Rachel Held Evans & Evolving Faith


Kristine A. lives in Rexburg, Idaho and blogs at Wheat & Tares.

I just got home from a conference held in North Carolina and hosted by Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey. They are two evangelicals who have experienced faith crises; Rachel describes her journey back into church in her book Searching for Sunday, a book I know is popular with liberal Mormons. Sarah, I believe, describes hers back into the same congregation in Out of Sorts. They announced the conference in March and sold out 1500 tickets within two weeks. When I heard some of the speakers included many of the names that had strengthened my faith when it felt like everything had fallen apart, I felt compelled to go. Well, that and the fact it was about two hours away from my old home in Virginia and best friend, who agreed to attend with me.


I hope you recognize some of these names. I was familiar with about half of them. If you listen to the Maxwell Institute Podcast, Pete Enns has a few episodes there that are outstanding. I don’t know what exactly compelled me to feel like I needed to be there. Something told me it would be very much my thing. I made sure that Mormons were welcome by asking Rachel Held Evans on Twitter, which she confirmed, but I still felt like I’d be an uninvited guest in a space built for currently active evangelicals who have evolved in similar ways as well has a large number of ex-vangelicals. And yet still I earned enough money to pay for the trip. It was for me, quite literally, an act of faith to step into the unknown – yet I just knew my spiritual bucket would be overfilled, regardless of any bumps in the road.

Sarah Bessey opened the conference explaining they decided they wished they would have had something like this amidst their faith shifts when they felt lost and alone 10-15 years ago when the process of deconstruction and reconstruction started. She encouraged us to grieve what you’ve lost – we all probably had lost certainty, a sense of exceptionalism, family, deep friendships, and community. Only in the lament can you handle your anger and fear. She encouraged us to make space to move through grief because anger is never a place you want to build a home. Ever since my “certainty crisis” I had never been in a large space where the whole group had experienced the exact same thing. It was disconcerting to feel spiritually home in a space filled with evangelical wanderers. But it was also incredibly healing. So far so good.

Rachel Held Evans was up next and she hit on one of my hesitations about the whole thing: I wasn’t comfortable telling others I was going to a conference called “Evolving Faith.” I’m not a fan of Fowler’s Stages of Faith because it implies higher levels of evolving are more advanced and mature, not like those rubes stuck in those lower levels. And so as I walked into the breathtaking conference hall I skipped past the “Evolving Faith” t-shirts, knowing they were not for me.

That is, until Rachel opened the conference with a welcome and described where she got the name of her conference. Apparently, she’s a fan of Planet Life, the docuseries. When she thinks about evolving she doesn’t think about being more enlightened, she thinks about cave angel fish. Normal angelfish are typically fairly diverse and colorful (see below).



But cave angelfish are ugly fish. However long ago a group of angelfish because of climate or predators got lost and ended up in a cave in Thailand. Eventually these fish adapted: they lost all color, they lost their eyes, they lost their graceful fins. Their new fins have microscopic grips that allow them to climb the side of the cave wall and they eat the microorganisms from the water flowing over their backs.

RHE said evolving doesn’t mean the strongest or the smartest are the ones who make it; it’s the ones who are adaptable to change that survive. An evolving faith is a surviving faith. She grew up believing a strong faith was unyielding and measured by how little it changes. But to her, faith is not belief, faith is what’s left after everything’s been blown to hell. Reader, I bought the shirt.

P.S.  I hope to do a series with short summaries of sermons preached and experiences I had at Evolving Faith.


  1. I love this so so so so much. I love seeing the opposite of certainty not as uncertainty, but as evolving. I want a T shirt too.

  2. Oh my gosh, this whole thing sounds amazing! Please keep these reports coming!

  3. Kristine A says:

    It was amazing! and incredibly healing to be in that type of space (that isn’t offered in LDS contexts outside of something Open Stories may do). Next year they’re holding it in Denver and I already have a group of (active and post-mormon) friends who have purchased tickets.

  4. I would love to see more posts on this topic! I love the analogy with the angelfish. In that sense, my faith has adapted and changed as well. I couldn’t have survived in the church if my mindset didn’t adapt with new understanding. Sometimes it feels worse, but it usually feels better and more whole.

  5. Ryan Mullen says:

    “faith is not belief, faith is what’s left after everything’s been blown to hell”

    Love it. Thank you for sharing this and I hope we get to hear much more about it.

  6. Peter Enns one of the speakers are the marquee has a book called “The sin of certainty: Why God desires our trust more than our “correct” beliefs.” Recommend everyone to get it.

  7. To quote something a friend trained in spiritual direction shared with me following the violent death of my only child: “Religion is for people who don’t want to go to hell. Spirituality is for people who have already been there.” This is not to bash organized religion (which can be beautiful and I love going to mass these days) or to rehash the “religion vs spirituality” debate, but I do believe one could insert the words “certitude” and “evoloving faith” in the above sentence and arrive at the same meaning. Our faith must evolve and adapt or we will die in dark caves.

  8. Thanks for this. And yes, I also hope you do some summaries of things you experienced at the Evolving Faith conference.

  9. Looking forward to the summaries!

  10. This sounds great, Kristine! Thanks so much for sharing it. I look forward to your future posts on the conference!

  11. Really liking forward to those summaries. I would love to go to this next year!

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