Losing the Fear of Evangelical Hell

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S1: This is the last response for these two days of question and answers for that that I got from the president’s team, and that is let’s just assume he did it. So what?

S2: Abuse of power is an exceedingly difficult theory to use to impeach your president, judge says if the Congress can’t enforce its subpoenas in court, then what remedy is there?

S3: And the Justice Department lawyers responses impeachment, impeachment. You can’t make this up.

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S4: Hello and welcome to tramcars time Virginia Heffernan. As Adam Schiff and the rest of the venerable house managers continues to present Shakespeare and James Baldwin to the Duck Dynasty and pizza gate crowd, God, these people, their amazing rhetoric is lost on the GOP senators. I’m still with Chuck Schumer and acquittal of Trump. If the Republicans keep refusing, a real trial will not acquit him. This will be like the O.J. jury. You know, the jury says not guilty for their own jury nullification purposes. But everybody knows he’s guilty. He was guilty in the wrongful death case and history judges him guilty. And then O.J. ends up in jail for other crimes. You know, Brett Kavanaugh to the non acquittal. Acquittal, I might believe, too, piously that the truth always has the last word. But when the Republicans in the Senate refused to give the FBI one damn week to investigate the evidence and testimony about Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual misconduct, they didn’t even look at or question his crazy demeanor in that trial. That, to me, was credible in the extreme. They put him on the Supreme Court, but under a cloud, he didn’t get a chance to clear his name until history brings all the facts to light. He’ll still be, in the words of the Mueller report, not exonerated. Anyway, that’s my hope for this trial. And Adam Schiff. If you’re listening, I hope you can find the 30000 operating systems that are missing from each individual Republican senators, heart, soul and brain. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press, by which I mean Trump cast. We’ll be happy to have you back. Congressman Schiff, anytime.

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S5: My guest today is Chrissy’s Stroope. CHRISSEY Stroope is an ex evangelical writer who co-edited with Laura and O’Neill. The book Empty the Pews Stories of Leaving the Church, in which she and Lauren tell their stories of leaving the evangelical movement. And they’ve created a compendium of other stories of leaving the movement. She is also a Russian history p_h_d_, and I’m very excited to talk to her. Welcome to Trump Cast, Chrissy. Thanks so much for having me. Virginia, I’ve been wanting to have you on for so long and partly because my partner Richard Stanislaw is an evangelical and ex evangelical and has followed your work for a while. And this story, is it extraordinarily important, one for the United States of America?

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S6: Thank you. I certainly agree that it is. And it’s been a bit frustrating trying to sort of break through into the public sphere and get a hearing for survivors of kind of toxic authoritarian religion. Yeah. But I think that the Trump moment has kind of opened up the possibility there as people who scratch their heads. Why are these evangelicals supporting Trump? And, you know, now they’re somewhat more more willing to listen to people who have really lived that kind of conservative white evangelical subculture.

S7: Tell us your own kind of coming of age in the evangelical church and also why that phrase evangelical church is itself kind of odd and misleading and suggests a monolith.

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S6: Sure. Well, first, let me say that, you know, when it when we talk about white evangelical subculture in particular, there are a lot of a lot of things where there are a great deal of similarities among, you know, 70 to 80 percent of people who could be identified that way. So while it’s true that it’s not a monolith, I’m a little bit unsympathetic to criticism based on speaking out against kind of evangelicalism or evangelical subculture, because evangelical subculture is overwhelmingly far right wing, informed by conspiracy theories, applying beliefs in Bible prophecy to politics and so forth in ways that are very dangerous. And also, you know, proponents of corporal punishment for children sometimes really quite extreme, pervaded by sexual abuse scandals, as we’re starting to see with the Southern Baptist Church. And there are a lot of institutional connections, evangelicals, even though they come from a lot of different denominations. They consume a lot of the same sort of cultural products are whole parallel industries, evangelical books, Christian bookstores, Christian movies. Really awful stuff with Kirk Cameron, the whole CCN, contemporary Christian music industry. Yeah. And when you grow up in that kind of subculture, you can be just almost pretty much isolated within it. And then there are other institutions like missionary organizations, para church ministries. And so it’s not like you only learn about things from people in your church. Yeah. So in my case, you know, I don’t really remember a time when church wasn’t the center of my social world until I kind of started coming into my own as an adult, churchgoing Christian school once I was enrolled into that. My dad, when I was born was a high school marching band director, and then he did freelance. Sound engineering and composing and music stuff for a while, but for most of my life he’s been a music minister and evangelical churches. And my mom has been a Christian schoolteacher ever since her own kids were old enough to go to school and Christian schools. They tend to expect you to if you’re a parent who teaches or works on staff and one of them to send your kids to the school. And they used to offer full tuition waivers, but now it’s usually just a discount that increases with seniority. So I never had a choice about where to go to school and when I was in elementary school. I don’t think I wouldn’t have really had any reason to want to go to public school. But when I started to see a little bit more of what was out there, you know, particularly because we moved from the Indianapolis area of Indiana to Colorado Springs, Colorado, in 1993, and I ended up in public school for half a year in sixth grade. And I made a couple of friends. I wanted to stay in public school at that point, but my parents wouldn’t let me. And the only reason that I ended up in a public school at all was because we moved in the middle of the year. And then after that, my mom was a teacher at Colorado Springs Christian School and I ended up going there and it was even more extreme, more fundamentalist than Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. And eventually we moved back to Indianapolis and I graduated from Heritage. But, you know, both of those schools taught young earth creationism, mobilized us for right wing politics, us that abortion is murder, all that sort of stuff.

