#BecauseofRHE: What I will remember about Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans

In the early hours of May 4, Rachel Held Evans, a wife, mother and a New York Times best-selling progressive Christian writer, died at the age of 37.

The news of this beautiful young woman's death shook thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people who had been influenced hugely by her love of Jesus, her writing, her public voice and her progressive evangelicalism.

The outpouring of grief was tangible. Social media exploded with expressions of loss and the agonising grief of her husband and family reverberated throughout Christendom. On that day, the world seemed darker.

I never knew Rachel; I wish I had. I read some of her writing, I heard her voice on podcasts and I followed her on Twitter. Alongside many others who had been touched by her life from a distance, I grieved the loss of such an influential woman.

She had her critics but in my view, Rachel was able to confront evangelical controversies wisely, graciously and assertively both in her writing and speaking and she wasn't shy of challenging the areas where she saw injustice or inequality. Rachel embraced those she believed to be marginalised and although she defended inclusivity, she modelled disagreeing well, and I think we can all take something away from that.

Personally, she was one of my heroes because of who she was and how she lived, and it's no surprise to me therefore that her legacy has a hashtag - #BecauseofRHE.

I have been following #BecauseofRHE and the threads are astonishing. I've lost count of how many people have commented that they were rediscovering their faith #BecauseofRHE or they were returning to Church #BecauseofRHE.

Many have stated that they are making better choices #BecauseofRHE. Many others who have felt, and so often are, excluded from mainstream church, are discovering places of welcome and acceptance #BecauseofRHE.

I can't help but ask the question: why did it take a young woman to lose her life before so many of us realised we'd got some stuff wrong and that we'd treated each other pretty badly at times in the process? I can't be the only one to see the parallel here.

What was obvious throughout Rachel's speaking and writing was that she loved Jesus and she loved the Bible, hence the praise across the church. Indeed, Rachel had been on a journey with her faith, as so many of us have been, but she knew whose she was and how much He loved her, and I would love to know what Jesus and Rachel are talking about now they are together.

Sheridan Voysey, a writer, broadcaster and author, shared a story on BBC Radio 2's Pause for Thought about how his family were touched by God through a truck driver.  It was a beautiful story of how a truck driver called Helmut served and loved Sheridan's parents when they needed help and support.

Voysey quoted philosopher, Paul Moser, who had told him that the greatest 'proof' of God's existence wasn't the beauty of the world, or our innate sense of right and wrong, but the love that flows out from a person when God becomes the centre of their lives. In other words, Helmut did what He did because God was the centre of his life.

I believe that God was at the centre of Rachel Held Evans' life and because God was central, Rachel was able to do what she did in reaching out to others - and do it well. I also believe that because of who Rachel was, God was able to reach out through her and make the world a better place.

I know her critics won't agree with me, but I believe the world needs more Rachels and Helmuts - those who love at a cost to themselves. Those who serve and champion others, those who delight in the Words of God and who want people to know how much Jesus loves them.

I for one am someone who has been challenged by the life and death of Rachel Held Evans and so like many others on May 4, I paused and wept. I recognised the stuff I had got wrong and resolved to put things right with those I have hurt. I am daily re-aligning myself with Jesus, wanting to ensure He is the centre of my life. I am learning to disagree well with those who think differently from me and I'm praying we can listen to and hear each other's voices.

From the bottom of my heart, I am thankful for the men and women who step up and model something of the Kingdom of God - may their legacies live on. Most of all, I hope their legacies will have eternal consequences and lead others to discover Jesus for themselves.

Mandy Bayton is The Cinnamon Network Advisor for Wales, speaker and freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @mandyebayton