I’ve mostly taken the summer off, after putting the show on hiatus following a series of events in the spring. One, in my personal life, will remain private; the other played out on Twitter. If you were on #exvangelical twitter, you know all about it; if you’re not, you probably have no clue. It’s of little consequence to tease out how those events made me feel now, but the result – a shattering of public trust on Twitter in that community – discouraged me beyond words. Coupled with the trauma in my personal life, I needed a bit of distance.
So I took a break. But I don’t think I’m done.
Over the summer I’ve thought a lot about what motivated me to start the show. It was all to understand why so many of the people I knew from my college (Indiana Wesleyan University) had moved away from evangelicalism, and to explore that through long-form conversations that allowed for nuance, context, and—importantly, humanity. Best of all, the podcast format allowed it to be communicated through someone’s own words. I asked the questions, yes, but it wasn’t meant to be a show about me.
As the show grew and found an audience, I learned to be more specific with my critiques. I began discussing white evangelicalism in particular. I became more aware of gender & sexual identity politics, and how they intersected (as Dr. Crenshaw has taught the world) with power, privilege, and race.
Over the past few years, the show has received good press. I have been interviewed for Newsweek and been featured in a CBS Religion documentary. I am thankful for those opportunities and what it has afforded me.
I’m also thankful for people who have reached out to let me know that my work has helped them.
Ultimately, what this hiatus has taught me is that the interview show in particular has one central value: helping folks who are just beginning to question their evangelical faith to know that they aren’t alone. That still has value–each day, there are people beginning their journey out of evangelicalism. I still want to provide this outlet for people to share their stories, and for people to find stories that will encourage them.
I continue to produce this podcast on my own time; I hold a full-time job and have a family which I share responsibility with my spouse to provide for. Over the past few years, I’ve burned out more than once. I cannot afford to do that anymore, mentally, physically or financially.
So moving forward, there will be two new changes.
First: the show will go to twice-monthly for the time being. This will start in October. This change will also allow me to develop a long-awaited podcast for patrons as well; it has been delayed after multiple faith transitions happened, but I have reached what I hope is a place of stability. I remain committed to developing that program and delivering it to past, present, and future patrons.
Second: I will start selling ads for the show. This is something I started thinking about at the end of 2018, and had hoped to roll out at episode 100, but alas. But there will be a twist.
I want to build economic reparations directly into my advertising business model. 55% of all funds earned from host-read ads on the show beginning today and going through 2020 will go to nonprofits that support African-American, indigenous, and LGBTQ populations. If this is economically feasible, I will extend it into the future.
My first announced launch partner is Brave Commons. Here is the description of Brave Commons’ work, from their website:
Brave Commons seeks to elevate the voices of LGBTQ+ students working within and beyond Christian universities in the United States. Brave Commons is an intersectional, queer and POC-led, Christian organization seeking to provoke a movement of faith and justice in the academy and beyond. Through retreats, spiritual support, and advocacy resourcing, Brave Commons works to provide equitable and holistic faith engagement for all.
It is my intention to make this work financially self-sustaining, so in addition to ads, I also hope some of you will support me directly via Patreon. The Exvangelical podcast has existed as an independent effort since its inception, and I will need your support to help reach the next level. Some awards may be adjusted in the near future, and I’ll have more to announce about that in the comings weeks.
Over time, I hope to create new shows, including those that tackle the history of white evangelicalism. I’d also love to enable others to create shows themselves and build a network, for those stories that I can’t speak to directly but deserve to be told, and explore ideas that deserve to be discussed.
Ultimately, the big questions that motivate me are: understanding how people change their minds and lives, how media & technology affects us, and understanding broad social shifts in history. Those questions are rooted in my experience in white evangelicalism here in the United States, and that is where things began with the Exvangelical podcast.
I’ve reached the end of the beginning. I hope you’ll enjoy what comes next.
New episodes will start again soon.
If you’d like to advertise with Exvangelical, contact me via email here.
Over the past two years, the term “exvangelical” has gained traction on social media, especially through Twitter & Facebook.
One early criticism of “exvangelical” as a term was that it was overly negative. Since many of these conversations happened directly on Twitter, I’ve typically responded there. However, with exvangelical voices gaining more attention in broader cultural discussions, it’s appropriate to provide a more codified definition of the term here.