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S7: Walk me through. I don’t know what it is. A sex ed or biology class that teaches that abortion is murder. What does it look like? Like one of the things that interests me about the anti-abortion movement is how obsessive it is about gynecology. As a woman, it is amazing to see.

S8: I mean, there were by the time you were out of college when Paul Ryan was running with Mitt Romney, there was discussions of something, trans interventional exams or something or the use of certain kinds of wands that they wanted to prohibit in gynecological exams. In any case, I just wonder how if this is part of the air you breathe, that it’s murder, is there a class in conception and endometrial linings that then somehow generates a conversation about whether birth begins at conception? Just what does it look like when it’s under the aegis of science in Christian school and in church?

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S6: I remember getting presentations from people who volunteered for s._p._c._a use, for example, these crisis pregnancy centers, which, as you know, are major sources of disinformation. They’ve been spreading lies that, you know, most women regret, regret abortions, that abortions can cause health problems down the line, that they’re linked to breast cancer and so forth. And they try very aggressively to pull women in in competition with clinics that do offer abortion. So I remember we had we had volunteers from these organizations, women for the most part, addressing us. This is from the time I was five or six years old in assemblies, in church and Christian school, just telling us that, you know, there are these millions of babies being murdered. It’s this terrible thing. Donate some diapers and some food and stuff so we can help get women away from this terrible abortion machine. You know, I got a little bit older. When you talk about sex ed, abortion wasn’t really a topic that came up in. And it’s our sex ed was really, really skewed, though, in sixth grade, the first half of sixth grade. And I was still in Heritage Christian School in Indianapolis. We had this program called C.P.R.. Creating Positive Relationships is what it stood for. So they took these questions, you know, that you could submit anonymously. And so, of course, some kid asked, well, how far is it appropriate to go with your boyfriend or girlfriend? And I remember that they shamed us for anyone even wanting to ask that question.

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S9: And then they told us. But, you know, like, if you’re so unspiritual that you really want to think about this and you really want to have a rule, you should do as little bit as you can because it’s risky. But definitely stay away from the underwear zone. They used the phrase the underwear zone. Okay. So anything that might typically be color covered by underwear is totally off limits.

S7: So second base then basically might be OK if you’re flight in the underwear zone, yet a moral education going on during the school day. So you’re getting some idea of maybe how sex operates or it has something to do with your underwear and also some idea of maybe what abortion is or something like that. But what seems to be the gaslighting and incidentally, this anthology is very compelling. And I’m so glad that these stories are out there now. Thank you. And I know other ex evangelicals are grateful, too, but is that this schools, in order to qualify as high schools, need to at least have a fig leaf of a secular education? I mean, they don’t like you not getting into college at all because you haven’t learned, you know, any mathematics or whatever.

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S6: I mean, yeah, it very much depends on the type of Christian schools. So there are Christian schools that are just a little sort of fly by night church schools. Yeah, that used just really poor curricula. Some homeschoolers use these kinds of curricula as well that just don’t prepare you for anything. The worst of the worst, I think, are the A’s. Rules accelerated Christian education. They’re abusive in many ways and they don’t prepare kids go to college. But I did go to the kind of Christian school that, yes, they prepare kids to go to college and it creates a lot of weird cognitive dissonance.

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S8: Yes, that’s what Richard, again, my partner has said that, you know. On the one hand, there’s enough prosperity, gospel and success creeds in Christian schools so that they don’t want to graduate people that can’t hold their head up and say, I go to this, you know, decent college. These are middle class people wanting to shore up their middle class identity. At the same time, you know, when they’re supposed to be learning biology, they’re learning that you know a lot about how liberals kill their children, kill their babies and a lot of cultural war stuff. And it’s just a line for the brain to take in. You know, there must be some time where they’re explaining the Krebs cycle or polynomials and you are like, oh, right, okay. Getting an education, how the world works. And then it lurches ominously into this other terror Fox News territory and managing that seems to be one of the kind of most difficult parts on a young brain.

