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Generosity of Inclusion

I hadn’t heard of Rachel Held Evans until her shocking death last month at the age of 37. I don’t tweet, and I’m a lot older than Millennials. But in her case that was my loss – I celebrate her intentionally generous life as an “apostle to outsiders,” and am grateful for how her influence continues to expand beyond her lifetime.

What a surprise that this progressive Christian apologist grew up in the very town where the Clarence Darrow monkey trial took place, in a theologically conservative family and congregation. Those roots prompted her to struggle mightily with the Church’s attitude and behavior. She left the Church at age 29. “I wasn’t looking for a better-produced Christianity,” she wrote once in an online column. “I was looking for a truer Christianity, a more authentic Christianity.”

Later, she wrote, “Millennials want to be known by what we’re for, not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.”1

Reading her insights reminded me that stewardship is whatever we do with all that God has entrusted to us, including our relationships. And generosity is our passion for giving, out of gratitude for God’s relationship with us. It is both a learned attitude and a habitual action, seeking the other’s welfare. Evans sought the welfare of once-scattered progressive, post-evangelical people. Through books, conferences and social media, she became a relentless champion of “the voices and experiences of others, especially those whose voices were ignored or marginalized in the Church.”2 She fostered a community of believers who yearned to seek God and challenged Christian groups they believed were exclusionary. As she continued to write and speak publicly, her fierce voice on social media became a dialogue between her and others who were frustrated, “doubt-filled” believers.

Austin Channing Brown, a writer of color, tweeted, “She was generous with her platform, with her contacts, with her time and money. She was generous with her advice. She was generous.”3 What an amazing model of generosity to follow!

Your partner in ministry,
Betsy Schwarzentraub

1 – Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church at Goodreads.com.
2 – Elizabeth Dias and Sam Roberts, “Rachel Held Evans, Voice of the Wandering Evangelical, Dies at 37,” New York Times.
3 – Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans, “The doors that Rachel Held Evans wedged open,” Christian Century.