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The Exvangelicals

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It felt like this book couldn’t decide if it was journalism or memoir and so it missed the mark on either. I did find it interesting regardless and will recommend it.

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Unfortunately this one wasn’t for me. I was expecting more of a memoir and less of a journalistic view at this topic. I found my mind wandering often.

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I thought this was going to be a memoir. I thought I’d get a better understanding of the author’s personal experience and emotional state as her views changed. She included some anecdotal segments, but this did not have much depth, as far as one human being goes.

So, what is this? It’s investigative journalism. I’ve read (or partially read) a couple other books written by journalists that were presented as memoirs and I’ve been sorely disappointed. When I pick up a memoir (or what I believe to be a memoir), I want authenticity and vulnerability. I don’t want information reported to me. After a few chapters of this, my frustration was growing, but I managed to get over it because I finally recognized that this was actually quite good, despite not being what I had anticipated.

For the record, I do like investigative journalism. I just don’t like it when it pretends to be a memoir.

Anyway, enough of that particular gripe. Let’s talk about what made this book shine.

Sarah McCammon covered a multitude of problematic areas within the evangelical church structure, but not necessarily to convince the reader that Christianity in itself is bad. She remained respectful of religion/religious beliefs. She simply reported on the harmful aspects of the evangelical church that psychologically traumatized her and many other individuals. She illustrated with specific examples (such as purity culture) and included quotes from a number of people who were negatively affected by the Christian church and/or Christian family they grew up in. Some have walked away from the faith completely. Others have found ways to separate themselves from toxic teachings while maintaining their love for Jesus and trying to build on an authentic foundation of that love.

McCammon’s book provided me with a lot to consider while helping me process some of my own experiences surrounding the church. She was, in my opinion, fairly gentle with her criticisms. I do not mean to imply that she didn’t take a firm stance. She did not, however, aim to dehumanize the people who had harmed her and others. She acknowledged they were trying based on what they genuinely believed, which certainly doesn’t exonerate them. I believe she was, at least, aiming to not fuel hatred, and whether she was successful will depend on individual reader perception.

I do believe the content will resonate with those who have been trying to heal from spiritual abuse, whether they consider it weaponized or simply misguided, and that this book may help guide them through that process.

I am immensely grateful to Macmillan Audio, St. Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for my copies. All opinions are my own.

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I picked this book up because it was personally relevant to me, I struggle, personally, with the term exvangelical, because it can mean so many things to different types of people.

Some people leave the evangelical church because they were hurt by the un-christ-like behavior of the constituents, but they still believe in God.

Some people leave the evangelical church because the church has sided with Christian Nationalism and other unsettling political movements.

Some leave the church because they don't believe the Bible is infallible; they have a more liberal view of who God is, but they still embrace some type of spirituality that is personal to them.

I left for none of those reasons. I left because I don't think the religion makes any sense, and I have seen no proof that God exists. I much prefer living a life completely free of all forms of spirituality. Spirituality gives me anxiety.

I have had trouble finding books about this recent movement from people like me, who left it ALL behind. This book, however, I think does a good job of acknowledging the broadness of the trend. Several stories are presented from different people who left the church. The book focuses more on our shared experiences of growing up in the church and less so on how we've reinvented ourselves since then. I kind of like that; even though we ended up going in different spiritual directions post-Christianity, we can all relate to the discomfort of growing up in purity culture, etc. These stories are validating to someone who has been through them, and informative for someone who never understood why people go to church in the first place.

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This is a really valuable intro to the topic of folks who have left the evangelical church, and I was honestly a little surprised at how closely I found myself identifying with some of the grief and narratives that McCammon described, even though my deconstruction from liberal Catholicism on the surface isn't anything like what these folks were going through. I never had my information restricted, was always taught evolution concurrently with my religious studies classes, and had enthusiastic debates with my parents and classmates about every topic under the sun. But that feeling of trying to figure out how the world makes sense and where you fit in it now that you've realized that you don't believe what you always thought was the truth is just such a profound feeling of betrayal, I'm really glad that I read this book.

