Exvangelicals in the News

Recent profiles on VICE and TNR feature exvangelical stories.

Hey everyone, sorry for the relative radio silence this week. It’s not been an easy week, but I’m getting back on track. Let’s get right to it:

ICYMI, there were two recent features I was recently quoted in: one in VICE, and another in The New Republic.

VICE

At VICE, Scout Brobst wrote “Exvangelicals Are Living a Uniquely American Crisis.” The feature deals with the significant personal and social costs of leaving evangelicalism with great care and understanding, and I’m thankful for it. I’m particularly thankful that this part made it into the final piece, because it encapsulates my hopes for the Exvangelical podcast as well as the value of the term exvangelical:

That is where Chastain feels like he comes in. Just having the language—being able to call yourself an “exvangelical”—is useful, he said. The point is not to create an imitation church or a group that replaces the social nest of evangelicalism. The groups he started share the common denominator of loss, which can become emotionally taxing over time.

“If this community is no longer what you need, then go with God or go without God and find the things that sustain you,” Chastain said. “I’m here to help them when they need to leave. Those first few steps, wherever they need to go after that.”

I know it’s rather silly to feature a quote from yourself. Here are two other examples of rediscovery from the piece:

When Jeanna Kadlec left the evangelical church and her marriage at 25, “virtually none” of the relationships she had remained intact. She was shunned by the people who were closest to her, save for immediate family. 

“When people find out for the first time that I have this incredibly religious background and a husband to go with it, they’re flabbergasted,” Kadlec said. Even when she was in the process of leaving, she “passed”—with some exceptions, evangelicalism isn’t an identity that shows up on sight.

In Brooklyn, she discovered tarot, astrology, and witchcraft, with it a world of queer women who also wanted to practice spirituality in a new way and enjoy the freedom of making decisions for themselves. Now she is working on a book that delves into life before and after leaving the church, and what it looks like to find meaning outside of the pews.

Ben Gulker, a former Pentecostal who hosts an SB Nation podcast on the Detroit Pistons, said that his exvangelical identity speaks to what he is not, but doesn’t have much to do with “what [he] is becoming in any depth.” Online communities might help, but they can’t stand in for those ties.

“I think all of us who have lived through 2020 understand this better now than ever,” he wrote in a message.

The New Republic

Over at The New Republic, Stephanie Russell-Kraft wrote “Can Religion Give You PTSD? Meet the '“exvangelicals” seeking therapy for religious trauma.” It opens with this vignette, which may be familiar to many people reading this:

When Ana Sharp Williamson came home from her honeymoon in the summer of 2019, she moved in with her husband and began the process of deciding which church they should go to. She didn’t want to go to her childhood church, so decided to go to his until they found the right fit. It was only 15 minutes away from their home in Independence, Missouri.

But every Sunday, Williamson had a severe panic attack five minutes from the church parking lot. “I would start to feel very upset and panicky and start crying and hyperventilating,” the 24-year-old said. “I would pull it together in the car, and we would go in and sit through the service, and I would have another breakdown when we left.” Once, after the pastor made an offhand joke about women not being able to preach, Williamson had a panic attack in the pews.

It took a little over a month for her to realize what was going on. Williamson had spent the previous year “deconstructing,” leaving behind many of the conservative evangelical beliefs she had been raised with. By the time she graduated from a theologically conservative Christian college that spring, she knew she didn’t believe most of the doctrines she had been taught. “I was just left with this question mark,” she said. “If I don’t believe this, what do I believe?”

The story features the work of Laura Anderson and Brian Peck, who co-founded The Religious Trauma Institute in 2019. It also features the pioneering work of Dr. Marlene Winell and similar organizations such as The Reclamation Collective. It’s another tremendous piece that looks at the long-lasting deleterious effects of white evangelical beliefs and practices.

I spoke with Laura & Brian on Exvangelical a while back:

Anxious Bench

Over at The Anxious Bench blog on Patheos, Kristin Kobes Du Mez wrote about “#LeaveLOUD and the Evangelical Reckoning.” This piece was written in the context of Beth Moore’s exit from the SBC and the recently-announced #LeaveLOUD campaign, both of which I also wrote about here. She writes:

“This evangelical exodus is not new, and it is not only caused by a seemingly insurmountable racial divide. A growing “exvangelical” movement has sought to draw attention to their own departures in recent years. Activists like Chrissy Stroop and Blake Chastain have sought to bring visibility to those who have left evangelicalism and elevate exvangelical voices in describing and defining the evangelical movement in the public sphere.1

Despite these efforts, the majority of those leaving evangelical churches and organizations have done so quietly. Many do so because they care deeply for the institutional mission, and many have no desire to sever relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. Moreover, many evangelicals have been discipled in such a way as to make “LeavingLOUD” more difficult. They have been taught to show deference to those in authority and have heard repeated calls for “unity.” These teachings must be understood as functioning in a way that maintains the status quo and silences voices calling for change.

Since writing Jesus and John Wayne, a book that exposes the way power is wielded within white evangelicalism in defense of white Christian patriarchy, I’ve heard from hundreds of evangelicals and former evangelicals who have shared their own stories of running up against formidable evangelical power structures. Most tell stories of staying quiet, or of quietly leaving. The few who have spoken boldly against white Christian nationalism and racial injustice have often come under attack and eventually decide to leave, often out of exhaustion.

As a result, evangelical institutions and organizations remain largely unchanged.”

This piece came out on the 18th, but that feels like ages ago.

Elsewhere

Earlier this month, I started using the phrase “the end of white evangelical hegemony.” Where stories of deconstruction were once ignored, we see a bit of nervous energy in evangelical spaces as they try to refute or appropriate deconstruction narratives. Here are two examples, one from the Hugh Hewitt blog, and another from LifeWay Research:

As Meghan points out, both of these stories indicate a failure to understand why people leave white evangelicalism:

Coming Soon!

I have some great guests lined up for Exvangelical. My next guest will be Anthea Butler, and we’ll be discussing her book that came out this week, White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America. Go ahead and check out my prior conversation with her on S1 of Powers & Principalities:

There’s some more news on the podcast front that I’m super excited to share with y’all soon!

1

This is the first time, to my knowledge, that I’ve been referred to as an activist.