“Exvangelical” clearly grounds itself in relationship (or, as we’ll see, in prior relationship with evangelicalism. So before I move on to discussing why the term “exvangelical” is useful, it’s important to provide the context for why leaving or being forced out of evangelicalism can be so very painful.
The evangelical lifestyle & the high cost of leaving
Being evangelical is an alternative lifestyle. You can (quite literally) attend an evangelical church, have only evangelical friends, listen to evangelical music (it’s usually just called “Christian music” because CCM is inherently evangelical), go to an evangelical college, work for an evangelical organization, marry an evangelical partner, donate to evangelical causes, read only evangelical books, watch only evangelical movies…the list goes on.
Acceptance within evangelicalism is contingent upon your ability or willingness to accept a number of different beliefs and practices:
A “literal” reading of the Bible and a belief that is inerrant.
A belief that women are to be submissive to men. Men are God’s chosen leaders in the home, the church, and all other areas of life. (This is dependent upon a “literal” reading of 1 Timothy and other texts.)
Heterosexuality & heteronormativity are sacrosanct, and homosexuality is a sin. (Again, this is based on a “literal” reading of Romans 1:26 and other texts.)
An assumption that the American way of life is also sacrosanct and – quite nefariously – the best way of life on Earth.
Political and social conservatism is assumed, and has been made manifest over decades through strong identification and partnership with the Republican party in the United States.
If, as time goes on, you learn that you cannot abide some of these beliefs or practices, then you face some difficult decisions. (This is putting it lightly. It also presumes that the decision is yours. For more detailed stories, listen to the podcast.)
Leaving is hard, and feels solitary.
Leaving an evangelical community can feel very isolating. Evangelical culture is all-encompassing. If you are “plugged in” to a local evangelical church, chances are that your entire social support network is dependent upon it. Your closest friends and confidantes are consolidated into a group that is, when push comes to shove, highly prejudicial and judgmental. Your acceptance in the group is conditional: believe and behave a certain way, or you will be ostracized, admonished, excommunicated.
If you decide that you can no longer abide these evangelical beliefs and practices and decide to share your concerns with your community, you may find that they will not be receptive to your feedback. Your commitment to God, your zeal, your very salvation may be questioned. You may be turned away or forced out, or decide to leave for your own health.
Why people leave evangelicalism
Some may leave because their theology became too liberal for the gatekeepers of their church or denomination over issues such as biblical literalism, matters of social justice, institutional racism, or anti-LGBTQ bias.
Some may leave because of incidents of racism.
Some may leave because they are gay, queer, or trans, and they are not accepted as they are.
The reasons are never pat. They are always personal. And leaving evangelicalism has profound consequences for the individual. They may lose family, friends, and even their livelihood. The trauma this causes in the life of the Exvangelical is real.
One especially tragic element of all of these circumstances is that the people who are brave enough to share their true selves within evangelical circles have been encouraged to do so by the very culture that has betrayed them. They took the teachings of evangelical pastors and leaders to heart. They ran after the truth as it was presented to them. And how were they rewarded for their studies, that led them beyond the truth they were taught? Too often they were told they had ventured too far, even if they were still solidly within the Christian tradition. And heaven forfend if they leave the Christian faith altogether!
Now, if I’m being glib here, or if you feel as if I’m glossing over much-needed details, please refer to the body of work in the podcast. It is within those conversations where you’ll find detailed descriptions of the crises of faith, the acts of misogyny, racism, and homophobia, that drive people away from evangelical communities. I’ve even begun building topical playlists to help you navigate the back catalog. This is just a brief summary meant to provide context.
The value of “exvangelical”
The term “exvangelical” is helpful for several reasons. Those are:
It helps to know you aren’t alone.
It is a clear repudiation of evangelicalism.
It acknowledges personal autonomy.
It does not require all of you.
I’ll break each of these points down in detail.
It helps to know you aren’t alone
I had to leave. My family had to leave. My friends have had to leave.
You aren’t alone, and you aren’t crazy if you leave, too.
Evangelicalism is a totalizing mental and social environment. It breeds dependency and requires capitulation. Leaving it behind is disorienting, because your whole life was oriented toward something you no longer believe in.
