We’re Emptying the Pews of Toxic Christianity

I was frightened by the religious right in its triumphant phase. But it turns out that the movement is just as dangerous in decline. Maybe more so.

If they can’t own the country, they’re ready to defile it.

White evangelicals once saw themselves “as the owners of mainstream American culture and morality and values,” said Jones. Now they are just another subculture.

From this fact derives much of our country’s cultural conflict. It helps explain not just the rise of Donald Trump, but also the growth of QAnon and even the escalating conflagration over critical race theory. “It’s hard to overstate the strength of this feeling, among white evangelicals in particular, of America being a white Christian country,” said Jones. “This sense of ownership of America just runs so deep in white evangelical circles.” The feeling that it’s slipping away has created an atmosphere of rage, resentment and paranoia.

QAnon is essentially a millenarian movement, with Trump taking the place of Jesus. Adherents dream of the coming of what they call the storm, when the enemies of the MAGA movement will be rounded up and executed, and Trump restored to his rightful place of leadership.

“It’s not unlike a belief in the second coming of Christ,” said Jones. “That at some point God will reorder society and set things right. I think that when a community feels itself in crisis, it does become more susceptible to conspiracy theories and other things that tell them that what they’re experiencing is not ultimately what’s going to happen.”

But the idea that public schools are corrupting children by leading them away from a providential understanding of American history has deep roots in white evangelical culture. And it was the Christian right that pioneered the tactic of trying to take over school boards in response to teachings seen as morally objectionable, whether that meant sex education, “secular humanism” or evolution.

As Jones notes, the Southern Baptist Convention was formed in 1845 after splitting with abolitionist Northern Baptists. He described it as a “remarkable arc”: a denomination founded on the defense of slavery “denouncing a critical read of history that might put a spotlight on that story.”

Source: Opinion | The Christian Right Is in Decline, and It’s Taking America With It – The New York Times

The backlash of decline underscores that decline. If there’s a good take to ongoing defilement, it’s that: We’re doing it! We’re emptying the pews of toxic Christianity.

Since 2006, white evangelical Protestants have experienced the most precipitous drop (of all groups) in affiliation, shrinking from 23% of Americans in 2006 to 14% in 2020.”

Source: The 2020 Census of American Religion – PRRI

These are our stories—of heartbreak and hope, terror and courage, rupture and reconciliation. We hope they’ll resonate with you in some way, whether you’re a believer, a former believer, or one of the increasing number of people raised without religion. Love it or hate it, America has begun to empty the pews. May this anthology help usher in a new sort of testimony.

Source: Stroop, Chrissy; O’Neal, Lauren. Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church (pp. 20-21). Epiphany Publishing. Kindle Edition.

#EmptyThePews points to the necessity of abandoning and confronting anti-democratic Christianity. Some religion embraces pluralism, but fundamentalism, in its intolerance, undermines pluralism, and white evangelical Protestantism is a variety of fundamentalism.

Source: If we want to save American democracy, we must have a very difficult conversation about evangelical Christianity | The Conversationalist

Previously on toxic Christianity,

There’s No Glory in Dysphoria, Victoria

This is the Story of Victoria

Just like a mourning dove

And there’s no glory in Dysphoria

Victoria

Source: Bad Cop/Bad Cop – Victoria Lyrics

With Republicans criminalizing transgender existence and pushing for government-mandated conversion therapy—forcing youth to have the wrong puberty—the chorus to Victoria has been running through my head on this Trans Day of Visibility.

CW: suicide, dysphoria

For more songs—and perspective—on dysphoria, minority stress, and queer and neurodivergent mental health, check out my playlist ”Chronic Neurodivergent Depressed Queer Punk: Punk Rock, the Social Model of Disability, and the Dream of the Accepting Community”.

As we come to understand depression in the transgender community more accurately, it’s become clear that the major cause is what’s referred to as “minority stress;” that is, “stressors induced by a hostile, homophobic culture, which often results in a lifetime of harassment, maltreatment, discrimination and victimization.” The good news, then, is that as social relations and culture change over time, negative attitudes toward transgender people may be reduced, which will then reduce the stressors which trigger anxiety and depression.

Source: When Worlds Collide – Mental Illness Within the Trans Community — Lionheart

Why are there greater mental health stresses on autistic people from gender-minority groups? To quote from the research paper,

“The increased rates of mental health problems in these minority populations are often a consequence of the stigma and marginalisation attached to living outside mainstream sociocultural norms (Meyer 2003). This stigma can lead to what Meyer (2003) refers to as ‘minority stress’. This stress could come from external adverse events, which among other forms of victimization could include verbal abuse, acts of violence, sexual assault by a known or unknown person, reduced opportunities for employment and medical care, and harassment from persons in positions of authority (Sandfort et al. 2007).”

