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Evans gained a following early in her career in part because she took a wry and provocative approach to writing about Christianity. Her debut book, first titled Evolving in Monkey Town and later sold as Faith Unraveled, was about learning to question her faith after growing up in Dayton, Tennessee—famous for the 1925 trial of a teacher, John Scopes, who allegedly taught students about evolution. For her second book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Evans followed biblical instructions for women to their most literal extent, including covering her head and camping out in her yard during her period. She wrote about what it meant to be an eshet chayil, a Hebrew term that means “woman of valor,” which she came to see as another way of saying “You go, girl!” As the news of her death spread on Twitter on Saturday, many people expressed their appreciation for her—an ex-evangelical and lifelong Christian—by using this traditionally Jewish phrase.
The most striking thing about Evans’s writing, though, was her vulnerability. In adulthood, she decided to leave the evangelical church where she had grown up, in part because of its stance on LGBTQ rights. As she and her husband moved into a new phase of their Christian life, she wrote in her third book, Searching for Sunday, that she wanted a space where it was okay to be broken. “A lot of liberal, progressive people are afraid of the word sin,” she told me in a 2015 interview. But this is the core of Christianity, she said, the “bizarre truth of Christian identity.” Her conviction was clear in the way she held herself in conversation: acknowledging human fragility and failings, including her own. Speaking with care and humility. Summoning grace for the abandoned.
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That book, and much of her work, was explicitly written for people who had been pushed away from Christianity. Especially after 2014, when she announced that she was “done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table,” Evans spent significant energy arguing for LGBTQ inclusion in the church. She also wrote about the importance of women’s voices in traditionally patriarchal Christian subcultures, and reached out to Christians of color who were developing their own writing and platforms. Following her death, many people commented on her efforts to reach people at the margins of traditional Christianity: “Her impact on our community was enormous and deserves to be recorded,” wrote Matthew Vines, an influential Christian writer who focuses on LGBTQ issues in the Church. He encouraged people to “share your stories about this amazing woman of God.”
Evans spent much of her professional life working on her books and speaking around the country, but her voice was perhaps most influential online, where she forged a large circle of fellow bloggers and self-fashioned misfits. As Christianity, like the rest of life, has moved online, new digital communities like this one have offered refuge and fellowship for people who often feel pushed out of brick-and-mortar church spaces. Although Evans’s fans were diverse, she was particularly influential among women, which is one of the most powerful lessons of her work: Along with other progressive writers of her generation, Evans demonstrated that Christian women are hungry for serious engagement with their faith, often in ways that don’t fit traditional frames offered by men.