Apr 11, 2021

Former evangelicals find trauma and media spotlight

Former evangelicals find trauma and media spotlight
Religion Watch
Volume 36 No. 5

Ex-evangelicals are becoming a recognizable and influential social movement with its own political and psychological critique of evangelicalism. “After Trump was elected, many young evangelicals began to leave their churches altogether,” writes Stephanie Russell-Kraft in The New Republic (March 23). “The same year Trump won, former conservative evangelical Blake Chastain created the #exvangelical Twitter hashtag, which went viral and became a loose social movement of former evangelicals speaking publicly about leaving their faith communities.” One narrative that unites these ex-evangelicals is that they have experienced some sort of trauma. The trauma often referred to is similar to “brainwashing,” as Laura Anderson, an ex-evangelical leader and licensed therapist put it, pointing to “doctrines taught over and over and over with consequences that are eternal and terrifying.” In 2019, she and fellow therapist Brian Peck started the Religious Trauma Institute, which seeks to develop resources for mental health professionals to recognize and work with survivors of such trauma. Peck said he and Anderson want religious trauma to be considered a type of complex post-traumatic stress disorder, “because that allows us to be taken seriously.”

The self-help therapeutic nature of the current ex-evangelical movement has its roots back in the 1980s with the formation of Fundamentalists Anonymous. Kraft notes that in 1993 psychologist Marlene Winell published Leaving the Fold, a self-help book for former Christian fundamentalists deciding to forsake their religion. Winell coined the term “religious trauma syndrome,” defining it as “the condition experienced by people who are struggling with leaving an authoritarian, dogmatic religion and coping with the damage of indoctrination.” Like Fundamentalists Anonymous, which emerged during the rise of the Moral Majority in the 1980s, the current movement of ex-evangelicals is shaped by and engaged in politics in the Trump and post-Trump era. Kraft cites political scientist Paul A. Djupe, who estimates that just over 20 percent of American evangelicals, or eight million people, left their churches between 2016 and 2020. “It’s a pretty sizable number, and of course they’re really loud on Twitter,” Djupe said

Anderson and Peck stressed that the Religious Trauma Institute is not anti-theist, and Peck is concerned that religious trauma syndrome has been co-opted by the atheist movement seeking to discredit religion. Yet ex-evangelicals are often called on by the media, especially such outlets as Religion News Service, and secular critics to critique evangelicalism and its political implications. This was clearly seen in the coverage of the recent Atlanta shootings, where ex-evangelical critics were widely quoted about the role of evangelical “purity culture” in the. suspect’s desire to rid himself of temptation and his “sex addiction” by killing the women at the massage parlors. The ex-evangelical movement also dovetails with evangelical “deconstructionists,” mainly academics (often based in evangelical colleges) who seek to critique. the conservative gender norms and alleged racist complicity of evangelicalism past and present. The trend is led by such books as Jemar Tisby’s history of white Christian racism, Color of Compromise, and Kristin Du Mez’s book, Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, and has led to the formation of book clubs by liberal evangelicals and ex-evangelicals to discuss these issues, reports the Denver Register (March 30).

(New Republic, https://newrepublic.com/article/161772/can-religion-give-ptsd)


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