St. Rachel Held Evans, Pray for Us!

Rachel Held Evans

Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of Rachel Held Evans, a writer who was born into an Evangelical family, but who later moved to the Episcopal Church.  According to the New York Times obituary last year, Evans authored several books and numerous newspaper columns “which wrestled with evangelicalism and the patriarchy of her conservative Christian upbringing, and documented her transition to a mainline Christian identity, which moved away from biblical literalism toward affirmation of L.G.B.T. people.”  Her writings became a refuge for many who, as she put it, “refuse to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith.”   Evans died an untimely death at the age of 37 after an allergic reaction to a medicine prescribed to fight an infection. The Times said that her Twitter feed “became her church, a gathering place for thousands to question, find safety in their doubts and learn to believe in new ways.”

So, where’s the Catholic dimension in this anniversary?  Bondings 2.0 always posts items that have BOTH an LGBTQ and Catholic dimension.  As inspiring as she was, what is Catholic about a memorial occasion for Evans?

I am a subscriber to Give Us This Daya daily devotional publication which arrives every month and contains, among other things,  morning and evening prayers, the liturgical readings and prayers of the day, and a short reflection.  For each day, the booklet also contains a short biographical portrait of a saint–though the definition of saint goes well beyond those who are canonized, well beyond people who have been long dead, and even beyond those who are Catholic.  These portraits are written by Robert Ellsberg, who has collected many such life stories in several publications, most recently Blessed Among Us, published by Liturgical Press, which also produces Give Us This Day.

Yesterday’s “saint” was Rachel Held Evans.  Ellsberg identified her as a “Woman of Valor”  who helped “Christians and seekers of all stripes to live their faith with greater courage, integrity, and joy.”   He also noted that she “challenged her own evangelical community’s compromises with white supremacy, misogyny, and rejection of LGBT people.”

As I read that last line, I was stunned.  This publication has been my prayer companion every day for almost five years. (Okay, maybe not every day, but a lot.) I have never seen the term “LGBT” used at all in this Catholic publication until yesterday.  (And I’m always on the lookout for LGBTQ issues in Catholic publications.)

Given that LGBTQ issues are discussed frequently in the church and society, it is not uncommon to see that term in the Catholic press, in both news stories and opinion pieces.  Even the Vatican used “LGBT” in its working document for the Synod on Youth in 2018 (though it was noticeably absent from the final report). Yet, I have never seen the term used in devotional literature from a major Catholic publisher until yesterday.  For me, that is an occasion to be noted because it means that support for LGBT people is becoming recognized as a value that describes holiness. (Even if this is not the very first mention, it is still rare enough to be noted.)

For decades, many Catholics have been promoting the idea that support for LGBT people is not only an admirable value, but a sacred duty.  Yet, institutional Catholicism has been slow, as we know, to acknowledge these ideas, let alone to make them part of the church’s prayer disciplines.  While it is a small detail, adding support for LGBT people to this description of Evans’ sanctity is a giant step for Catholic publishing and devotions.

So kudos to Robert Ellsberg, the editors of Give Us This Day, and to Liturgical Press!  Breaking the ice is never easy.  At the same time, let us continue to pray for the day when such an innovation is not seen as a, well, “innovation,” but becomes part of ordinary Catholic liturgical discourse.  And, let us also pray for the day when a major Catholic prayer publication will praise Catholics themselves for the same kind of courage and leadership that Evans displayed.

St. Rachel Held Evans, pray for us!

Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry, May 5, 2020

11 replies
  1. Anton
    Anton says:

    Frank,
    I was also surprised by this reference to Rachel. But then the readings at Mass were right there, too. Peter, in ACTS was told not to call “unclean what I had made clean”. And Jesus has other sheep that he includes in his fold. He lets everyone his Abba send him in through the gate and protects them all. It is so heartening that Jesus is so inclusive. He has his “mark” on his sheep and the people who claim to be working for him seem more like “hired help” who aren’t very helpful. They’re just there to fleece the sheep ather than care for them.
    Thank YOU, Jesus!
    Anton

    Reply
  2. John McDargh
    John McDargh says:

    Frqncis.. See my own facebook page for a grateful thank you for lifting up the significance of GIVE US THIS DAY’s honoring of this remarkable woman of valor.. And thank you (and Bob Shine) for your own valorous witness to and fight for a big tent Catholic community. .Recently retired from 40 years in the Department of Theology at BC , New Ways Ministry has been a great resource in our own struggle to support LGBT students and faculty/staff.