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S6: Yeah, it launched me into a kind of serious crisis of faith around the age of 16. They were teaching us math a lot of like church, school kids and homeschool Christian homeschool kids. They don’t get good math skills. But, you know, we offered calculus. I took up through precalc. I took physics. And I think we had like a regular high school physics textbook. You know, physics is one of those things that it’s really hard for ideology to affect it too much. Right. But biology is much more controversial. So back in high school at Heritage Christian School, we had Christian textbooks for sure. For freshman biology. And they had just a lot of false information about so-called creation science and them and so forth, mixed in with true information.

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S10: You know, some basics of biological classification, how cells were exactly like mitosis is still fair game.

S8: That’s not like a own.

S11: The Libs, they mitosis meiosis. And I actually happened to take AP biology at this school as well. So I did offer. But AP biology was super weird. I had it with the same teacher that I had for chemistry and he was like this apocalyptic mystic. He would start his classes with kind of a devotion that he called a thought and a lot of teachers and Christian schools, they’ll start class with a prayer or like a brief devotional thought. But, well, his were not brief at all because he would ramble on and on. And he was totally obsessed with the end times and the rapture, the second coming. And so he would start a class with something like. So I had this dream that Habre’s judgment day and Christ was seated on the white throne of judgment, and he was beginning to separate the sheep from the goats. And I was looking very nervously running up and down to see if any of my students were among the goats. And I was so happy to see that they weren’t. And he would go on and on like this and, you know, kind of talk about how look at all these centres increasing in the world. It must be the year of Noah. Did you hear they’re genetically engineering red heifers to sacrifice on the Temple Mount? In conclusion, Christ is probably coming back this fall around Yom Kippur. And he said that both year they had him. Wow.

S7: Both. Right. Exactly that. Millennia. It’s always they miss the date by a little bit, but it’s next year.

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S11: And the other thing about AP biology was we did have to have like a standard college textbook, you know. So it was actually a regular secular introductory college textbook on biology. But he would not teach us the evolution chapters. However, he told us to read them on our own and regurgitate them for the exam because buying for Jesus is okay. I guess when you need to get an exam scores and get these credentials so you can be an elite culture warrior.

S8: I don’t know if you listen to the podcast about Heaven’s Gate, which was hosted by Glynn Washington. He’s a black man and he grew up in a segregationist racist cult. Now, one of the things about his story that’s is sounds quite similar to yours and people leaving evangelicalism is that it’s the tools that they’re taught, but end up being how they dismantle the religion, get some distance from it. So Glenn decided to be as committed as any kid to learning scripture like the best at it. And then he would find contradictions in scripture. You know that the way some some people use scripture to push back on forms of Christianity. And then he realized that, you know, the leaders didn’t really know what they were talking about, that they couldn’t quote chapter and verse the way he could. And that loosened his relation to it. And then he was able to leave. And it sounds like for you and some of the stories in empty the pews are about people who, you know, like Nietzsche says, God is dead. We’ve killed him, you and I. What Nietzsche means is God or the fiction of God engendered an interest in understanding the world and science and then the tools of science dismantled God. Mm-Hmm. Right. So, you know, it sounds a little bit like you were a very good student. And even if you have echoing in your ears, the liberals are out there, they’re killing babies that climate. You know, whatever climate does, thing doesn’t exist. If you learned enough science to do the S.A.T., it must have introduced some doubt of the rest of the stuff you are learning.

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S11: Oh, it did. It was very painful for me to deal with that. It started a very protracted crisis of faith for me. It just went on for a really long time. Because when, you know, you’re basically programmed as a child with intense fear of hell and with all these false ideas by your caregivers and, you know, the only people that you’re sure you can trust and you’re also told your entire life that you can’t trust your own thoughts and feelings. You can’t trust your own doubts. They’re probably from the devil, you know. It is hard to break away from that. But yes, it is often the most conscientious and scrupulous and studious believers who do break away because they start to see too many contradictions and too much hypocrisy. But it can be a difficult thing to work through. I mean, you end up feeling like a traitor to your family. Yeah. And, you know, I also always felt often different and uncomfortable in my own skin for reasons that weren’t entirely intellectual.

S6: In fact, I think it was the kind of underlying repression of queer gender and sexuality in me that probably made me such a cerebral kid in the first place. Yeah, I guess there were likely a lot of other factors going on. It’s typical for the oldest child in the family to be very conscientious and cautious and scrupulous.

