Sunday, April 14, 2024

New Book Review: The Exvangelicals

Title: The Exvangelicals 

Author: Sarah McCammon

Date: 2024

Publisher: St Martins

ISBN: 9781250284488

Quote: "[Y]ounger generations of Americans are leaving...Christianity, at a rapid rate."

Somewhere a Seventh-Day Adventist nods in approving agreement. Thoroughgoing Post-Tribulationists, they believe that that's what apostateuo, apostazein, mean. "Apostate" young people are of course bad news for this world, but... "Keep your eyes upon the eastern sky! Lift up your head! Redemption draweth nigh!" When young people brought up as Christians leave the faith at a rapid rate, Jesus will return!

Do I believe this? In middle age I've become comfortable with shadings of belief. It could be true. I'm an ex-Adventist. I think that church's understanding of the Bible is plausible, based on valid reasoning. They might be right even about the obscure prophecies that we're told nobody can understand. Then again I've seen them proved wrong, I mean egregiously wrong, mind-bendingly wrong, how-is-it-even-possible-to-be-so-wrong, about things it's easy to know about...

Last summer I read another "ex-Evangelical Christian" memoir, Jon Ward's Testimony. I found it relatable, though badly flawed by Trump Derangement Syndrome. Well...The Exvangelicals tells a slightly different story and, given its timing, was probably written before McCammon had seen Testimony, much less my review of it. Anyway it suffers, if anything, even more from Trump Derangement Syndrome. Oh, the horrible "insurrection," enough to make anybody change their religion, knowing that the people who became violent were evang...

Stop it right there, McCammon. The people who floundered about like tourists, and were in fact tourists, were evangelical Christians. The people who became violent were troublemakers. I don't know that it's a mortal sin to want to believe what your friends and co-workers believe but, in this case, what your friends and co-workers want so desperately and so emotionally to believe is an outright lie. 

The elder McCammons weren't leaders in a nontraditional "Evangelical" church outside Washington; they merely attended one in some undisclosed location in the Midwest. Sarah, the eldest of four children, and Danny, the youngest, left the church when they grew up. Part of the reason was that their parents didn't want them to know their grandfather well enough to know that he was "gay." Ohhhh, boohoohoo, the parents didn't endorse his homosexuality. How horrible. 

And on through the tediously familiar left wing's list of complaints against the "conservative" church: It's raaacist. Well, actually, McCammon admits, her parents told her that God wants us to love everybody. Actually, though theirs doesn't seem to have been one, there are fully integrated evangelical churches; I've seen some. But, but, but, well one Black visitor to the church of McCammon's childhood said that the look on someone's face made her feel that she would only ever be a visitor there. And, historically, some churches endorsed slavery. Never mind that, historically, some churches did not endorse slavery and most churchgoers have never bothered to look up which side their church was on, if it existed before 1860, because within living memory most churches have preached that all God's children should be treated equally well. All the churches need, now, to go through formal ceremonies of repentance for having endorsed slavery, even though most of them didn't, if they even existed at that time. 

(There is a possibility that, if Jesus walked among us today, He might suggest that McCammon's Black American informant get that chip off her shoulder. Many White Americans would like to have more Black friends, but acting bitter today about a situation that may or may not have affected your great-great-great-great-grandparents is a reliable way not to be one of the friends anybody wants. When living White people treat my Black friends and relatives badly, I feel ashamed and indignant and ready to take a discriminatory business down. When living people whine about the attitudes people had in 1820, I make no promises not to laugh.)

And the "conservative" church is anti-woman. Well, actually, McCammon admits, the support for girls who chose to be celibate before marriage did spare them some of the worse dating experiences commonly reported by non-Evangelical girls who grew up around the turn of the millennium. But nobody ever actually told her not to feel icky about the fact that she liked being spanked. And, although many would say that teaching the young to feel reverence for women's awesome power to conceive new life does more for women's self-esteem than telling them it's okay to let themselves be used and then subjected to abortion...ohhh, horrible, the church did not support abortion "rights." 

And ooohhh, fetch a couch whereon I may faint, the church was not "pro-gay." Well, actually, although the Bible condemns only one specific kind of male homosexual act as necessarily being "abomination," the Bible is pretty inclusive about homosexuals, but it's not "pro-gay." Truths tend to be overlooked when people wallow in emotions like "But my Grandpa is going to Heavennnn!" Steady on...I never said he wasn't. Spirituality has always led, and will always lead, people to seek control of their physical urges. People seeking spiritual truth fast from food, get up at three o'clock in the morning to pray, run marathons, and they also at least try to limit their sexual behavior to what the Church has historically endorsed--either monogamy or celibacy. The minority of humankind who are monogamous (or asexual) have other temptations to contend with. Suffice it to say that we all have to say no to carnal desires. Homosexual Christians have to control their bodies just as the rest of us do. The question is not whether God can love them--certainly God can. It is whether they are burdened by desires that conflict with their desire to follow Christ, like other Christians, or willfully choosing to serve their hormones rather than their Savior. If the former, they are in a state of grace; if the latter, in a state of sin. Only God knows which of those states anyone really is in. People who are in a state of sin may repent. This is because God is longsuffering, even toward those of us who presume to judge others.

