A Timely Reminder About the Religious Right, in light of TX SB8

Abortion wasn't the animating force behind the formation of the Religious Right. It was segregation.

The Mood

The Content & Context

Yesterday, the state of Texas banned abortion services after six-weeks.

With such a drastic ruling impacting over 50% of the population that experts are saying effectively overturns Roe v. Wade without requiring a SCOTUS ruling (but they did chime in overnight by refusing to overrule the TX law), now is a good time to remember that the formation of the modern Religious Right was not catalyzed by opposition to abortion, but rather by segregation:

This is not speculation. These are incontrovertible facts corroborated by multiple authors and researchers across the decades.

One of the best recent books about the topic is The Power Worshippers by Katherine Stewart:

Regarding the claim that the Religious Right was animated by pro-life concerns, Stewart does not mince words:

Her book is so vital to understanding the goals, strategies, and tactics of Christian nationalists in the US that I re-released our conversation from last fall today:

This conversation is part of season 1 of Powers & Principalities, which focused on Christian nationalism.

Please read her book & listen to this interview. It is of vital importance.

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Assorted Tweets

I’ve been publishing primarily on Twitter about this, because things have been happening so fast.

Here’s a thread about some of the books that shifted my thinking on white evangelical politics:

Hang in there, everybody. There’s lots of work to do.

Op-Ed in Religion News Service

On the unsatisfied nature of evangelical critique.

Over the weekend I was given the opportunity to write an op-ed for Religion News Service. In it, I try to identify the dismissiveness of exvangelicals that we’re seeing from white evangelical leaders and pundits:

In the span of a few short years, entire cultures, communities and followings have been built around a constellation of related hashtags — #EmptyThePews, #ChurchToo, #SlateSpeak, #Decolonize, #faithfullyLGBT, #exchristian, #exmormon and others — all of them dedicated to talking about what it’s like to grow up in — and leave — your faith of origin. 

Yet, even with this deluge of digital content flowing from multiple perspectives, I could sum up the evangelical reaction to exvangelical perspectives in one word: unsatisfied.

Evangelical leaders are unsatisfied with the personal and theological reasons exvangelicals give for leaving their faith communities. Instead, they assert their own varied theories on the exodus. It is merely “trendy” to leave, they say. Those were never “real” Christians to begin with, they assure themselves. They only left because they wanted to have sex with someone the Bible said they shouldn’t, they opine. The reasons are nearly always cast as personal, moral failings. Or perhaps the seductions of “culture.”

I would like to challenge that. 

Head over to RNS to read the rest.

If you’re new to this newsletter (and found it as a result of reading this op-ed), thanks for subscribing! You might be interested in other profiles of my work. Check out my podcast, Exvangelical.

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New Episode: In Conversation with Jamie Lee Finch

I caught up with Jamie Lee Finch on the latest episode:

Here’s how I start the show:

“I want to set the stage for what we’re going to talk about today. Over the past week or so, there’s been a bit of….unrest…in our part of the internet. There was a lot of dust kicked up by a course that was announced by Josh Harris. This was a deconstruction course that he was offering, for $275 or for free if you signed up with your email and gave a code. There was a lot of pushback, fairly immediately, because he is Josh Harris, and he wrote IKDG, and he was essentially marketing to people he helped harm. To his credit, he took down the course quickly. But what’s ensued since has been a bit more complicated, as the discourse has shifted (as it does) to something else entirely. The focus has moved on to somehow focus almost entirely on women, including women of color.

Now I want to fully acknowledge that Jamie and I are both white, which comes with all manner of white privileges that we can and have worked to offset. We also come from white evangelicalism, which has its own forms of white supremacy to divest from specifically. But we’re still going to try and talk about why things like these moments of drama happen, and why these cycles of commentary occur: what is general to the types of conversations we have now, and what is particular to post-evangelical spaces and the sorts of traumas that are activated.

In this case, there’s been broader discussion about who should profit from their work and how, who needs or deserves defending, who has “authority” to speak on these matters, and the “sense of belonging” in a community.

Capital, reputation, and community are all entangled in one another online, and that plays out from time to time. But we're going to do our best to speak to this in this moment, as two people who've been 'operating' in this space for a while. This is one conversation among many.”

We talk about a lot in this conversation, and it’s too much to fit in one post—but we do our best in this extra-length episode.

We also talk about Jamie’s upcoming course, Your Body Is A Person. Registration closes on 8/31/21, so be sure to check this out soon.

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Ok, let's address it: Josh Harris and all the rest.

Since Thursday, the exvangelical corner of the internet has been consumed with discussions about Josh Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, offering a paid deconstruction course. After an avalanche of feedback, he pulled the course. I think it’s commendable that he did so.

