The white evangelical version of Christianity that takes up a good deal of air space and national publicity has done so much damage over the past few decades — especially the past few years — that more and more “ex-vangelicals” are speaking up and sharing their stories of exodus.
Some shifted to a more progressive form of Christianity while others left the faith altogether.
Deconstruction memoirs have basically become a genre of their own: from Garrard Conley‘s Boy Erased, chronicling his experience with “conversion therapy,” to Megan Phelps-Roper‘s Unfollow, about how she left the Westboro Baptist Church, more people are exposing the toxic underbelly of fundamentalism in print.
The latest entry in this genre is Empty the Pews, a compilation of essays from various authors, edited by ex-vangelist Chrissy Stroop.
In a review for the Washington Post, Megan Marz writes:
In “Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church,” mostly Gen X and millennial writers describe their disillusionment with the faith of their youth and their departure from their religious communities. In a foreword, Frank Schaeffer, who in 2007 published a memoir of leaving evangelicalism, calls the thinning of the ranks “a generational exodus from toxic Christianity.”
… All grew up in schools, social circles, families or churches where religion took a conservative, if not an authoritarian, form. Some faced rejection because of their sexual orientation; some were abused; at least one was taught that black people and white people belonged to different species, and that the Earth was 6,000 years old.
A pattern emerges in the narrative arcs of the essays: Childhood faith falters and then dissolves in the face of corruption, hypocrisy, rejection, abuse or beliefs that do not align with reality. While many of the essayists testify to having felt isolated, this collection makes clear that — to paraphrase editor Lauren O’Neal — they were part of a community they did not know existed.
To be sure, many of these essays will evoke #NotAllChristians responses in many readers who are still within the fold (if they should care to read this book in the first place). But these essays show that the form of Christianity that says “You can’t be gay and Christian” or “You can’t be Christian and a Democrat” is very real.
Many of the essayists were essentially told that they had to choose sides.
That’s precisely what they’ve done.