Coined by Blake Chastain in 2016, the term “exvangelical” — or “exvie” — has come to encompass a wide range of individuals who have left evangelicalism, especially white evangelical churches in the U.S.
Skeptical of institutions and unimpressed with status quo American Christianity, some have turned their back on religion. Others actively campaign against what they see as its abuses. Still others adopt more progressive versions of Christianity or simply do not self-identify as “evangelical” any longer, opting instead to go on a quest of self-discovery and deconstruction. Through hashtags such as #emptythepews, popular TikTok channels and a range of new platforms and publications, they are leaving loud, speaking out against evangelicalism on matters of politics, gender and race.
This edition of ReligionLink provides you with a range of resources and potential sources to cover how American Christianity’s traumas and political entanglements have triggered a crisis of faith for many.
Various outlets have covered and captured the exvangelical scene over the last few years — 2018 was even dubbed “the year of the exvangelicals.” In 2021, the loosely linked movement received more mainstream coverage. Alongside this renewed interest in exvangelicals, discussions around adverse religious experiences, racial justice, spiritual abuse and deconstruction are getting louder within U.S. Christianity. Evangelical leaders and institutions are doing serious soul-searching about what this means for their flocks and broader cultural influence.
The resources below will get you caught up on the conversation so far.
- Read “Ex-vangelicals are coming: How will mainline denominations welcome them?” from The Presbyterian Outlook on Jan. 13, 2022.
- Read “The Life Coaches Fueling the ‘Ex-Evangelical’ Movement,” from The New Republic on Jan. 3, 2022.
- Read “My Dad Taught Me How to Love the Exvangelical,” from Christianity Today on Oct. 22, 2021 (commentary).
- Read “White evangelicals dealing with racial issues and faith: ‘If I’ve been wrong about that, what else have I been wrong about?’” from CBS News on Oct. 21, 2021.
- Read “The Exvangelicals,” from Axios on Sept. 19, 2021.
- Read “Evangelicals: You’re still not really listening to what exvangelicals are saying,” from Religion News Service on Aug. 28, 2021 (commentary).
- Read “Exvangelical TikTokkers aren’t a sign of the end times, but here’s what evangelicals need to understand about ‘the Falling Away,’” from Religion Dispatches on July 22, 2021 (commentary).
- Read “America is no longer as evangelical as it was — and here’s why,” from CNN on July 11, 2021 (commentary).
- Read “A Pastor’s Son Becomes a Critic of Religion on TikTok,” from The New York Times on April 12, 2021.
- Read “Can Religion Give You PTSD?” from The New Republic on March 23, 2021.
- Read “‘Exvangelicals’ Are Living a Uniquely American Crisis,” from Vice on March 16, 2021.
- Read “The Unignorable Plight of the Exvangelicals,” from Real Clear Religion on Aug. 28, 2019.
- Read “The Rise of #Exvangelical,” from Religion & Politics on April 9, 2019.
- Read “The politicisation of white evangelical Christianity is hurting it,” from The Economist on Feb. 28, 2019.
- Read “Exvangelical: How I Let Go of Toxic Faith That Didn’t Spark Joy,” from Miss Rachel Reads on Medium on Feb. 1, 2019 (commentary).
- Watch “Deconstructing My Religion,” from CBS Religion on Dec. 2, 2018.
- Read “5 Key Moments From the Year of the ‘Exvangelicals,’” from Rewire News Group on Dec. 26, 2018 (commentary).
- Read “‘Exvangelicals’: why more religious people are rejecting the evangelical label,” from The Guardian on Nov. 3, 2017.
Data on exvangelicals is still sparse and in-depth research is just beginning. Here are some studies and reports that address some of the preliminary facts, figures, and potential futures for the burgeoning demographic:
- Read “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated,” from the Pew Research Center on Dec. 14, 2021.
- Read “Leaving Patriarchy, Writing New Stories,” from Fourth Genre, Fall 2021.
- Read “The 2020 Census of American Religion,” from Public Religion Research Institute on July 8, 2021.
- Read “White Gen X and millennial evangelicals are losing faith in the conservative culture wars,” from The Conversation on June 22, 2021.
- Read “Exvangelicals: A Note on Size and Sources,” from Religion in Public on March 1, 2021.
- Read “Purity, Nationalism, and Whiteness: The Fracturing of Fundamentalist Evangelicalism,” from the International Review of Qualitative Research, July 2020.
- Read “America’s Evangelicals,” from the Association of Religion Data Archives on April 13, 2020.