I also really appreciated McCammon's contextualization of the conservative political beliefs of many evangelicals in the history of the movement going back to before she and I were ever born. I just can't help but comparing it to Tim Alberta's "The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory," which I also read earlier this year. I found that book (which was, admittedly, trying to do something ENTIRELY different than this book!) super frustrating because Alberta kept trying to trace the issues he was talking about back to the mid 2010s, as though this were a recent trend, instead of recocking with the long history that McCammon has correctly laid out.

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If you have deconstructed out of evangelical expressions of Christianity, I think there are many aspects of this book that will feel very relatable.

Journalist Sarah McCammon seeks to provide an overview of the phenomenon known as "exvangelicals", a large and growing group of people leaving evangelical culture in search of better expressions of faith or the freedom to leave religion behind altogether.

Considering deconstruction culture is largely online, Sarah McCammon interviewed a swath of folks in the online deconstruction space, almost all of whom I recognized by name. My key critique, however, is that of the 30+ people she pulled from, there were only 7 people of color referenced at all, four of them being exclusively featured in the chapter on racism (chapter 8, the first time we see any person of color featured in the book entirely). For two of the individuals, the author doesn't mention they are people of color; it would be up to the reader's initiative to find these people on their own to gather that their perspectives are distinct from the traditional exvangelical narrative.

Furthermore, at the end of the book, the author compiles a list of resources - books and podcasts - for the reader's benefit; of the 57 listed, only 8 are by people of color.

Considering the author is a journalist for NPR, she clearly understands the importance of seeking out context and alternative perspectives to fill out a story. The lack of diversity of perspectives and background in this book is disappointing. While it is true that mainstream evangelicalism is largely white and therefore, mainstream exvangelical culture is largely white, the lack of diversity in this broad survey of exvangelical culture means that so many voices are falling through the cracks - voices that are necessary and vital to helping move theology and church culture towards more healing and liberating orthopraxy.

Again, this book felt very relatable, as one who has left evangelicalism. But overall, this was a very surface-level overview of what felt like a largely singular perspective of exvangelical culture and left quite a bit to be desired.

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I've followed Sarah McCammon's reporting at NPR for the last several years, and always enjoyed the way she explored the religious aspects of the rise of Trump. So I was very excited to learn she was writing a book about her own experience growing up Evangelical and leaving the church.

In the book, Sarah McCammon captures so clearly what the experience was liking growing up an Evangelical home and church between the late 80s and aughts. She includes details that brought back so many memories for me that at times I had to set the book down and take a breather. The book is written as a mix of personal memoir, journalistic explanations of historical trends, and interviews with others on a similar journey. That makes it extremely accessible and readable. I appreciated that the book also ended on a hopeful note for those of us who are on our own deconstruction journey.

I voluntarily read a gifted copy of this book. All opinions are my own.

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At its core, this book is a memoir, however it includes insights from many notable voices in the exvangelical space and it is highly researched and well-cited. The author worked as a reporter for NPR during the 2016 election, which gives her a unique perspective in discussing how these events built up steam for the noticeable decline in the evangelical church in the U.S. The book discusses several issues within the church, such as racism, sexism, homophobia, and scientific misinformation that lead many of its members to deconstruct from their faith. I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this social movement and how it has affected individuals and communities.

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Pairs Well With:

Cosplaying for the Lord’s Army
The “Good Christian Fun” podcast
Fractured family relationships

Memoirs from former Evangelical, deeply conservative, or fundamentalist believers are catnip to me, and McCammon’s experience is no different.

