nobody did anything,” she says. We continued to eat our cornbread and the dumplings … we have to change our relationship with food, we have to change … how we see our health and going to the doctor on a regular basis and we need to create a support group within our community to help each other.” Here’s the official announcement from Merck.
Ebony

Federal judge declares Ohio congressional map unconstitutional
In a unanimous decision, a panel of federal judges declared Ohio’s Republican-drawn electoral map as unconstitutional. To date, federal courts in five states have struck down partisan gerrymandering schemes, even as the Supreme Court weighs whether lower court judges should even have a role in those decisions. “We join the other federal courts that have held partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional and developed substantially similar standards for adjudicating such claims,” the panel said in its unanimous ruling.
Washington Post

Zain’s annual Ramadan message strikes a peaceful tone
Zain, the Kuwait-based telecommunications group, makes an annual Ramadan-themed advertisement to celebrate the beginning of the Muslim holy month. While it’s often well received, the company faced a social media backlash last year for depicting Arabs as victims and for its “sheer bad taste.” Last year’s film showed a young boy singing to world leader look-a-likes; in one scene, the child wishes the alt-President Trump “Ramadan Kareem” (have a generous Ramadan) and invites him to iftar at his house “if he can find it in the debris.” This year’s four-minute film strikes a more harmonious tone, showing scenes of natures, new babies, and lots of communal singing. “Let us all be like trees; different in form, leaves and branches yet embraced in our roots.”Ramadan Mubarak, to all who celebrate.
Zain Ramadan 2019

 

On Background

A Native guide to thriving in college
The American Indian College Fund has created this exceptional college-going guidebook, an exceptional resource for Indigenous high schoolers who are heading to college. It’s part an entrance and survival guide, but also a reminder of who and where you’ve come from. “Remember you carry cultural knowledges, identity, strength, and resilience that evolved from this land,” writes elder Henrietta Mann, Ph.D. “Ho’e-osta-oo-nah’e, Prayer Cloth Woman” (Cheyenne), in the introduction. While the focus is on Native students and the people who care about them, the guide would also be helpful for anyone who is the first in their family to go to college.
American Indian College Fund

Roma for the modern age
You don’t have to speak Spanish to get the joke behind this poster advertising the sequel to the award winning film Roma, and the emotional story behind its central character, a loyal and steady housecleaner who transforms the household. Non-Spanish speakers are one Google Translate cut-and-paste away from a good laugh. Tú disfrutas.
El Mundo Today

Starting a new diversity initiative? Here’s a good place to begin
Catalyst, the global nonprofit focused on building more inclusive workplaces, has put together a one-stop resource filled with all their research, data, and best practice recommendations. You’ll find the best thinking on building your business case, assessing the environment, collecting data, setting up a new D&I office structure, and setting the D&I strategy. Even if you company’s been on the journey for a while, stop in and see what you could be doing more, better, or differently.
Catalyst

Aidan Taylor assisted in the preparation of today’s summaries.

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America rejects bigotry. We reject every act of hatred against people of Arab background or Muslim faith… America values and welcomes peaceful people of all faiths — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu and many others. Every faith is practiced and protected here, because we are one country. Every immigrant can be fully and equally American.
—President George W. Bush