Before “exvangelical” became a more common term online, it was hard to know if others had experienced this. This is not to say there weren’t voices in the wilderness talking about the threats of evangelicalism for decades. Writers like Frank Schaeffer, Diana Butler Bass, Julie Ingersoll, and many many many others have been speaking out about the ways they were estranged or ostracized from evangelical communities. Now, with “exvangelical” entering the online vernacular, it serves as a way to signal to others that you know where they’re coming from.
One of the most common refrains from people who’ve discovered exvangelical community and content online is “I felt like I was the only one; now I don’t feel so crazy.”
And that is incredibly powerful.
“Exvangelical” is also a repudiation of evangelicalism. It affirms what evangelicalism condemns.
We embrace moral and religious autonomy. We embrace the LGBTQ community fully, are thoroughly feminist, denounce the role of white supremacy in society in general, and white evangelicalism in particular. We seek to be aware of the intersectionality of our work, and build up one another’s individual projects. There’s no requisite theological creed. You will find progressive Christians, atheists, agnostics, wiccans, and other spiritual expressions within this community. And equal respect and understanding is expected, because our shared sociocultural heritage binds us together. We have much in common, and much to learn from one another.
Evangelical leaders and institutions do their best to frame evangelicalism as a scattered, amorphous, and ultimately unaccountable entity. In reality (and this is the reality that millions of evangelicals live in), evangelicalism is a dense network of churches, colleges, radio stations, publishing houses, music labels, movie studios, lobbying groups, and other institutions that work in concert to assert theological, social, and cultural norms at all levels of life.
Because of our experiences within the cultural milieu of evangelicalism, we can speak authoritatively about how these groups function, and how their formational teachings lead to systemic issues of oppression and injustice. Exvangelicals can provide a counterpoint to evangelical messaging in broader cultural discourse, in the media and elsewhere, to bring to light the teachings, practices, and beliefs that evangelicals actively obfuscate in an attempt to appear reasonable when speaking to a broader audience.
Much of this plays out over Twitter. Here are just a couple examples:
One of the common questions that comes up often when people stumble across the term “exvangelical” is: BuT wHaT dO yOU beLiEve nOW?
The answer: each person follows their own convictions.
As stated above, those who leave evangelicalism find many paths out. Some folks have begun using #StillChristian to indicate that they remain within the Christian tradition after leaving evangelicalism. But “exvangelical” is not a new church. It is an honest response to evangelicalism, and one that evangelicalism itself has failed to address. Had evangelicalism properly reckoned with and repented of its ties to white supremacy, the inherent misogyny of complementarianism, its homophobia and transphobia, its assimilation into the GOP, and the literalist interpretation of the Bible that fuels and feeds all of these characteristics – perhaps “exvangelical” would not be necessary.
But evangelicalism pushes out dissenters and would-be reformers. We were often pushed out one by one. But now we are finding one another. And we are building something new.
Exvangelical isn’t totalizing.
I will close this long post with this: “exvangelical” isn’t totalizing. Evangelicalism requires that you submit your entire being to a way of thinking, worshiping, acting, voting, forming relationships–it touches every part of your life. Evangelicalism conflates itself with Christianity, and in doing so mediates your entire reality; evangelicalism takes the quote from Acts, that “in him we live and move and have our being” and centers itself.
If you use the term “exvangelical” – there is no expectation that you should build your life around it. Live your life according to your convictions.
Yes, there are broadly shared values: gender equality, LGBTQ affirmation, and working toward racial justice and equity (and educating ourselves about this) are just a few. But if the term isn’t helpful, or if it is only helpful for a time as you deconstruct/reconstruct your beliefs, that’s fine.
Exvangelical can be a liminal space. It isn’t meant to describe all of you. It never was. But it helps to signal to others: I’m here. I understand where you’re coming from, and I’ll do my best to walk alongside you wherever you’re going next.
Two days ago, Josh Harris–the infamous author of purity culture books I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl–issued a statement. That statement can be found here:
Long story short: he “regrets” some things, but didn’t act on those regrets by pulling these damaging books from shelves until this week, in a run-up to the release of the documentary that centers his journey later next year.
(Joshua Harris is a content strategist now, by the way.)
This is not commendable.
There’s more to be said, but I’m not the best person to do it. Here are some comments on Twitter from women far better qualified than me on this topic.