S11: But yeah, I always just fell off and I couldn’t understand why. So I kind of took a step back and just became an observer of everything that I was that surrounded me. And so I was going through my life, you know, and that helped me to see patterns and to become a good student. And in high school, they taught us apologetics and they taught us the tools of critical thinking that we were supposed to use to fight against people who were non-Christian or liberal and very much including liberal Christians, because they’re not real Christians. To people who think this way, they’ve become heretics. They if they’ve given up on things like young earth, creationism, they’re not really saved.

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S10: You’re not supposed to turn those tools of critical thinking back on the ideology that you’ve been indoctrinated in your entire life. For some people, it becomes impossible not to write. And it creates these very painful doubts.

S12: In spite of evangelicalism not being a monolith, it surprised me. The similarities in some of the stories. So maybe if you can continue telling your story, how you left the pew yourself, maybe you can for listeners hit the highlights of some of the other, empty the pews, survivors and people in your anthology.

S10: So it doesn’t surprise me at all that a lot of the common themes have to do with gender and sexuality and queerness because this kind of authoritarian subculture is just intensely patriarchal. Yeah. And most of the people who contributed to empty the pews are ex evangelicals are a couple of ex Catholics, a couple ex Mormons. And Laura Lauren, Lauren O’Neil, my co-editor. Yeah. You know, I think she’s the only former mainline Christian in the group. But even she talks about the fear of hellfire, which is which is another major theme. You know, just the fear and the abuse that is used to control people and the isolation. So all of these are things that we associate with individually abusive situations. And authoritarian ideology is an abusive ideology. Gaslighting is a feature of it. And there tends to be a lot of abuse that happens. Physical, sexual or spiritual, emotional in these kinds of authoritarian religious communities. So fundamentalism is kind of authoritarianism in microcosm or on the margins and authoritarianism. It’s or fascism. It’s sort of fundamentalism in power. Any fundamentalist religious group, you’re going to find a lot of these overlapping characteristics. Interesting. Yeah, it’s interesting that you talk about, you know, being taught this awful lesson about the nails in Jesus’s wrists and Episcopalian Sunday School. You know, Maureen grew up in mainline Presbyterian Sunday School and then became a Sunday school teacher. And, you know, she was horrified by the anti LGBTQ doctrine, the whole doctrine, and eventually was able to drop that. And, you know, even I don’t remember ever having a lesson where we actually had to sort of like stick something in our interests to try to feel the pain of the nails. Though I do remember being told that we cost Christ fame. You know, it’s at your school in Christian school. Our sins drove the nails in his hands. So lots and lots of guilt there for my own story. Kind of definitive moment came. I guess when I was around 16 years old in high school, read the entire Bible through for the first time, found a lot of things that bothered me and some contradictions. And I went to talk to our pastor about it, who was also a Bible teacher at our Christian school. He had a doctorate in theology from some fundamentalist Bible college and we all thought he was super intellectual and me being kind of intellectual identifying kid, you know, or at least a studious kid. I thought he would be a good person to talk to you. And at first he seemed sympathetic about my doubts. He gave me a book of apologetics to go read and then come back and talk to him again. And it was in question and answer format. I don’t remember the exact book, but I do remember finding the answers to sort of too glib and unsatisfying. So when I went back and told him that I was still doubting, you know, then he turns the tables and now the problem is with me. I must be harboring some sin in his life. That was the exact in my life. That was the exact phrase that he used because I wasn’t reading the Bible through the Holy Spirit. So something in me was stopping me from doing that. I’d opened myself up to demonic influences. The only good thing I can say about this pastor is that he also thought that hell might not be eternal conscious torment. There’s a possibility it might be just annihilation, slightly more humane.

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S9: You know, you take what you can get, but still, I was afraid that hell wasn’t eternal conscious torment.

S8: There was a way that you did an impression of your teacher saying those things. That makes me think that you were able to preserve a sense of irony. Like when you can see someone’s voice like that, it’s not coming to you unmediated. You must have had some some friends that at least rolled their eyes. I can’t believe that you walked away from that apologetics professor with his idea of what hell was and didn’t say, oh, for fuck’s sake.

