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A tribute to ‘a wandering evangelical’

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I’m departing from my usual column to pay tribute to the late Christian author, Rachel Held Evans. Ms. Evans, who passed recently at the young age of 37, had earned the title of the “Voice of the Wandering Evangelical.”

Ms. Evans left the evangelical church in 2014 as she said she was done trying to end the church’s culture wars and wanted to focus on building a new community among the church’s refugees — “those who refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith.”

Her efforts became the center for a diaspora. She brought together once disparate progressive, post-evangelical groups and hosted conferences to try to include nonwhite and sexual minorities, many whom felt ostracized by the churches of their youth.

Among her books are: “Faith Unraveled: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask Questions” and “Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water and Loving the Bible Again.”

The following is from Ms. Evans’ blog on Jan. 31, 2012. I will let it speak for itself.

They said that if I questioned a 6,000-year-old earth, I would question whether other parts of Scripture should be read scientifically and historically. They were right. I did.

They said if I entertained the hope that those without access to the gospel might still be loved and saved by God, I would fall prey to the dangerous idea that God loves everyone, that with God there is nothing God won’t do to reconcile all things to Himself. They were right. I have.

They said if I looked for Jesus beyond the party line, I could end up voting for liberals. They were right. I do (sometimes).

They said that if I listened to my gay and lesbian neighbors, if I made room for them in my church and in my life, I could let God’s grace get out of hand. They were right. It have.

They told me that this slippery slope would lead me away from God, that it would bring a swift end to my faith journey, that I’d be lost forever. But with that one they were wrong!

Yes, the slippery slope brought doubts. Yes, the slippery slope brought change. Yes, the slippery slope brought danger and risk and unknowns. I am indeed more exposed to the elements out here, and at times it is hard to find my footing.

But when I decided I wanted to follow Jesus as myself, with both my head and heart intact, the slippery slope was the only place I could find him, the only place I could engage my faith honestly. So down I went.

It was easier before, when the path was wide and straight.

But, truth be told, I was faking it. I was pretending that things that didn’t make sense made sense, that things that didn’t feel right felt right. To others, I appeared confident and in control, but faith felt far away as a friend who has grown distant and cold.

Now, every day is a risk. Now, I have no choice but to cling to faith and hope and love for dear life. Now I have to keep a very close eye on Jesus, as he leads me through deep valleys and precarious peaks.

But the view is better, and, for the first time in a long time, I am fully engaged in my faith. I am alive. I am dependent. I am following Jesus as me – heart and head intact.

And they were right. All it took was a question or two to bring me here.

Edward “Ned” Walsh of Princeton is a retired Baptist denominational worker who served as executive director of Johnston County Habitat for Humanity from 2004-08.