Like many people, I was shocked and saddened to learn late last week of the sudden death of the popular Christian writer, Rachel Held Evans.
She was only thirty-seven, and she left behind a husband and two young children.
I didn’t know Rachel personally. Still, it was obvious that she was an incredibly gifted writer who gave voice to the nagging questions and concerns of many (former) evangelicals.
She was both kind and controversial—and that rare combination brought forth an unsettling tendency in the outpouring of condolences and sadness.
Let us call it the “qualified condolence.”
As I began to comment on several posts that mourned Rachel’s passing, I noticed a certain worry creep into my head that expressed itself in sentences that began something like this:
“I didn’t always agree with Rachel, but…”
“We didn’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, still…”
“Despite our differences, …”
In some cases, the “qualified condolence” may be benign. It may merely flag the possibility of having real affection for someone with whom you disagree.
But at least in my own heart, I sensed that these sorts of statements were a sign of something sad, and scared, and broken in me: a need to “signal” to my tribe that my grief did NOT equal a full endorsement of all Rachel’s views.
And that is to my shame.
We should not need to qualify our mourning at the loss of such a vibrant voice.
We need not mingle our condolences with fearful “smoke-signals” to the tribal border police as a way of reassuring others that we are still quite aware of “just how wrong she was” on this or that issue. To do so can betray the tragic reality that, in such polarized times, the only thing more sacred than life itself is our tribal affiliations.
An expression of solidarity and sadness should be enough.
Rest in Peace Rachel; Eshet Chayil.