Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church
Twenty-one timely, affecting essays by those who survived hardline, authoritarian religious ideology and uprooted themselves from the reality-averse churches that ultimately failed to contain their spirits.
Winner of the 2019 Eos Award.
In this necessary and revealing anthology, Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O'Neal collect original and previously published pieces about leaving Christianity. Examining the intersections of queerness, spiritual abuse, loss of faith, and the courage needed to leave one's religious community, these two social critics use a diverse collection of personal essays by apostates and survivors of religious trauma to boldly address the individual experiences and systemic dysfunction so common in conservative churches.
Following the 2016 election of President Trump, Stroop coined the hashtag #EmptyThePews on Twitter as a call to take a moral stance against the kind of fundamentalist, authoritarian, or otherwise conservative churches that helped bring about the current political situation and all its cruelty, division, and hate. The hashtag continues to circulate with the eye-opening and often heartbreaking stories of those who found the resolve to leave evangelical, Mormon, Catholic, and other religious communities. Empty the Pews continues this campaign by sharing the unflinchingly honest stories of those who escaped hardline religious ideology--and how it failed to crush their spirits.
Contributions include essays from a diverse group of established and up-and-coming writers, including Garrard Conley, Lyz Lenz, Juliana Delgado Lopera, Carmen Maria Machado, Isaac Marion, Maud Newton, Julia Scheeres, Linda Tirado, and more, as well as a foreword by Frank Schaeffer, the former Christian Right leader turned trenchant critic.
A provocative anthology of undeniable importance and power, Empty the Pews reflects upon the disoriented worldview of harmful, narrow-minded religious ideologies and also offers a clear call to action: to those who refuse to be complicit in the bigotry and abuse present in so many churches, now is the time to empty the pews.
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"It's deeply affecting to see a collection like this one, a wide-ranging archive of dissent that puts words to so many things I couldn't name but wanted to. Whatever your situation--having left the church altogether or found a new one, alone or in full community, certain or uncertain of your own beliefs or desires - there is something, and someone, for you here." --Daniel Mallory Ortberg, author of The Merry Spinster and cofounder of The Toast
"If you think only writings about faith can inspire, you are mistaken. This collection of essays document with unflinching authenticity various paths out of institutional faith, and yet contains within its pages words of resonance and hope for living that abundant life some of us were promised by the Church who did not deliver. Those who have left the fold are not a monolith--each story is uniquely beautiful, true, and a practical guide for anyone navigating a similar journey." --Cindy Wang Brandt, author of Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness
"This is the book that I have long wanted to read. For too long, 'white' and 'Christian' have been the default in the United States, with very little by way of challenge to either the truth of or the harm of such certainties. Reading these essays, I felt like a friend had finally been honest with me." --Mona Eltahawy, author of The Seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls and
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"These poignant, revealing, and often pain-filled, stories offer a uniquely personal glimpse into the lives of people who have left conservative Christianity. Framed in terms of important trends in American religion (the rise of religious 'nones, ' and the rise to power of the religious right) these aren't the tired old arguments against religion. Some readers will find the stories revealing of a relatively hidden world, while others who've been part of this world, may find the stories echoing their own experiences. I know I did." --Julie Ingersoll, Professor of Religious Studies, University of North Florida
"Like Chicken Soup for the Ex-Christian's Soul, each story healed a piece of me as I laughed and cried with catharsis. A must-read for anyone who bravely traded the shackles of religion for freedom." --Alice Greczyn, actress and founder of Dare to Doubt
"The essays found in Empty the Pews prove beyond doubt that religion is not inherently benign and can, in fact, inhibit human flourishing. These stories illustrate why some pews deserve to be emptied--and how freedom, peace, and autonomy exist in the world beyond the church doors." --Blake Chastain, host of the Exvangelical podcast
"...a profound, well-written collection that will appeal not just to 'exvangelicals' and other critics of the religious right, but also introspective fundamentalists who seek explanations for their dwindling numbers. An incendiary but profoundly moving deconstruction of conservative Christianity." --Kirkus Reviews