S9: No. I was very afraid that he was very real at that time. I considered okay. I was reading Romans and I considered maybe Calvinism is true and I’m destined to pre-destined to be part of the reprobates. There was a time in high school when I thought I was going to become very spiritual by, you know, pledging to God to stop masturbating. And then when I failed to do that, I thought I had committed the blossoming of the Holy Spirit and was going to hell no matter what I did. And I had to be talked down from that. I had a palpable lump of anxiety in my chest for about a week. As far as I recall, I couldn’t sleep. But yet we also could have a certain degree of irony about some of the things in our environment. You know, some of my friends and I in the school and I tended to be in like the nerdy crowd. Yeah. We might have thought that. Mr. Terry, the chemistry and AP biology. Teacher was a little bit ridiculous in some ways, particularly trying to to predict like something close to the date of the rapture itself. Even though we all believed in the rapture. OK. There was also a thing that happened when I was in high school where the. At that time they’d stopped calling, calling this this position superintendent. They started calling it S.O. So this relatively new CEO of the school, he created a completely new position, brought in one of his friends and cronies to fill that position. It was called Director of Discipleship. OK. We called him director of Hanging Out with the Cool Kids because it seems like that was all that he did in his office. Got it. So he had some responsibilities for organizing chapels and things we had. We had weekly chapels. And then we would have a spiritual emphasis week every year where there would be a chapel every week. So, yeah, usually we didn’t have just like basic assemblies. They were like chapels, like worship services. And we found out that he had just created this position out of whole cloth for his friend and heard through the grapevine that it was the second highest paid position in the school after him. So like all these other people had all this seniority. And I don’t 100 percent know that that’s true. But I think it probably is. It was the information that sort of went around the whisper chain at the time. You know, there definitely was a lot of disillusionment with what had happened with this new position. And so the next year, he had to teach Bible and. Yeah. Minority friends and I did not have much respect for this guy. So we would sit in the back of his classroom and play chess on a miniature chess set. And I think he didn’t really feel like he had enough sort of like social cachet to stop us or give us that attention, because we would also answer questions. And, you know, we were the smart kids.

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S10: Unfortunately, though, of the main front group that I had in high school, I’m the only one who has come out on the other side and is not a right wing fundamentalists of some sort.

S7: Now, interesting, right. And you’re like, where’s that chess playing brain and flight rebellion?

S13: I like the rebellion was playing chess in the back. It’s hardly like shooting smack, but I’ll give it to you. Thanks.

S7: We had Steven Hossen, who is a former Moonie on the show. I’ve talked to him. Yeah, he’s he’s very interesting. But one of the things he describes very well and I wonder if this was your experience is a moment where he was in the middle of being de-program, is very formal with him. And he said he he fought back against his parents and he said, I don’t care if Reverend Moon is Hitler.

S4: I’m going to follow him to the end. And so as he said that he physically felt a kind of revulsion or nausea or like it was the beginning of driving a wedge between the things I’m saying and who I am.

S7: And I wonder if because it’s so hard to imagine you, Chrissy. Now, I know you from Twitter. I know you from your writing. I know you from your.

S8: You’re like vigorous crusading persona. And it’s just completely impossible for me to imagine you having an earnest conversation about how you might someone explaining to you how masturbating might send you to hell. It’s just with giving your brain and Breo like when you repeated stuff like that back.

S4: Did you share or Steven a hodgson’s experience of some signal in you that I’m participating in a lie and I got to get out of this? But what did that flicker sound? Long, alienated from your own professed beliefs? That’s what I’m interested in.

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S9: I internalized a lot of the guilt I felt a lot of guilt about, you know, what they call impure thoughts and lust and that sort of thing. I think it took me a while to really get myself de-program from that. But I do remember a moment when we had a sort of like I like to call it fake sex ed day in seventh grade at Colorado Springs Christian Middle School. So they made it like a retreat day. Such bullshit. And they took us somewhere. I think they separated the boys and girls for a while to talk about certain things, but we were all together in an assembly at the end of the day, and they were telling us things like, you know, and with a boyfriend or girlfriend, you should never do anything that you wouldn’t be comfortable doing with someone else’s husband or wife because that would be cheating on their future spouse and on your future spouse. So, yeah, so this really intense extreme purity culture mixed in, of course, with a lot of fear mongering diseases, diseases, pregnancy, pregnancy, economies don’t wear condoms, can’t start the AIDS virus. And then, you know, they asked us to prayerfully consider signing these purity pledges that they had. This was the kind of pitch that they built up to. They started playing this like emotional music. And we all had to go sit by ourselves and quote unquote, prayerfully consider whether we could sign these purity pledges. And I do remember feeling like this is manipulative, you know, even if I wasn’t ready to say God. Care who you have sex with. Or God isn’t real. I think I was still probably all in like. Yeah, sex is only supposed to be a woman in marriage, but I remember being just really uncomfortable with that. And like everybody who signed it because we didn’t know if we’d be expelled if we didn’t.

