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,

Fundamental Attribution Error and Harm Reduction Theater

‘The irony of turning schools into therapeutic institutions when they generate so much stress and anxiety seems lost on policy-makers who express concern about children’s mental health’

Source: ClassDojo app takes mindfulness to scale in public education | code acts in education

Mindfulness matters, but make no mistake: Corporations are co-opting the idea to disguise the ways they kill us

Yet, individualized mindfulness programs pay virtually no attention to how stress is shaped by a complex set of interacting power relations, networks of interests, and explanatory narratives. Carl Cederstrom and Andre Spicer argue in “The Wellness Syndrome” that the mindfulness movement exemplifies an ideological shift, which turns an obsessive focus on wellness and happiness into a moral imperative. This “biomorality” urges the individual to find responsibility via the “right” life choices-whether through exercise, food, or meditation-to optimize the self.

Source: Corporate mindfulness is bullsh*t: Zen or no Zen, you’re working harder and being paid less | Salon.com

Consider “fundamental attribution error” when evaluating mindset marketing like mindfulness, grit, growth mindset, etc.

The notion that each of us isn’t entirely the master of his own fate can be awfully hard to accept. It’s quite common to attribute to an individual’s personality or character what is actually a function of the social environment—so common, in fact, that psychologists have dubbed this the Fundamental Attribution Error. It’s a bias that may be particularly prevalent in our society, where individualism is both a descriptive reality and a cherished ideal. We Americans stubbornly resist the possibility that what we do is profoundly shaped by policies, norms, systems, and other structural realities. We prefer to believe that people who commit crimes are morally deficient, that the have-nots in our midst are lazy (or at least insufficiently resourceful), that overweight people simply lack the willpower to stop eating, and so on.81 If only all those folks would just exercise a little personal responsibility, a bit more self-control!

The Fundamental Attribution Error is painfully pervasive when the conversation turns to academic failure. Driving Duckworth and Seligman’s study of student performance was their belief that underachievement isn’t explained by structural factors—social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted, it should be attributed to the students themselves, and specifically to their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

When students are tripped up by challenges, they may respond by tuning out, acting out, or dropping out. Often, however, they do so not because of a defect in their makeup (lack of stick-to-itiveness) but because of structural factors.

Source: Kohn, Alfie. The Myth of the Spoiled Child (p. 170). Hachette Books. Kindle Edition.

Lee Ross defined FAE as a tendency for people, when attributing the causes of behavior, “to underestimate the impact of situational factors and to overestimate the role of dispositional factors in controlling behaviour”. That’s very aligned with neurodiversity and the social model of disability. It’s at the heart of what I go on about with equity literacy, structural ideology vs. deficit ideology, designing for the edges, and changing our framing.

American culture and education are vast engines of FAE. Special Education is a gauntlet of FAE attitudes. Our family gets tired of wading through bad framing.

Compulsory, top-down mindfulness (and mindset marketing more generally) is too often used to situate structural problems within individuals while “disguising the ways they kill us.” It contributes to the gauntlet.

This is harm reduction theater. Practicing pluralism, for me, for now, means triage and harm reduction. Harm reduction theater wastes resources and bikesheds deficit ideology instead of embracing equity and structural ideology.

Recognize and prioritize minority stress.

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.”

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

We’re awash in behaviorism and mindset marketing that directs thinking away from systems and toward individuals, individuals who are structurally stressed.

Design is tested at the edges, and you need structural ideology to do something about it.

Corporate and ed-tech mindfulness aren’t structural or equity literate. When you aren’t equity literate, you risk engaging in harm reduction theater. When you aren’t equity literate, you fail at triage and harm reduction.

Investment in universal mindfulness training in the schools is unlikely to yield measurable, socially significant results, but will serve to divert resources from schoolchildren more urgently in need of effective intervention and support.

Mindfulness Nation is another example of delivery of low intensity services to mostly low risk persons to the detriment of those in greatest and most urgent need.

Those many fewer students in need more timely, intensive, and tailored services are left underserved. Their presence is ignored or, worse, invoked to justify the delivery of services to the larger group, with the needy students not benefiting.

Source: Unintended effects of mindfulness for children | Mind the Brain

Instead of treating stress situations as fringe concerns, it’s time we move them to the center of our conversations-to start with our most vulnerable, distracted, and stressed-out users, and then work our way outward. The reasoning is simple: when we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

There is no path to inclusive design that does not involve direct confrontation with injustice. “If a direct confrontation of injustice is missing from our strategies or initiatives or movements, that means we are recreating the conditions we’re pretending to want to destroy.Structural ideology-an ideology shared by intersectionality, the social mode of disability, and design for real life-is necessary to good design.

Source: Design is Tested at the Edges: Intersectionality, The Social Model of Disability, and Design for Real Life – Ryan Boren

Education workers, healthcare workers, coworkers, everyone: We need you to check your FAE. We need you to confront injustice. Are you practicing harm reduction theater? Are you contributing to the gauntlet while telling us it’s good for us?

Just Sayin’

Design for real life.

Design for pluralism.

Solve for the infinity.

Foreground complexity as the baseline.

Multiplicities are an intention: We build the best collaboration, the deepest learning, when we expand the opportunities for complex vision.


Design is tested at the edges.

Compassion is not coddling.


Human cognitive diversity exists for a reason; our differences are the genius – and the conscience – of our species.

To face the challenges of the future, we’ll need the problem-solving abilities of different types of minds working together.

Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general.

Difference is not our deficit; it’s our operating system.

Diversity is strength. Difference is a teacher. Fear difference, you learn nothing.


The right to learn differently should be a universal human right that’s not mediated by diagnosis.

Written communication is the great social equalizer.

To not presume competence is to assume that some individuals cannot learn, develop, or participate in the world. Presuming competence is nothing less than a Hippocratic oath for educators.

Noncompliance is a social skill.

Laziness does not exist.

It’s not about behavior.

If a person’s behavior doesn’t make sense to you, it is because you are missing a part of their context.

Design learning where there is no option for oppression.


There is no path to equity that does not involve a direct confrontation with inequity.

Inequities are primarily power and privilege problems.

You cannot counter structural inequality with good will. You have to structure equality.

We are all accountable to the urgent work of building a more just, more equitable world.


By focusing on the parts of the system that are most complex and where the people living it are the most vulnerable we understand the system best.

When we make things for people at their worst, they’ll work that much better when people are at their best.

Everything we do publicly can be made more inclusive and uplifting with intersectionality, and everything we do can become exclusionary and oppressive without it.

When we build things – we must think of the things our life doesn’t necessitate. Because someones life does.

A mismatched interaction between a person and their environment is a function of design. Change the environment, not the body.

Flexibility makes a big difference in inclusion.


Putting care—not just care work, but care—at the center of our economy, our politics, is to orient ourselves around our interdependence.

Care is an organizational structure needed to keep our nation running. It’s, by definition, infrastructure.

Care work makes all other work possible.


Fix injustice, not kids.

Free, life-changing, and available to everyone.

Provide freedom to those who deal with a world that’s built to be hostile toward them.


Nothing about us without us.

We exist as friction.


Embracing pluralism is good citizenship. Democracy demands equal accommodation.

Fostering healthy pluralism, which democracy demands, means confronting intolerance.

Default to open.


Do not be the oppressor.

People suffer, and when they do, it’s for a reason.