Source: Ann’s Autism Blog: Autism, Transgender and Avoiding Tragedy

Autistic and queer folks share some dark history-and some bad actors. Chapter 7 of NeuroTribes, Fighting the Monster, shares the legacy of Ole Ivar Lovaas, the twisted father of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) and conversion therapy. He applied his abusive, torturous techniques to autistic kids and “sissy boys” to make them “indistinguishable from their peers“. He had little regard for their humanity-they were engineering projects.

Protecting queer kids protects also neurodivergent kids-and vice versa. The fight is for inclusion and acceptance-for all operating systems, for all of our different ways of being human. Supporting our kids means supporting all of their possibilities and expressions.

Source: Neurodiversity and Gender Non-conformity, Dysphoria and Fluidity – Ryan Boren

And that is what happens when you soak one child in shame and give permission to another to hate.

Source: Hannah Gadsby: Nanette – Netflix

Republicans are killing us. Music can only do so much. What are you doing? Are you emptying the pews of the toxic Christianity fueling this bigotry?

Usually, for adherents of this kind of repressive Christianity, queer people are not supposed to exist, and when their existence cannot be ignored, it poses a problem to be solved, sometimes literally with references to Satan. Given that objections to the legalization of same-sex marriage and the now seriously threatened expansion of transgender visibility and rights are flashpoints in the contemporary right-wing backlash, it is of the utmost importance to amplify the voices of members of the LGBTQ community harmed by conservative Christianity.

it has become clear that right-wing Christians—evangelicals, radical traditionalist Catholics, and Mormons—are authoritarians who will dismantle democracy before they will give up power.

Source: Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church: Stroop, Chrissy, O’Neal, Lauren, Schaeffer, Frank: 9781946093073: Amazon.com: Books

Empty the Pews of Toxic Christianity

There is a great exodus taking place in Christian circles. Can it be called a loss of faith? I don’t think so. It is rather a loss of confidence in everything at once. Christianity has always been about “the Word,” but these days, words don’t seem to matter. They’ve lost their power to describe and convince in the face of horrible deeds, from climate-change denial to the persecution of trans people to the wholesale abandonment of Christ’s teachings in favor of abusive meanness. The hard-right white evangelical voter gave us Trump. The church sat silent as industrial oligarchs ruined the earth.

Christianity is improbable. When its cultural presence fades, be that through the Roman Catholic sex-abuse meltdown or because of the Trumping of white evangelicalism, all that’s left is disillusionment. Presuppositional theology—the sort of “apologetics” my late father Francis Schaeffer dealt in—only works if you accept the possibility that some of “this” (i.e., the entire claim of “historical” Christianity) might be true. Fewer and fewer people do these days, outside of the initiated and indoctrinated. The grim “witness” of how Christians have behaved and voted is too heavy a blow for faith in magical thinking to survive. This anthology marks a historic moment as a group of younger writers and scholars have come together to record what is happening (and has happened) to their inner lives of faith. What ties these essays together is one idea: history needs record keepers.

A large part of what this book does is capture a generational exodus from toxic Christianity from the perspective of (for the most part) former believers. What is the usefulness of these essays? They are a record of dissent! They are a record of heartbreak! They are a record of hope based on lives lived, not unattainable magical fixes! They are also a therapeutic reaching out to those (like me) whose neural pathways have been damaged by what has to be called nurtured insanity.

In the age of Trump, whose single most supportive demographic has been and remains white evangelicals, it has become clear that right-wing Christians—evangelicals, radical traditionalist Catholics, and Mormons—are authoritarians who will dismantle democracy before they will give up power.

Source: Stroop, Chrissy. Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church . Epiphany Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I quietly rejected my Southern Baptist upbringing as racist, misogynist, authoritarian, intellectually lazy, and morally and ethically rotten at age eleven. One night, writhing in spiritual torment and cognitive and moral dissonance, I became an atheist and a humanist and haven’t looked back since. I chose moral autonomy. I choose an ending of oblivion rather than submit to one that perversely features eternal conscious torment. I rejected what I considered primitive moral development.

“Empty the Pews” tells the stories of people who left toxic Christianity. Heed these ex-evangelical voices. Empty the pews of toxic churches. If a church isn’t queer-affirming, leave it and tell them why. As ex-evangelicals have been warning us, the Christian Right is the single greatest threat to human rights in America today. Empty their pews, and share your story of leaving toxic church.

#EmptyThePews points to the necessity of abandoning and confronting anti-democratic Christianity. Some religion embraces pluralism, but fundamentalism, in its intolerance, undermines pluralism, and white evangelical Protestantism is a variety of fundamentalism.

Source: If we want to save American democracy, we must have a very difficult conversation about evangelical Christianity | The Conversationalist