Peter Held is sipping coffee on the deck of the house his daughter had built but never lived in. After agonizing over whether or not to complete the dream home they had designed together, her widowed husband and their children have now moved into the finished house that is just five minutes away from Held’s own.
Sitting on that deck, looking out over the changing fall leaves on the Tennessee mountains, it’s hard not to think: There was so much more than a house left for Rachel Held Evans to finish.
It’s been a year and a half since the popular author and blogger died, at age 37, after a brief illness — a simple and unforeseen allergic reaction to medication, seizures, three weeks in the hospital and an induced coma from which she never emerged. The loss stunned her followers and friends: How could this outspoken and treasured voice be so suddenly silenced?
Many saw Evans as a passionate and courageous woman, wearing her heart for the marginalized on her sleeve. Her father saw that too, but he also remembers the little girl huddled under the covers reading for hours after bedtime. She once asked for a thesaurus as a gift, he recalls.
Religion News Service was granted an exclusive interview with Held, who is a professor and senior fellow of Christian studies at Bryan College. And it didn’t take long into the conversation to see that Evans’ biggest fan was her father. To be clear, Held takes pride in the accomplishments of both of his daughters — Evans’ sister works for Samaritan’s Purse.
Evans was the author of four books, including “A Year of Biblical Womanhood,” which became a New York Times bestseller. She was a sought-after speaker and was appointed to former President Barack Obama’s faith-based advisory council. All of this, Held says, was something Evans often downplayed. “Oh, Dad, it’s not a big deal,” he remembers her saying.
Not everyone warmed to Evans’ written revolution. Conservative Christians, in particular, pushed back against her embrace of egalitarian views on women, her full acceptance of LGBTQ Christians and same-sex marriage, and her frequent critiques of evangelical culture.
When asked how he handled the critics in Evans’ life, Held is firm in his words. “I was her dad, and was proud to be so.” Held adds, “I didn’t try to put the brakes on Rachel. Controversial issues were hers to play out.”
Although Rachel was an influential writer and speaker, according to Held she never wanted to be famous. “Rachel had to write. No matter what.” Later, he adds, “Rachel wasn’t motivated by book sales; she was a humble person, which came from deep within her.”
Held recalls taking his daughter to meet one of his friends in the writing business. Held always knew she was good, but he also recognized his fatherly bias. Hearing someone in the industry say, “This is good,” was validating for both father and daughter. Watching the subtle magnetism she had and the way people gravitated toward her was rewarding, he says.
However, Rachel saw her writing through a different lens, according to Held. “Rachel had to write, no matter what, because she felt like she had a message to get out there.” This may explain why Rachel seemed unrattled by the noisy pushback from conservative circles. Held paints a portrait of Evans’ principles; he says she always had someone in mind she was writing to. Someone she believed “needed to hear this.”
“It was always about somebody else. If there are kids out there that are being marginalized for whatever reason, and they need to hear someone speak up for them, then she was going to speak up for them,” Held says.
So, she quietly turned her back on lucrative contract deals from influential publishers who did not embrace her principles. Other times, she was not so quiet and would take to her blog or Twitter to call out publishers and bookstores for what she saw as a type of censorship.
“In an interesting way, she started shaping the market and creating a space for those kinds of books and that kind of writing,” Held says.
He sees Rachel’s legacy as one that still lives on. Yet, Held is also very aware of the reality he and the family live in without her. His deliberate calmness of voice is a reminder he is still grieving, yet he also maintains a quiet reservedness about him.
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SOURCE: Religion News Service –