Two days ago, #IllegitimatePresident’s economic advisory councils dissolved amid an exodus of CEOs unwilling to be associated with Trump’s refusal to unambiguously condemn white supremacy in the wake of white nationalist terrorism in Charlottesville. (By the way, if you have not watched footage of the Nazis chanting “blood and soil” and describing their goals in their own words, you should if you are able, because we need to face this evil. I recommend this 20-minute VICE News broadcast.)
Many, notably former George W. Bush strategist and ABC News analyst Matthew John Dowd, took to Twitter to observe that America’s capitalist elite is showing far greater moral fiber than white Evangelicals in general and the members of Trump’s Evangelical advisory board in particular–precisely none of whom has resigned in protest over Trump’s deplorable, inexcusable enabling of overt white supremacists and neo-Nazis. In fact, prominent members of that advisory board have defended Trump’s response. (Update: As of the evening of Friday, August 18, Pastor A. R. Bernard announced his resignation, and other members of the council seem to be doubling down.)
For my part, I took to Twitter wondering if there could be a way to get the attention of conservative Evangelicals, whose authoritarian ethos makes them impervious to most criticism, particularly public and external criticism. The only thought that came to me was that perhaps we could scare them by threatening their church attendance numbers. So I exhorted doubting and wavering people who attend conservative Evangelical churches to seize the moment, take a moral stand, and leave their churches, vocally, in protest. I’m not naive enough to think that I can tweet a mass exodus from conservative Evangelical churches into existence, but I do know that empirical data has linked the rise of the nones to the Christian Right’s culture wars. And the latest data has white Evangelicals’ favorability rating of #SoCalledPresident at 65%. That’s disgustingly high, but it’s down from 78% in April.
This gives me a little hope that there are members of Evangelical churches who not only have serious qualms about Evangelical Trump support, but who, with enough encouragement, might finally be willing to overcome the pressures of Evangelical tribalism in order do the right thing and act on those qualms. Another source of hope is that, anecdotally, I have observed many in burgeoning ex-Evangelical conversations mention that Evangelical Trump support was the last straw for them in deciding to abandon Evangelicalism.
With that in mind, I asked people to share their stories of leaving Evangelicalism using the hashtag #EmptyThePews, hoping it might encourage others to leave Trumpist churches in protest. At the very least, with the hashtag trending, we could get the attention of conservative Christians and put them on notice that unwavering Trump support and refusal to support the equal civil rights of African-Americans and other minorities is going to cost them. And we are being seen and heard (Jerry Falwell Jr.’s latest tweet as of this writing, for example, is a hypocritical attempt to gaslight us and backpedal slightly). The response to my call for stories has been truly powerful. Here are just a few examples:
I want to reiterate that if you’re fed up with Evangelicalism but still too invested in Christianity to leave it for atheism, agnosticism, or some other form of being a none, you can leave your church or denomination for one that doesn’t enable, or overtly support, white nationalism, misogyny, and anti-LGBTQ bigotry. You can abandon Christofascism without abandoning Christianity. If you’re afraid of leaving Evangelicalism because it’s the only world you know, you’re not alone, and there is life on the other side. I know how hard it is to leave, because I’ve done it, and I’ve talked to many people who faced even worse struggles than I did. The social costs are real. But what about the cost to your soul of signing on for American fascism? Make no mistake, a vote for Trump was a vote directly connected to Nazis feeling emboldened to march with torches chanting “blood and soil.” And even if you didn’t vote for Trump, silence is complicity in the repulsive displays of white nationalism that continue to plague America.
My hope is that seeing the #EmptyThePews stories may help members of conservative Evangelical and other toxic churches (traditionalist Catholic, Mormon) struggling with their consciences to take the plunge and leave. And clergy? Some of you taking the lead here would be a powerful statement. Are you called to renounce your current affiliation with a church complicit in white supremacy, even if you might lose your flock, your building, your livelihood? I seem to remember something about a certain first-century Jewish prophet enjoining his would-be followers to “count the cost.” Will you listen to those words?
There are resources listed on this site to help people through the traumatic transition out of fundamentalism, whether you land as a none or in a healthy form of religion. And if you suddenly find yourself in the ex-Evangelical camp, you are welcome to join us in the Exvangelical support group on Facebook, where we are actively building community and helping one another. Think about it. There has not been a more urgent time to take a moral stand in the United States in decades. Will you be able to live with yourself if you remain on the wrong side of history? If you won’t or can’t speak out in such a way as to effect change from the inside, then it’s time to #EmptyThePews of your toxic church. Come on, you can do it.
For more relevant commentary, see my latest piece on Religion Dispatches.