If you’ve ever spent time attending a Christian college, you know what this term means. “The bubble” is the campus and the whole cultural milieu of evangelicalism that cushions young women and men from the real world, the world that needs no air-quotes.
The bubble is well-intended, I think. It was put in place by people that wanted to create something close to what they thought God might approve of. But in doing so, they created an artifice and sold it as the real thing.
A bubble is the perfect analogy: a thin layer of soap, a self-contained sphere, that never lasts long.
Eventually the bubble pops, and you’re back in the open air. Falling. Toward the ground.
For many people, religion is (or was) a part of their life story, and at turns ugly and beautiful. Sometimes, the ugliness is enough to drive a person away from religion, or at the very least, make them reconsider their trust in it.
The ugliness of evangelicalism has pushed me to the edge of faith more than once.
I went to a conservative Christian college, and much of the Christianity I experienced there was not consistent with the sort of understanding I had of the person of Jesus Christ. Free thinking was not always valued. The world was pushed to the side for something that was supposed to be an ideal approximation of it. A Stepford Wives version of Christianity that assumed the human impulses we all have toward sex, selfishness, and all the rest were simply not there.
The bubble popped in college, and I was falling toward the ground.
But it turns out, the ground can be a great place to be, even if it’s painful getting there.
Religion can be a really beautiful thing. It can give life beauty and meaning, and it can bring people together through the intoxicating mix of human and divine compassion and love.
Religion can be a really terrible and ugly thing as well. It can be used to divide, to justify all manner of evil, to exclude others from community, and to control.
The most tragic thing is, religion can be both these things at once. A person’s faith may start out beautiful and innocent (there’s a reason Jesus says to have faith like a child), but then become ugly through negative experience.
American evangelicalism is tragic.
Evangelicalism seeks to shape people into Christians, but only a very specific type of Christian. An ahistorical Christian with loose ties to the 2,000 year cloud of witnesses.
There are an awful lot of people who by circumstance were brought up in an evangelical environment, or found their way into evangelicalism through some other path, and have since rejected it wholesale or in part. With that, they may have very well walked away from their faith. And that is unfortunate, because much of the evangelical caricature of faith is not representative of Christianity at all.
The popular caricature of the American evangelical is surprisingly accurate. The cartoonish idea of what an evangelical believes in the mind of non-evangelicals is pretty much dead-on and looks something like this:
Rural or suburban
Against gay marriage (now moot)
Anti-abortion (moot since Roe v. Wade)
Pro-2nd Amendment rights
Doesn’t believe in evolution
Doesn’t believe in global warming
Believes in 6,000 year old Earth
Believes the Bible is inerrant
Believes in “traditional” gender roles, including: “male headship,” submission of wife to husband, preference toward the wife staying home for child-rearing, preference for the husband to be “the bread winner,” and the submission of women to men and girls to boys.
Evangelicalism prescribes a very specific way of life — a specific viewpoint on gender roles, sexuality, marriage, and politics — and that doesn’t agree with everyone. And I don’t think it should.
Furthermore, evangelicalism has a problem with how it deals with dissenting opinions in its ranks, and that’s what I’m looking for. I’m looking to hear from people that have those dissenting opinions and that by exploring them have left evangelicalism for a more “progressive” expression of the Christian faith, or have left Christianity altogether, or have decided to stay despite their differences, either because of the community they’re in or for another reason.
There is much more to life than Christianity. And there is much more to Christianity than the evangelical life that was modeled for many of us.
It’s time to come to terms with a messed up subculture. One conversation at a time.
This week’s guest is Bethany Sparkle. In our wide-ranging conversation, we talk about: their experience being homeschooled, leaving religion, social work, James Dobson, making difficult decisions regarding family relationships, and Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. (Also: TW/CW for discussion of sexual assault.)
We recorded our conversation in December, so some of our chat references the holidays. However, with the recent discussion around #ExposeChristianSchools & #ExposeChristianHomeschooling, I’m glad that it’s coming out now.
The #ExposeChristianSchools and #ExposeChristianHomeschooling hashtags have been making waves for a week. In this episode, I speak to Laura Hagen about a viral tweet she sent about a racist practice at her school, and to Chris Stroop, originator of the hashtag.
These interviews initially appeared in the Exvie Extras feed. Subscribe in your fave podcasting app thru links found at anchor.fm/exvangelicalpod or directly via RSS here.