There’s a heavy emphasis on Trump’s impact on the Evangelical and Exvangelical movements. I don’t think that’s a fault, but as someone who has been immersed in these trends for years, that wasn’t what held my interest.
Where I really connected with McCammon is the anxiety that we both felt as children who were taught that it was our responsibility to save our friends from going to hell. I remember youth group trips where we were pushed into public spaces and told to evangelize to folks on the street. There were talks of “quotas” in our meetings - the stress that put on a 12 year old and the lingering shame of trying to convert our friends and classmates is something that left a shadow over both our adult lives.

I really appreciated the resources section that McCammon tucks into the end of the book too - there’s a ton here that not only helped me in my decision to walk away from the Church, but also supported my learning how to talk to people about that decision without causing more pain than intended.

Thank you to ST MARTIN’S PRESS FOR THE ARC - OUT 19 MARCH!

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This book had SO MUCH information, almost to its detriment. It was very difficult to read at times, which led to me reaching out to the publisher for an ALC (which I am very thankful to have received). Physically reading this book felt like a little too much for me and could have possibly taken three months. While it was all good content, I like to be able to read more than one book every three months. The audiobook was so helpful and got me through this book in no time. If you are usually a nonfiction reader, I am sure this will be an easier read for you. For me, it felt a little like dissertation.

I found myself highlighting a lot of passages that I found I related to or would want to look back on. Seeing the parallels of the conservative Christian reaction to the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal vs things Trump has said and done was shocking. I was hardly born when the scandal and impeachment happened, so naturally I wouldn’t remember any of the reaction firsthand.

“It is easier to blame the person who is leaving the environment than it is to self-reflect.”

I think people still involved in the evangelical church would benefit greatly from reading this book. There is essentially a list of issues they could address and places to do better laid right out.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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I’m feeling a lot right now, but I’ll try my best to parse through all these feelings.

I had to stop reading The Exvangelicals about a quarter through because I felt like I was drowning. The premise is fascinating and I’d love to learn more about this group I fit into, but this was just information overload. It’s too academic and not personal enough. Honestly I didn’t feel smart enough to understand anything the author was talking about or the connections she made. Hmm. I loved her ideas though, and I’ll definitely be looking more into the exvangelical movement!

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The Exvangelicals by Sarah McCammon was also narrated by her and she did a great job.
I gave this 4⭐️. She shares her personal journey with Evangelical Christianity and talks about the deconstruction that’s taking place in our churches today. I’m familiar with Joshua Harris and Rachel Held Evans stories and it all broke my heart.
Thanks St. Martin’s Press and Macmillan Audio via NetGalley.

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This book is published by St. Martin's Press. I am currently boycotting St. Martin's Press and its imprints for its lack of taking a stand against its employee who spoke racist, harmful things against Palestinians being murdered by Israel. Therefore, I will not be posting a review at this time.

Thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for giving me advanced reader access. This title publishes March 19, 2024.

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McCammon uncovers a lot of elements of the Exvangelical experience. Mostly it is a memoir surrounded by others’ stories. While she cites the many reasons people have left organized Christian religion, it is not an analysis that any one or two reasons are driving the biggest portion of the exodus. She does an admirable job showing how “evangelical” transformed from a way of living Christ’s gospel into a political movement from the 1970s on. The author notes many American cultural movements originating in the early 1990s that may have created the inflection point of a significant increase in the “none” or “unaffiliated” categories of religious survey respondents.

If you had to describe the themes, it would be that the reasons for the decline of people practicing Christian principles and participating in church-led discipleship might be: evangelicals hypocrisy-=decrying President Clinton’s character flaws while overlooking President Trump’s by Dobson, Falwell Jr and other prominent spokespersons—in a naked ploy to affect influence and gain political power; a lack of empathy for people’s experiences in sexual identity and racism; a focus on the militant side of spirituality—a life and death struggle against fleshly vices and supernatural evil manifestations; and a total distrust of academic, scientific and media authorities while establishing an alternative, parallel set of academia and media—tele-evangelists, radio/tv networks and exhortation to “do your own research.”