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S8: Yeah. Yes. The concept of disliking the tactics and the marketing scheme and just the feeling of being, you know, subject to propaganda and proselytizing. But sometimes that is the first you know, you just are like, ha, go easy here. Like, I’ve share a lot of your premises, but I want to come to them without this like marketing push. You know, some people just don’t like to be sold.

S9: And then by high school, I did some summer honors programs at Indiana State University, so I met some public school kids. I even got to go to some public school dances. I even went to a real prom because my school did not have dances. Right. We had Christmas banquet and junior senior banquet, complete with ridiculous Christian entertainment. One year it was Christian Ventriloquist’s who Lello had won. One of his puppets was like an elderly woman named Aunt Tillie who sang a kind of classic altar call him. So yeah, wholesome Christian entertainment. But so I had these other kids, you know, I was trying to have these conversations with them about what I believed. And yeah, I felt intense discomfort at that point, thinking that, you know, these people are going to hell. And I have to tell them that I think the only way to go to heaven is to believe in Jesus. It was super uncomfortable.

S12: When did the break happen? Because it sounds like on all axes, intellectual, moral, physical, even. I want to put words in your mouth, but that there was something that just like it had to break. And when did that paradigm shift happen?

S9: I think that it had to break or I was going to die. Like I literally mean that because I used to think about suicide quite a lot and I used to really consider myself an impossible person who shouldn’t exist. I felt like a traitor to my family. And now I see that that’s abusive programming and that no one should have to feel that way for having different religious and political convictions than their family. So one breaking point came after my third year at Ball State University when I studied abroad in Germany, in England, and I had some distance from America and I was keeping a journal. You know, I was beginning to see a break away from the conservative politics. Now, the first presidential election I could vote in was in 2000 and I voted for George W. Bush over the abortion issue. But by 2004, I voted for John Kerry. You know, and I haven’t voted for a Republican since. I don’t think maybe for something like state secretary of education. But there was that moment when I kind of came to a moment of clarity when studying abroad that I realized I couldn’t be evangelical anymore. Yet I still very much was going to try to hold onto some kind of Christian identity. But that was hard to do because, you know, we had kind of been taught this all or nothing fundamentalism. And so if you stop believing in the young earth creationism, if you stop believing that it’s wrong to be gay or trans or anything like that, you know, you might as well just give up the whole faith because you’re not a real Christian anyway. That was a hard moment. And I just kind of you know, I went in, taught English in Russia for a year. I went and I had some sexual experiences not being married that first I still had a lot of guilt around. And I then went to grad school at Stanford and I continued just kind of having these doubts, but I wasn’t very vocal about it. And at Stanford, I still tried to hold onto some kind of Christian identity to at least like not shake things up so much with my family, like going to church sometimes. OK. And so eventually ended up going to St. Bede’s Episcopal Church. Nice little fiscal church in Menlo Park, California. I didn’t go every week, but eventually in February of 2012, even got myself confirmed. Episcopalian.

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S8: Did your parents disapprove of that?

S7: Sacketts One thing it is also hard for people outside Christianity at its heart to understand is that even mainline Protestant religions can seem like a moment of break with the megachurch style religion that you had at some point your childhood anyway. So when you were confirmed Episcopalian and and especially with the Episcopal Church or dating women and being very pro-gay or ultimately very pro-gay, did that hurt your relationship with your family?

S9: Yeah, sometimes. I mean, when I became vocal about occasionally, like I would post on Facebook that like my parents could see that Christian schools were teaching extremism. And I became, you know, a very vocal proponent of universal health care, a very vocal opponent of Prop 8 in California. During that whole thing. Yeah. But, you know, when my mom would see, like a post-Roe said, that Christian schools teach extremism. I would cry and break down and say, okay, mom, I still need Jesus. And, you know, it was just really I had a really hard time hurting my mom. Yes. Identity is very wrapped up in being a Christian school teacher. So I started using Facebook. You know, friend groups and so using the privacy settings and not showing everyone everything. And I just kept it kind of quiet again for a while when I actually became Episcopalian. I don’t think it was that big a deal to my parents at that point. But you’re right. I mean, for most evangelical Protestants, that would be considered not being a real Christian. So if you’re like Southern Baptists, but you marry someone who’s Wesleyan and then you decide to go to the Wesleyan Church, like I think most white evangelicals these days are not going to care. The specific denomination really meant nothing to us. In my in my upbringing, it didn’t matter at all because like, OK, apparently God’s allowed to be confusing on certain things like predestination or freewill, for example. But obviously, God is super clear on gayness is totally wrong. Abortion must be banned. Young earth creationism is true and everyone has to vote for Republicans. Yeah. And so if you do all that, you’re in the club, you know, whether you’re a Baptist or Wesleyan or Nazarene or, you know, something else within the evangelical fold, the Pentecostal, non-denominational. We didn’t care. We stopped caring about that. But, yeah. PESCA Palin is right out because they allow for belief in evolution and for Democratic politics, also because they have a hierarchy to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

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S7: They do take public like the church takes positions. The Episcopal Church takes positions on everything from palace. Dianetic gay rights to gay marriage. And also it it had that scism at an important time where it broke with the Anglican Church over gay stuff. So I can imagine it’s the you know, it seems like the lefty church.

