Evangelicals separate from the church and spread the gospel
Even as evangelicals maintain their position as the most popular religion in the United States, a movement of self-proclaimed “evangelicals” is breaking up, using social media to engage tens of thousands of former worshipers.
The big picture: Donald Trump’s presidency, along with movements around LGBTQ rights, #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, have drawn more Americans into evangelical churches while pushing back some existing members.
What they say : Blake Chastain, the Evangelical podcaster who is also credited with having started using the hashtag #exvangelical, tells Axios that in the old days people “could meet at a bar and talk in low tones about ‘how bad this is. church was weird ‘”.
- Now, said Chastain, these kinds of discussions are much more public and spill over to larger networks of people because of social media.
What we are looking at: There is a growing subculture of the “deconstructed” – a buzzword with a range of meanings, from the withdrawal of some type of Christian culture or politics, to the complete abandonment of organized religion.
- Instagram accounts like “Dirty Rotten Church Kids” and “Your Favorite Heretics” provide an online community for those who question or reject the tradition of the evangelical church.
- Podcasts, including Exvangelical, Almost Heretical, and Straight White American Jesus, have a huge following.
- Google searches for “religious trauma” and “evangelical” are increasing, according to Google Trends.
How we got here: There have always been divergent views among evangelicals, but “Trump’s four years in the White House has made it clear how deep these divisions are,” said author Kristin Du Mez.
- Du Mez wrote the 2020 book “Jesus and John Wayne,” which chronicles ideas about masculinity in the Evangelical White Church and politics. It has sold over 100,000 copies.
- The differences within evangelicalism “can no longer be masked by the kind of religious language of” we are all in the same boat “,” Du Mez told Axios.
In numbers : About a quarter of Americans describe themselves as evangelical Protestants, or tens of millions of people, according to a Pew Research Center poll.
- 14% are white evangelicals, according to the Public Religion Research Institute, and the evangelical population has grown among white Americans over the past four years.
- There is no hard data on the size or demographics of the evangelical population, or how fast they are growing. There is also no data that would quantify the extent to which this movement was motivated by opposition to Trump, compared to other political and cultural trends.
Over the past five years, the white evangelical church in America has faced its own MeToo movement (#churchtoo) and massive cultural shifts in its pews on LGBTQ rights and systemic racism.
- Influential Bible teacher Beth Moore made waves when she chose to deviate from the Southern Baptist tradition this year after being sharply criticized for her open criticism of Trump and for addressing sexism in churches evangelicals.
- Joshua Harris, a once evangelical leader and controversial author, announced he no longer considered himself a Christian in 2019 – and apologized to the LGBTQ community “for all the ways my writing and words have contributed to a culture of exclusion and fanaticism “.
- Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly accuse U.S. gymnastics trainer Larry Nasser of sexual abuse, also publicly denounced the abuses in evangelical churches.
Deconstruction often begins with personal experiences of discrimination or abuse, researchers and experts told Axios.
- “I was becoming transgender and queer. I’m also Latinx,” said Robyn Henderson-Espinoza, a theologian and ethicist with a doctorate in religion. “And so I’m already not fitting in because of some of those markers. But then I was kicked out and eliminated because of the questions I ask.”
The other side: The establishment is struggling to keep up with the trend.
- Christianity Today published a review of “Jesus and John Wayne”.
- The writers of The Gospel Coalition – another influential gospel publication – recently published a book called “Before You Lose Your Faith,” addressing the popularity of deconstruction stories.
- The book was not written to “destroy people who deconstruct” but to offer a way to keep Christian beliefs, Ivan Mesa, who edited the book, told Axios. He said many people struggle with personal doubt, and not everything is political, cultural or systemic.
- “I think that by also having a historical perspective, you realize that sin and breaking has been a part of the church through time,” Mesa said, although he made it clear that he was not minimizing. abuse issues.
Even relatively liberal Christian leaders criticized the movement of deconstruction.
- “Deconstructing Christianity is all the rage, but it’s nothing new,” Justin Giboney, AND campaign founder and Democratic strategist, tweeted last month. “American slave owners also deconstructed the Bible for their own purposes.”
The bottom line: Mike Cosper, director of podcasting for Christianity Today, chronicled the abuse at the Mars Hill mega-church. He told Axios that he sensed the reluctance among mainstream Christians to really grapple with the accusations of deconstructing people.
- “I think there is a fear that if we recognize and if we open the door too wide to recognize our flaws and weaknesses, then there is a kind of slippery slope towards the loss of power,” he said. he declares.