Aside from a few tweets here and there, I haven’t said much about it. It’s hard to have anything resembling “neutral” feelings about it. But the conversations have rightfully evolved into questions of privilege, the role of white men in spaces like deconstruction, and what participation in these spaces looks like.

Here’s my TL;DR:

  1. Joshua Harris’s prior work has harmed people. That’s his burden and by all accounts he knows it well. Even while extending common compassion to him, this is the context within which he engages exvangelicals.

  2. Cis white men like me and [edit: cis men like] Joshua Harris are the primary benefactors of the specific white evangelical cultures that formed us, and of society overall. (Edited to note I am mistaken and Josh Harris is biracial.)

  3. Part of creating robust post/ex-evangelical spaces requires resisting the “easy” route of simply replicating power dynamics & institutions we learned in white evangelicalism.

  4. Exvangelicals are traumatized people, and “creating content” for this space can activate trauma. It can cause drama.

  5. There’s many ways to make amends. There’s fewer ways to make money.

Editing to note this, further edited to include brackets in the text where appropriate:


Let’s get this out of the way: I don’t know Josh Harris. We have no relationship of any kind, other than the outsized influence of his books and others (Every Young Man’s Battle and the like) has had on my life. I’ve never spoken with him, but was once put in a group DM with him when Clubhouse was still popping. I know him by reputation and by his work, and if he knows of me it is on those same merits of whatever I’ve put out online (he followed me at one point; I’m not sure if he does now).


Joshua Harris’s Prior Work.

It’s not easy being “Twitter’s Main Character” for the day, whether or not you’re trending on Twitter or you’ve activated a very online group like the #exvangelical community. The sort of anxiety and cognitive load you feel when multiple people are attacking you online is really harrowing. To that end I have sympathy for Joshua because anyone who’s undergone such intense focus knows it is not pleasant, regardless of whether the attention is warranted. In this case, it was warranted.

Joshua Harris has been engaging with exvangelical communities, primarily on Instagram, for the past couple of years. I’m not on Instagram often - it makes me anxious the same way Twitter makes others anxious. But he has been a presence there. He’s made connections, and I’m sure what he’s shared there has helped those who are receptive to him.

But the platform he started with was built upon his audience’s trauma. That is a key and complicating factor. So it was confusing and off-putting to see him position himself as a teacher after only a couple years.

Cis White Men Exiting White Evangelicalism

White evangelicalism is built to allow people like me to succeed comparatively easily, at the expense - and the detriment - of others. This does not negate or invalidate traumas white men experience in white evangelicalism. But neither truth negates the other - white evangelicalism perpetuates systems & behaviors of white supremacy, misogyny, homophobia, and racism and white men[edit:/cis men] can suffer trauma within it as well. But we can fully acknowledge that white men are not its primary victims.

It’s not as if white men won’t leave evangelicalism and find themselves in exvangelical community. My own role in starting the #exvangelical hashtag that has proliferated much farther than I could have ever foreseen is a testament to that. But white male experience is decidedly not central to these spaces. And white men are at a disadvantage in justice-oriented community because we often know so little about them. We have a lot to learn.

Early on in the life of my Exvangelical podcast, I wrote a blog post called “The Most Christlike Thing for a Cis/Hetero/White Christian Man to Do with His Power is to Abdicate It.” It was an early articulation of how I view my own privilege. I’ve learned loads since then, and my social and theological views have continued to evolve (as they should). But I still think it’s true. Which leads to the next point.

On Not Replicating Evangelical Practices

Even though the rate of change has felt accelerated in the past few years, the passage of time has remained constant.

These are still very new communities. These are still very new cultures.1

I say communities because by the very nature of the tools we must use to connect, they are prone to proliferating on multiple networks, and develop their own customs. “Splinters” occur not because of some deep theological divide, but because of algorithms and a flurry of content. Some get popular, some don’t. Some like Josh Harris already have established followings.

While people have been leaving white evangelicalism for a long time, our ability to connect has been greatly amplified in the last few years thanks to online platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the rest. It brings together people who were arranged in a certain way, with certain power dynamics, to talk through what the hell happened to us.

A key part of this ongoing conversation is not just to articulate what has happened to us, but also to ensure that we do not build our new communities to conform to the same sorts of norms as the ones we fled.

These are still very new communities. These are still very new cultures.

One key goal should be to challenge assumptions of white male privilege. This doesn’t mean that white men can’t participate. It does mean that our voices and perspectives aren’t privileged in the same way. The moderation team of the Exvangelical Facebook group I help administer is not populated by cis white men; in fact, cis white men are the minority.