S9: Yeah. Even though it’s not.

S4: Okay. Well, that’s the other thing is it seems like you needed a transition and you continued to go to the Episcopal Church. But was there a feeling that all of this is going to drop out from under you pretty soon or sometime?

S9: I don’t know. I guess sometimes I entertain thoughts like that. I was going through other things, too, like getting married and divorced in the middle of grad school. Like I clearly was not well. But, you know, I pushed through grad school. I finished in 2012 and I went to teach in a Russian university for a while, still hoping eventually to get an American tenure track job and become a professor of Russian history back in the United States at a secular university. Yes. Yes, definitely at a secular university. And it was in Moscow living in Moscow, where the Anglican Church was really far away from where I lived. And also really far away, they had to walk like 20 more minutes after you got off the nearest metro station. And so I kept telling myself. I’m really tired today. I’ll go to church next Sunday. And a few months into that, I just realized I really don’t want to go to church anymore. And I was probably sort of quasi identifying as agnostic at that point. And it wasn’t really till 2014, 2015 that I started publishing certain things that are critical of the evangelical subculture, critical of right wing religion, including, you know, the Orthodox Church in Russia and the stances that it takes on things. So I started to find my voice, but especially after evangelicals ended up becoming so supportive of Trump. I’ve just been really, really vocal, even though for myself personally, I had moved pretty far away by that time. And there was another kind of defining moment that I it’s it’s really weird how things sort of worked out for me. But as I mentioned before my whole life, I had this sense of just being different. And I didn’t know what it meant. And I had this sense of being uncomfortable in my own skin, my body. And so after finally kind of getting to that point where I wasn’t going to church for a while at age 33, I finally realized I was queer and I hadn’t had the space or the mental toolkit to see it before. And that really funny thing about that is that as soon as I had that realization that this had been something that was repressed and was going on underneath, I basically lost my remaining visceral fear of hell. I had stopped believing in hell more than a decade prior to that, but I still had fear of hell that would come back and sometimes would be very intense, like in your cells. Yeah. As soon as I realized you know more about myself that it had been impossible to be in conservative Christianity, I just stopped being afraid of hell.

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S5: Wow. And that was a big break. I’ve been hearing all of these stories following the Weinstein trial, following in contact with some of Epstein’s victims. And just this sort of moment, like you’ve you’ve made it this thing the like. No, plus ultra of horror. You know, it’s something it’s hell or it’s EPSTEIN murdering you. Basically, if you dissent and getting free of that fear that’s paralyzed you becomes this crazy. It’s like all these new vistas open up to you as possibilities. Like I could actually blow the whistle on this guy. And if I I’m gonna go to hell, it’s like Huckleberry Finn. All right, then I’ll go to hell, you know?

S9: Yeah. Because, you know, if God’s sense of morality. Is that just awful?

S13: Yeah. And I have to go to hell on moral principle. Yes, exactly. Exactly. It’s my obligation. I love that.

S8: So it seems like you had fallen out with the Republican Party in advance of coming out and and ultimately transitioning and having this revelation about hell no longer being binding on you, that sort of distancing yourself from the white nationalism that Reza Aslan, you know, has said the church or the evangelical movement has come to be double for like be a proxy for but that that you started to have doubts about that way sooner, even then, your confidence in your in your sexuality and your gender identity.

S9: Well, though, I would say that I didn’t really begin to understand race in America very well until I was in grad school. And it had this Chinese-American friend who was a grad student at Berkeley. And, you know, he introduced me to Peggy Macintosh’s unpacking the knapsack of white privilege. And so at that point, I began, you know, really trying to learn seriously about how privilege works and about the subtle ways that race works in reading and paying more attention to people of color on that. So I wouldn’t say that I had any kind of revelation about that very early on. You know, I also come from these evangelicals with pretensions to respectability. We thought that we were not racists. And a lot of evangelicals will tell you that they are not racist. But they don’t recognize any kind of systemic issues. They really don’t do that kind of like systemic thinking. So it’s very convenient for them and certain racial attitudes will come out that are contradictory to their self-reported feelings. So there’s very striking data on how white evangelicals are, you know, the most enthusiastic demographic in America for things like the Muslim ban. But, you know, they’re self-reported. Feelings toward racial minorities are positive. That’s what they say, because they want people to think that. And they also want to think that it’s just what’s in your individual heart. They don’t want to see systemic racism in policing. I’ve been snapped at by a relative for bringing that sort of thing up. I’ve got one relative. The most pro Trump relative that I have is like very enthusiastic and vocally pro Trump, who will tell you he’s not racist till he’s blue in the face. And then in the next moment he’ll be like, Oh, those black lives matter. That’s just a bunch of thugs.

