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.
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.