Maybe this last was inevitable as we learn more about scriptural interpretations and hermeneutics that have called into question traditional understandings of scripture. But a staunch defense by evangelical leaders of tradition, not scripture, perhaps is a perverse reaction to such purely academic explorations like the Jesus Seminar of the 1980s and 1990s—who would vote on the authenticity of certain verses. A distaste for sexuality has been a carryover from some Greek philosophy that espouses the goodness of the spirit and the badness of the flesh. Similarly, a reliance on our own reason may be un-Christian, while a reliance on God’s guidance is more pure. Thus, trust in earlier forefathers’ understanding of scripture and cultural practices is good while new insights into historical context and linguistics is bad.

As to the first theme of hypocrisy, it doesn’t take much to note that most sermons excoriate sexual immorality but overlook the leaders’ and congregant’s wallowing in greed, envy, divisiveness, quarrelsome and so on. These are, according to the writer of the New Testament epistle Galatians, disqualifications for inheriting the kingdom of God.

For those who want to understand the inside of the living in what might be called a paranoid-schizophrenic body of believers, this book is helpful along with Jon Ward’s memoir and analysis that was recently published.

I appreciate the opportunity to preview this book by the publisher and NetGalley.

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Heard a podcast discussing this one and interviewing the author. It’s an important topic. I recommend it!

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This was very different than my normal read, but I did enjoy it because I could relate to what the author was dealing with. It was well written. I would only recommend this to specific people with certain experiences though.

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Sarah McCammon is an award-winning journalist and National Political Correspondent with NPR. One focus of her reporting, per her NPR bio, is on the divides in America including the intersection of politics and religion. It is not surprising that she has written this book about her own religious upbringing and how, among other issues such as marginalizing, the evangelical alliance with white Christian nationalism was a tipping point for the younger generation such as herself.

This group of Gen-Xer, millennial, and Zoomer evangelicals grew up in what McCammon calls the Moral Majority shadow. When they came of age, the world that was broadly interconnected and technology placed science, fresh viewpoints, different ideologies and lifestyle choices at their fingertips. As they integrated into the wider world, they become disillusioned when they realize, as McCammon did, that their upbringing and education “clashed with her expanded understanding of the outside world.”

McCammon says that she has seen a groundswell of other younger adults like the ones she interviewed “reevaluating the picture of the world that was painted for them by their evangelical subculture and trying to make sense of how, in the words of the prophet Micah, “to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” with God. By the mid 2010s, a staggering “twenty-five million American adults who had been raised evangelical had left the faith,” an act of “conscientious objection.” McCammon is among them.

McCammon points out that evangelicalism is not a hierarchical religion with a governing body but, according to her and others, a social and religious movement. While practices vary throughout the many churches that fall under this broad umbrella, evangelicals generally believe in the supremacy of the Bible and salvation by grace alone. For many, this faith tradition provides a community and lifestyle that is meaningful and rewarding. They hold dearly the the teachings of their church community and pass their faith along to their children through modeling, church attendance and often, as was the case of McCammon and others she interviewed, by placing them in schools and colleges that are faith based.

For those who choose to leave this faith tradition, they must face what McCammon terms deconstruction,” the often painful process of rethinking an entire worldview and identity that was carefully constructed for them.” For their parents who dedicated years to molding their children for a life they believed was the correct path, this is a bitter pill. Often, those who leave the faith will find they lose the embrace of their community and support network, family included. For McCammon and those she interviewed, the decision was not lightly made.

This book might be difficult reading for those who are happily settled in evangelical communities. But one wonders—to what end will misdoubting the experiences detailed in this book lead? A robust next generation is vital for any community to survive.

Thank you to St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for providing this eARC.

