Welcome to the second installment of the Ex-Evangelical Conversations series here at ChrisStroop.com. I have recommended my friend Blake Chastain’s podcast Exvangelical more than once on Twitter, and I know that many of my readers also listen to Blake’s show. Whether you have or haven’t listened to Exvangelical, if you’re here, you’ll most likely find value in the thoughts Blake lays out in the interview below, which include not only his motivations for creating Exvangelical and his take on the show he hosts, but also his understanding of the issues facing ex-Evangelicals and why it is healing for us to share stories and build community with one another. In addition, Blake recommends some other ex-Evangelical spaces and projects. Give our conversation a read, and let me know what you think in the comments below.
Christopher Stroop: When and why did you decide to start a podcast about leaving Evangelical Christianity? How is that decision related to your own experience?
Blake Chastain: The initial idea surfaced as far back as 2014, when I told my wife and a couple other friends. I went to Indiana Wesleyan University, and through personal relationships and connections via Facebook, I watched as myself and others began to “liberalize” or leave evangelicalism–or faith altogether. But we all shared a common sociocultural heritage.
Evangelicalism is a heritage that must be reckoned with, and must be accepted or rejected–almost like a drawn-out rumspringa (the Amish tradition). We (ex-Evangelicals) all do so in our own way, and the catalyst is different for everyone. For some it may be relative to their sexuality, their gender, their race, their politics. As a cishet white man, I fit in with sex/gender/race, but I rejected the “Just War” rationale during the lead-up to the Iraq War, and that began my earnest investigation/deconstruction of the Religious Right.
CS: How would you describe the model or approach of Exvangelical? How do you decide who to invite on as guests? Who is Exvangelical for?
BC: The model is this: listening, and sharing. Each person shares their background, what the catalyst for their deconstruction was, and where they are now. It’s the particulars, though, that really make the show powerful: learning how purity culture affected young girls, how anti-LGBTQ messages affected gay/queer people, learning why people stay engaged with faith at all, or why they walked away. That is the true gift of the show. It creates a safe space for people to express themselves. Honesty is more powerful than anything, and regardless of what you believe about God, that being–should it exist–can handle honesty.
Re: who is on the show: Some people contact me, others I reach out to. Having a diverse set of voices is incredibly important to me and, I believe, to the audience. Though the show began quite lopsided, featuring only men through the first nine episodes, the show is approaching gender equity. LGBTQ representation is also very important to me as well. Both groups are more at-risk in the evangelical community than I ever was as a cis/hetero white man, and their stories are vital. Racial representation is also important to me, though I am reticent to speak authoritatively on that; I acknowledge my privilege in that area, and need help from more informed and experienced people on how I can improve that part of the show.
One key resource for finding guests for the show is Twitter. If someone is willing to publicly talk about their experiences openly on Twitter, they likely have a level of comfort in talking at length on a podcast as well. Honesty requires vulnerability, and I am cognizant of that. I do not pressure anyone to share something against their will.
Exv is for anyone processing the environment they grew up or participated in. I also recommend it to people who want to understand their family, friends, or children that may no longer share their beliefs. There is a lot for them to hear.
CS: What have been some of the challenges you’ve faced with Exvangelical? What are some of the moments you’ve enjoyed most and/or the greatest success you’ve had with the show so far?
BC: There have been some technical challenges. Those have simply taken time and patience to learn how to deal with. The time investment is non-trivial. I put a lot of time and effort into producing and marketing the show, and doing the research on each guest. It does not pay for itself yet, but it is the most meaningful work I’ve done, so I continue to invest in it.
I’ve really enjoyed reconnecting with some friends from college as a result of the show. Talking to Sean Reed in Ep. 5, Kevin Wright in Ep. 6, Ryan Johnson in Ep. 9, Nathan Cleveland in Ep. 11. it’s not uncommon to seed podcasts with your friends, but to know people in their truer, more authentic selves is powerful.
Other high points: listening to the stories of Emily Joy and Hannah Paasch, having my mind blown by Peterson Toscano about the the stories of gender non-conforming people in the Bible, swapping stories of working in Christian bookstores, interviewing other podcasters and authors like Crystal Cheatham, the Twisted Sisterds, Morgan Guyton, and Mike McHargue (aka Science Mike).
Most of all, I’m glad to have made new friendships with other Exvangelicals. Being able to connect to people I otherwise never would have been able to has been an absolute gift. That people feel comfortable enough to be very vulnerable on the show has been amazing. It has rekindled my own interest in many subjects.
I am honestly surprised that the show has struck such a chord.
CS: What do you think are the most pressing needs of the ex-Evangelical community, or the “excommunity,” as you call it? Besides Exvangelical, what do you consider some of the most significant projects or spaces in the ex-Evangelical community, and why?
BC: Excommunity is a play on “excommunication.” That’s a feeling many of us have. We feel “othered” by our friends and family, who may consider us wayward souls or backslid, etc. As you’ve often said on Twitter, we need to find a way to build our own sense of community. Too many people feel alone because their convictions, heartfelt investigation of their faith, and ethics found Evangelicalism wanting–and, worse than wanting, guilty of some serious crimes. They aren’t alone in their convictions, and their convictions aren’t wrong just b/c they were told they are.
Ex-Evangelicals also need space to work out their anger, their frustration. They need to be permitted to be honest, and by virtue of that honesty, they may find many who feel like them. If that allows them to work toward compassion and peace, for themselves and for others, then that is a boon.
Other projects: The Stuff Christian Culture Likes Facebook group, Inglorious Pasterds podcast (and the Pub, their private FB group), Drunk Ex-Pastors, The Liturgists, the Raising Children Unfundamentalist FB group, the Unchurching FB group. Each of these aid folks in their “deconstruction,” and creates a private, safe space for people to vent and share their struggles. Exv is more public by design, though Exv now has a private FB group available to Patreon supporters..