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S7: I should point out that Frank Schaefer does the forward to your book and his father, right. Was it like big deal theologian or author of various apologetics among evangelicals, his falling out with the fee through with evangelicals? It really comes down to like Christianity’s improbable. We’re in two crises the sex abuse meltdown in the Catholic Church, which people like. One of my heroes, Richard rhorer, says the Catholic Church is probably not long for this world because of this. At least in America, from his lips to God’s ears.

S8: Yes, exactly. And I think God listens to him because he’s still, you know, a hermit and a priest, Catholic priest. And then the other crisis in Protestantism that Shafer cites in your book is the trumping, he’s calls it, of white evangelicalism. So you’ve got two things about Catholics, like the kind of increasing thought that the Catholic Church in America, anyway, is like a machine to protect child molesters and then white evangelicalism, if it becomes a proxy or a pretext for. You know, we’re Trumpism is at a fever pitch right now, but it won’t be always. And it sounds like there’s been like a purgative effect, like, you know, your cohort has really become very vocal about.

S4: We knew where this was going. This is where it was going to end up and take heed.

S14: Yeah, absolutely. And I should say, of course, there’s all kinds of, you know, sexual abuse and sexual assault that’s been covered up in evangelical churches as. Yes. So I’d recommend everybody check out the church to hashtag. There’s been a lot that’s been exposed in recent years.

S7: I’ve referred to this many times, actually. Southern Baptists are doing their part. The biggest chunk of evangelicals are in some cases doing their part to advance the church to hashtag.

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S14: Yeah. And so, you know, this has led to the Southern Baptist Church holding some important meetings to try to address this. But I don’t think they’re ever gonna be able to effectively address it, because it’s the ideology itself inside authoritarianism, that patriarchy that causes this abuse to thrive. And so, you know, saying you’re going to do better on paper doesn’t mean much. I think that’s right.

S5: How do you think all this ends? You point out quite hopefully in your own piece with Lauren that the numbers are way down for evangelicals. You know, the nuns, the people who answer, I have no formal religion or no religion at all on forms are way up. And that like a lot of groups that look very, very big and formidable in Trump times, that evangelicals are actually losing power. Is that still your impression?

S9: They’re certainly losing numbers. Okay. Power is a little trickier, but there are far more of us than there are of them. Okay. They are unpopular. They’re being called out by many of their children. And all of that is a good thing. America is rapidly secularizing. The nuns, the religiously unaffiliated, now represent 26 percent of the population. That’s a huge jump. Yeah, 1990s. And sociologists have linked this khazali to the culture wars and the Association of Christianity with far right politics. Right. So they’re absolutely driving people away, but they’re also willing to impose minority authoritarian rule for as long as they can. And when we have the Electoral College and gerrymandering and nobody is going to be willing to add Puerto Rico and DC as states. And there’s also just lots of cheating and voter suppression. And they don’t care about the rule of law and observing norms if they don’t get to be in power. You know, there are serious questions about how we could possibly get past this within contemporary American realities. Most Americans don’t want things to be the way they are, but most Americans are effectively disenfranchised by Mitch McConnell. And you know, the rest of the radicalized Republican Party that is very strongly supported by white evangelicals to a lesser extent, but still very significant extent. Also white Catholics, white Mormons. It doesn’t matter that much that they are a small and diminishing percentage of the population if they are a large percentage of the population in enough states that the Electoral College. The Senate tips their way.

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S7: I hate ending there, but we have to. Chrissy, thank you so much for being here. I really do recommend to everyone empty the pews. It’s stories of leaving the church, but it hangs together as an overall picture of where the evangelical church has been and where it stands now and what an exit from it might look like.

S15: Thank you so much for being here. Chrissy. Oh, thank you so much for having me. Virginia It’s been lovely. That’s it for today’s show. What do you think if you get in touch with me on Twitter this week? Go easy. I’m page 88 and the show is at Real Trump cast. Melissa Kaplin produced our show today and it was engineered by merit shakeup. I’m Virginia Heffernan. Thanks for listening to Trump Cast.