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As a member of what I consider the Christian Left, I often wonder if I’m reading the same Bible as the Evangelicals that follow Trump. Where is the compassion for our fellow man? Where is the concern, not just for an embryo, but also the child? So, I was interested to see what Sarah McCammon had to say about the supposed growing number of younger people leaving the movement.
I think one of the important things she says is that it’s not just a religious sect, it’s a community and a culture and leaving it often leads to the loss of family and friends.
McCammon walks the reader through the mindset of the Evangelical culture, especially the belief that the Bible is infallible, scientists are not to be trusted and only they know the “truth”. She spends a lot of time on their refusal to believe in evolution. It actually gave me a better understanding of how so many can fall for Trump’s claptrap. When your belief system doesn’t allow for any wavering or skepticism, for any allowance for change, it makes it more plausible that you’ll only accept the “facts” that suit your narrative, regardless of their accuracy.
“Information is evaluated based not on conformity to common standards of evidence or correspondence to a common understanding of the world, but on whether it supports the tribe’s values and goals and is vouchsafed by tribal leaders. ‘Good for our side’ and ‘true’ begin to blur into one.”
The one problem I had with the book is that she never really makes her case for “the massive social movement” of people leaving the evangelical church. She cites individuals and their reasons - LGBTQ+ issues, women’s roles, sexual freedom and corporal punishment. But I never got a sense of how many people she was talking about. Likewise, while I found the section on religious trauma enlightening, I was curious to know how widespread it was. Maybe there’s no way to know. But I would have been interested to know if there were any studies.
This is probably a book that will “preach to the choir”. I can’t envision many still firmly invested in the evangelical movement reading it. But maybe it will provide a sense of community to those who have left but feel they’re alone in their situation. I was impressed by the number of folks she mentions that have social media presences.
My thanks to Netgalley and St. Martin’s Press for an adv2nce copy of this book.

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This was a fantastic non-fiction book that spoke to the issue of the white evangelical church on so many levels. Author McCammon shares her own story of growing up in the evangelical church in the US Midwest in the 80s and 90s. She lets us in on her struggle–and a struggle it was!–to wrestle with the doubts and misgivings she had about her particular brand of faith for many years, and to finally leave the evangelical church in her 30s. The final straw was covering the 2016 US presidential election for NPR, and observing the toxicity of the movement.

“Exvangelicalism” is a social movement of folks who have left evangelicalism and found a different path: a different Christian denomination, agnosticism or atheism. This book is indeed critical of evangelicalism, but she still holds most individuals in that world with kindness and empathy. It is not a rant against Christianity; she counts herself as someone who has shifted her Christianity to a different form, not abandoned it. She gives voice to those on the spectrum from atheism to full believers.

In this part-memoir, part social dissection of the white evangelical American church, McCammon talks about the fears of the rapture (being “left behind”), purity culture, the struggle to reconcile Biblical literalism with evolution. She discusses current issues like increasing isolationism of evangelicals and how this enables a movement that marries evangelicalism and Trumpism. She talks a lot about the levels of trauma of leaving evangelicalism while acknowledging the pro-social benefits of belief as well.

Overall, this is an excellent and timely book that should appeal to many. I certainly found it a valuable and interesting read.

Thanks to St. Martin's Press and Netgalley for a gifted copy for review.

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Evangelical Christianity has taken center stage in the US in recent years. This is the story of the men and women, most of them young (Gen X, Millennials, etc) who have left the churches and why. The focus is on the teachings around sex and sexuality and the growing political impact that evangelicals have.

I'm not a big non-fiction reader. Too many are filled with fact after fact and, frankly, just boring. This book is not. Written in almost memoir fashion by a noted journalist with experience across the country (including NPR), I was fascinated. I finished this book in only a couple of days. Sarah was raised in a family with strong beliefs that they instilled in their children. She attended Christian schools and colleges. She may have quietly questioned the teachings, but she fervently followed the tenets of her faith. As she was exposed to more and more of the secular world, however, her views changed. For this book, she interviewed many other "exvangelicals" about their experiences. There is a particular emphasis on the experiences of LGBTQ+ Christians.

Well researched and footnoted with lists of books for further reading, this is a great read and very thought-provoking. A great look inside the life of a group of Americans who have a strong influence on their own families and on American politics.

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