- Read “Exvangelical: Why Millennials and Generation Z are Leaving the Constraints of White Evangelicalism,” from George Fox Digital Commons (dissertation by Colleen Batchelder) from February 2020.
- Read “Is The Word ‘Evangelical’ Still Meaningful?” from Stimulus, 2018.
- Read “Evangelical Protestants,” from the Pew Research Center.
Potential experts and sources
Matthew Lee Anderson is assistant research professor of ethics and theology at the Institute for Studies of Religion and assistant director of Baylor University’s Baylor in Washington program.
Diana Butler Bass is an author, speaker and scholar who specializes in American religion and culture. She is the author of many books, including Christianity After Religion and Grounded: Finding God in the World – A Spiritual Revolution. Arrange an interview through Melinda Mullin at HarperCollins.
Blake Chastain is host of the podcasts “Exvangelical” and “Powers & Principalities” and writer of The Post-Evangelical Post newsletter.
Meghan Crozier is a writer and podcast host based in Washington exploring such topics as faith deconstruction, spirituality, equality, justice, culture, mental health and religion. Contact through her website.
Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, North Carolina. He is also associate professor at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte and blogs for The Gospel Coalition.
Christina Edmondson is dean for intercultural student development at Calvin University. She is the author of Faithful Anti-Racism: Moving Past Talk to Systemic Change. She is also one of the co-hosts of the “Truth’s Table” podcast.
Kaitlin Gabriele-Black is assistant professor at Salve Regina University. Her research and expertise focus on the intersections of sexuality, gender and faith, specifically around evangelical Christianity. She is principal investigator of the #Exvangelical Parenting Study.
Andre Henry is a singer-songwriter, activist and columnist for Religion News Service.He is the author of All the White Friends I Couldn’t Keep.
Linda Kay Klein is the founder of the nonprofit Break Free Together and author of Pure: Inside the Evangelical Movement That Shamed a Generation of Young Women and How I Broke Free.
Russell Moore is director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today.
Micah J. Murray is a self-styled “minister of deconstruction” who hosts the “Existential Happy Hour” podcast and is an M.Div. student at United Theological Seminary. Contact through his website.
R Scott Okamoto is is a writer and musician from Los Angeles who deconstructed his faith while an English professor at Azusa Pacific University. He is host of the “Chapel Probation” podcast.
Brad Onishi is a social commentator, scholar and co-host of the Straight White American Jesus podcast, which ranks in the top 50 of politics shows on Apple’s podcast charts. His forthcoming book, Preparing for War: The Extremist History of White Christian Nationalism – And What Comes Next will be available January 2023.
Abraham Piper, son of Reformed theologian John Piper, is an artist in Minneapolis who has a marked social media presence where he processes a variety of topics, from critiques of American evangelicalism to leaving religion altogether.
Laura Robinson is a chaplain and instructor of New Testament at Ferrum College in Virginia. She is also co-host of the “New Testament Review” podcast.
Terry Shoemaker is an Americanist scholar at Arizona State University focusing on religious change in contemporary life, particularly as it pertains to evangelicalism, exvangelicals and evangelical adjacent groups.
Jordan Steffaniak is a research fellow at the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture and co-founder of the London Lyceum, a center for Analytic, Baptist and Confessional theology.
Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as executive director of the school’s Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He was formerly the executive director of Lifeway Research, a division of Lifeway Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He blogs on a variety of subjects related to American evangelicalism for Christianity Today.
Chrissy Stroop is a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches, columnist for Open Democracy, co-editor of Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church and commentator on religion and politics, the U.S. Christian right, Russia and foreign policy.
Paul David Tripp is a pastor, event speaker and bestselling and award-winning author with a doctorate in biblical counseling from Westminster Theological Seminary.
Molly Worthen is a historian at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who writes frequently about America’s religious culture.
The Religious Trauma Institute was co-founded by Laura Anderson and Brian Peck in collaboration with clinicians treating and preventing adverse religious experiences and religious trauma.
Beyond the above, there are numerous podcasts, social media profiles, and other popular sources that are made by, or discuss the relevance of, exvangelicals. Here are a few:
- Listen to “Exvangelical,” a podcast from Blake Chastain.
- Listen to “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill,” a podcast from Christianity Today (2021).
- Read God Land: A Story of Faith, Loss, and Renewal in Middle America, by Lyz Lenz.
- Read Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church, by Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neal.
- Check out the Instagram page “Little Miss Heretic.”
- Check out the Instagram page “The New Evangelicals.”
- Look at Getty Images: “Evangelical.”