    Reply
  3. Mark Koenig
    Mark Koenig says:

    I’ll admit I’ve had some difficulty grasping some foundational issues in that the terms themselves are a bit confusing (at least to me). As I first understood(?) it, heterosexuality & homosexuality are categorized as orientations. Then along came “LGB” (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual), which I believe to be letters indicating homosexual orientations in a somewhat more specific manner. Then a “T” was added. I’m now beginning to see “Q”…. and more recently a “+”. Am I correct in my understanding that all of these are also orientations that are ‘branches’ (in the absence of another term) of homosexuality? I’m sure I’m not the only one who is increasingly confused by this ongoing evolution of letters (and now a symbol). Any clarification would be appreciated. Thank you.

    Reply
    • Sarasi
      Sarasi says:

      Bisexual is bisexual, not a “branch” of homosexuality. Transsexual, more properly referred to as “transgendered,” is also not a “branch” of homosexuality. Neither is it a sexual orientation, but an identity expression that differs from the sex assigned at birth. One usually keeps one’s sexual orientation even after transition. Queer is a cultural concept that describes sexual minorities, including the “+” you mention. LGBTQ+ is used to describe a variety of non-binary individuals, i.e., those who do not fall under the male-female gender identity/sexuality paradigm. Hope that helps.

      Reply
      • Mark Koenig
        Mark Koenig says:

        Yes, your response DOES help. I can see where ‘branch’ was a poor selection of terminology – I’ll use this as a demonstration of my (and I believe that of others) ignorance of the terminology. If however, bisexuality is sexual attraction to both male and female, each of those attractions being an orientation, wouldn’t that mean bisexuality is ALSO an orientation, but an orientation to both sexes, whereas asexuality would be an orientation to neither? I was also with the (mis?) understanding that ‘Q’ referred to ‘Questioning’ and that Queer was perceived as a slur – which, if I understand you correctly, is no longer the case. And finally, you refer to a new (to me) term ‘identity expression’. Would that be every individual’s perception of his/her sex or his/her sexual orientation(s)? And if so, is that something that is fluid, the changing of which (should a change occur) is only known by the individual until/unless he/she proclaims that change? Thanks.

        Reply
        • Sarasi
          Sarasi says:

          Oh, it could be questioning. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules for some of the culture nomenclature. Honestly, I think bisexuality is the least understood orientation, so I won’t offer more insight there, except to say that I don’t think it is a “mixture” of two other orientations but an orientation itself. It gets complicated when you consider the origin of both male and female homosexuality (only male homosexuality so far suggesting a genetic origin) and some data suggesting that bisexuality is more common in women. Probably best to say there is a spectrum of attraction and leave it at that. Some of this is a puzzle still being worked out.

          Yes, we all have identity expression because we all culturally construct our identities–we are not handed an identity. Expression is simply how you express your identity. Most people don’t think about it because their gender identity largely aligns with their anatomy but even people who will never feel the urge to transition can still feel a huge disconnect with their anatomy and what the culture (or church) says their gender ought to be. I don’t think this process is especially fluid, which is what the Roman Catholic Church (incorrectly) claims is the case. But the Church has not picked up a textbook of psychology recently, because it if had, it would find all of this set out in detail. It is accepted as science now that anatomy is given and gender is culturally constructed and that for a minority of people, there can be a mismatch between the two.

          Reply
          • Mark Koenig
            Mark Koenig says:

            Thank you for your thoughtful reply. Despite my initial reaction to disagree with some of your assertions, I’ll go over them again to digest them further. As you say, “Some of this is a puzzle still being worked out.” I couldn’t agree more.

  4. Robert Ellsberg
    Robert Ellsberg says:

    Thank you for noticing this! Honestly, I didn’t realize we were breaking ground. So glad to know that. But please correct the crucial quotation from my piece: “challenged her own evangelical community’s compromises with white supremacy, misogyny, AND REJECTION of LGBT people.”

    Reply
    • Francis DeBernardo, Editor
      Francis DeBernardo, Editor says:

      Thanks for your comment! And for your correction of essential missing words. Mea maxima culpa! Before posting, I shared the text with two other people, none of us noticed my typing omission. Truly sorry. And yes, as far as I know, no other Catholic publisher has included LGBT issues as part of a prayer/liturgical aide. While I can’t guarantee that it is the actual first time ever, it is still a remarkable inclusion in such an influential publication. Many thanks!

      Reply
  5. Robert W Nalley
    Robert W Nalley says:

    I too have been using “THIS DAY” for several years, having transitioned from “MAGNIFICAT”. I’m a “Senior(retired)” Priest who helps out at local parishes. My copy of this day is marked with notes on the scriptures which is part of my homily preparation and it is often in my hand during preaching. As a result parishioners have asked me about it. One particular parish has a bulk subscription to “Magnificat” which I do not criticize but find it maintaining a spirituality which only partially feeds one in our moment. I’ve offer the subscription cards in the back of my copy and several parishioners are now subscribers and the content has triggered sharing/discussions which would have never occurred without the exposure. It’s a great tool for subtly planting seeds which seldom take root when cast from a “soapbox”.

    Reply

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