The easy out in this instance is for a white man operating in these spaces to opt-out, and regress Glenn Beck-style to the sort of angry-white-guy default that populates the conservative mediasphere. To do so is to learn nothing. It’s easier to be offended & reactive, to say that “exvangelicals are just as fundamentalist as the evangelicalism they left,” than to sit in the discomfort of learning that a space -one you might love! - isn’t wholly dedicated to [white] male ease & comfort. As a white guy, that means a lot of emotional work. It’s not easy. But it’s also necessary if [white] men are ever going to be meaningful participants in any space that’s trying to make this unjust world a bit more just and equitable.

Exvangelical Trauma, Exvangelical Drama

The exvangelical community is extremely online. It’s also extremely traumatized. Those two go hand in hand, and yet often work against one another. One example: it’s hard to administer a space like a facebook group where you have to enforce group rules and cultivate norms, knowing that doing so might mean you have to remove people who violate them - and potentially trigger a trauma associated with them being removed from a church. Another example is what has played out over the past couple days surrounding Josh Harris.

It’s been played up as “drama.” While it is dramatic, and I have been involved in dramatic online scuffles myself, to distill it down to just “internet drama” is a bit dismissive.

People that engage with deconstruction content online are working through intensely personal, deep-rooted issues of identity and belonging. Yes, there are funny Veggie Tales jokes and lots of good memes, because gallows humor helps, but there’s a lot of pain there, too.

It’s worth noting that even making these spaces and content can be difficult or traumatic. There’s burnout. Podcasters, instagrammers, moderators stop making content because it can be too much. People process their shifting perspectives and move on to other things and grow in different ways. It’s all valid. But it gets messy sometimes. But I’d rather be open about it, and own it, than pretend it doesn’t exist.

“Creator Economy” Tools Feel Familiar…

For people raised in church, there’s something oddly familiar about the direct-support tools offered by Substack, Patreon, and the like: it feels like tithing. Paying to gain access to a Discord server feels a bit like tithing. Paying direct support for a creator can feel like sponsoring a missionary.

These tools are necessary because our social safety nets have been hollowed out. These new tools are also basically just “secular” versions of support that have been used by religions for thousands of years.

Once again, we must consider traumatic associations.

Yes, creators should be paid for their work. But why not be thoughtful and acknowledge that a [cis] white man asking for money for a vaguely spiritual product would trigger prior associations? I am thankful for my paid subscribers here, and I aspire to have enough to do this work full-time. But once again, we cannot ignore this context or we are doomed to repeat the same patterns.

I don’t know what Josh Harris should do instead. That’s for him to explore in private and in public. I do know there’s more than one way to make amends, more than one way to lend support. People will judge his prior writings, his prior pastoral involvement at SGM and elsewhere, and his current work on those merits.

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There are necessary distinctions to make between cultures, followings, and communities, but that is beyond the scope of this essay.

New Essay at Religion Dispatches

On the historical antecedents to today's #exvangelical.

Over at Religion Dispatches, I wrote about David Jeremiah’s June 2021 sermon decrying “deconstruction” and “the falling away.” Here’s an excerpt:

But for all his prophecy, David Jeremiah failed to notice this decades-long “falling away.” It’s only within the last few years that, through the constellation of related hashtags like #exvangelical, #churchtoo, #faithfullyLGBT, #EmptyThePews, #LeaveLOUD and others, these experiences have become indexable, searchable, and shareable. The successful election of Donald Trump due to overwhelming white evangelical support is only the most recent in a long line of catalysts for vast swaths of people to leave their evangelical churches.

In fact, former evangelicals have long left their churches for other traditions or to no tradition at all. What’s novel about this moment is that, with new media, those who question the spoken and unspoken orthodoxies of white evangelical churches now have an avenue to explore those doubts in relative safety. Through hashtags, podcasts, YouTube series, Instagram posts, and TikTok, today’s exvangelicals of all stripes are connecting in visible ways, forging communities of all kinds and openly critiquing the worldview they inherited. 

It’s incumbent upon today’s exvangelicals to recognize that many others before us have been wrestling with the legacy of white evangelicalism—and they’ve been doing it for decades. We have our own “cloud of witnesses,” so to speak: Marlene Winnell published Leaving the Fold in 1993, Mark Noll published The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind in 1995, Brian McLaren published A New Kind of Christian in 2001, Tyler Connoley & Jeff Miner published The Children Are Free in 2002, Julie Ingersoll published Evangelical Christian Women: War Stories in the Gender Battles in 2003, and Diana Butler Bass published her memoir Strength for the Journey in 2004. 

Head over to Religion Dispatches to read the rest.

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