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,

My May Blogging

I spent May sleeping as much as I could while my body tried to tear itself apart with neuromyotonic cramps. During more cogent moments, I managed to publish a few batches of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion related blog posts from my lanes of neurodiversity, disability, and toxic Christianity.

I Cannot, and Will Not, Believe in That God: Libraries as Candles in the Dark

The reason I am now doing much better is that, after a decade and a half of struggling to remain in an authoritarian faith that entails fundamentally inhumane theology, I let go of it entirely. I stopped accepting that I needed to feel like an impossible person who shouldn’t exist, and I embarked—haltingly at first, and then with greater confidence—on a path of self-acceptance and truth-telling.

In truth, while hypocrisy in the church is a huge problem, it is far from the only reason we’re leaving. We’re leaving because of the theology itself, a theology that in so many cases we tried as hard as we could to hold on to even as it was destroying us. And by the way, the existence of those visible discussions and resources for exvangelicals you seem to fear are contributing to the church’s loss of a generation? They are literally saving the lives of young people like you and I once were, pondering suicide as they face a crisis of faith.

Evangelicals hold to an anti-pluralist, anti-democratic theology of inequality that has contributed to abuse and trauma in so many cases. Why is it so hard for you to see, Dr. Moore, that you simply cannot have a prevailing doctrine of “biblical patriarchy” without the pervasive abuse of women and children? Evangelicals also hold to a theology that simply makes no space for women who refuse to accept unequal status with men, for single women (except perhaps on the mission field), or for LGBTQ folks like myself who are told that our experience of ourselves is “rebellious” and that we shouldn’t exist. All the abuses inherent to authoritarian systems about which exvies have stories-and the scars to back them up-are logical consequences of evangelical theology and the culture it supports.

But is the preacher who beats his daughter for dancing really an aberration in evangelical subculture? Quite the opposite, for he accurately reflects the character of the authoritarian god of the evangelical cosmos, with his arbitrary and unjust social hierarchies and his insistence that eternal conscious torment for even the most minor of temporal infractions is moral. These beliefs are inherently abusive.

I cannot, and will not, believe in that god, and if I still believed in him, it is very possible that I would have killed myself by now.

Source: Russell Moore had a crisis of faith, but it didn’t help him understand ex-evangelicals | Flux

“I cannot, and will not, believe in that god.”

I recall my days and nights of spiritual torment as a kid trying to align Southern Baptism with my own burgeoning moral autonomy and sense of self. I couldn’t. One night, around age 10 or 11, I “let go of it entirely”. In that moment of letting go, I grasped my moral autonomy. I held to it as I quietly rejected the religion of my upbringing and the people who perpetuated it. The moral, ethical, and intellectual dissonance ebbed, and I never invited it back.

I turned instead to the far more satisfying spirituality found in the skepticism and wonder of science and the local library.

But in introducing me simultaneously to skepticism and to wonder, they taught me the two uneasily cohabiting modes of thought that are central to the scientific method.

Source: The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark

The best thing my parents ever did for me was park me in the local library all those days. In its stacks, I found candles in the dark. I found a secular education. I found an antidote to dissonance and fear of eternal conscious torment.

Previously,