Should Christians assure people like McCammon that people like the grandfather she describes in this book are going to Heaven? The danger I see there is not social, but spiritual. More important than the question of whether we are clinging to prejudice or to social trends is the question of whether we remember that we are not the Judge. I think that, although Christianity has endorsed only the two sexual alternatives, the Bible also makes it clear that God loves and saves people whose sexual behavior has not been either monogamous marriage or celibacy. God made all the animals that react to crowded conditions first by showing increased incidence of sterility and loss of immunity to diseases, then by showing non-typical sexual behavior that does not serve the purpose of reproducing the species, then if that fails by becoming vicious and violent. We humans show those reactions too. Christians believe that God knows why people make the choices they do. Nobody has ever doubted that childless adults and people with weak immune systems, like all the grandparents whose winter colds turned into fatal pneumonia, may be saved. McCammon's grandfather may be saved, too. What about people who react to crowding by becoming violent? Will they be healed, having all the space they need to be sane, in Heaven? What Christians are told is not to presume to judge such things.

Or let me say it this way...sometimes making it about me is proof of good will. Identifying as a woman and liking it came naturally to me. Being attracted to men, eventually marrying one, and even feeling monogamous in that marriage (and in relationships that didn't become marriage before and after it), came naturally to me. Being celibate, in my teens and twenties, certainly did not come naturally to me. My body shape screams of sex hormones, even in middle age; I lived with those hormones. I did not allow those hormones to dictate my identity to me. I took responsibility for what I did with my sexuality. I may look like the stereotype of a slut, and sometimes I felt like it too, but I was a virgin bride. I do naturally feel about people who think they have to be led through life by their stinkybits the way PhD's feel about dropouts and athletes feel about couch potatoes. I don't hate them, and I don't believe God hates them. I do think they made choices--and I made better ones. If they don't like all the consequences of those choices, well, they can make better choices now. If nobody had a problem with your roommate until you started blaring to the world that "Tracy is more than a roommate to me," and now as a consequence of that most churches don't want to hire you as a minister, you need to deal with that choice and not whine about it, because, whatever else you and Tracy may be, you are indiscreet. There are other ways you can act out love of God. Ask God to lead you into those ways. Claim the promise of Jesus that in Heaven we shall all be healed of having mortal bodies that ever had a use for sexuality, in any case. It never helps to bog down in the false dichotomies that are always being shoved into the commercial media by people with  axes to grind.

McCammon's trendy complaints against the churches go on. In what I see as an overreaction to a fad in popular culture, some evangelical Christians have preached that spanking children was a good thing and ought to be made a ritual in every home, and ooohhh, ooohhh, when children don't experience being spanked as "abuse" there's the risk that they may experience it as a carnal pleasure. It may be good for some Christian parents to read McCammon's confessions. I received a few spankings, both at home and at school, as a child and can't say I ever felt either abused or perversely aroused by any of them. I can say, as an adult, that adults ought to be able to direct children's attention to the consequences of their behavior in more intelligent ways; that children as young as three are capable of making conscious choices to repeat unwanted behavior just to punish adults for presuming to punish the children, whether the punishment chosen is spanking or scolding or "time out." Rewards for wanted behavior work much better than punishments for unwanted behavior. Among adults, criticizing one another's "parenting" behavior is another one of those situations where the individuals being "punished" may escalate the behavior being "punished" as a "punishment" for the presumption of "punishing" them--and, as McCammon describes happening, children may be casualties of adults' meddling and social bullying. It sounds as if some children were paddled just because some social bullies used to shrill about spanking being abusive. Let's try a better approach, shall we? I never felt abused or aroused by a spanking and also I never felt led to see the error of my ways by a spanking. 

And, horror of horrors, some people are prone to anxiety attacks, which McCammon attributes to children's attempts to understand Bible prophecies or just the concept of original sin. She's found "therapists" who are willing to experiment with drug treatments for these effects of "religious trauma." She has not studied the extent to which her anxiety attacks, or those of others, may be reactions to chemical pollution in the environment. Anxiety attacks were very common in the 1970s and 1980s, then became rare, which suggests a connection with one or more chemicals (possibly chlordane) that were banned in the 1980s. Some people in Glyphosate Awareness share my experience of brief, sharp mood swings as the first symptom of glyphosate reactions; I'd be interested in hearing from adults who have that reaction and experience the "negativity" primarily as anxiety. Drug treatments for chemical reactions sound inherently dangerous. Oh well. No doubt in another ten years we'll know how that's really working for McCammon and her "exvangelical" friends.

Jon Ward's book did not focus on introverts as a group but did reflect the specific complaints introverts typically make about churches like the ones McCammon knew. McCammon shows no awareness that dumbed-down, repetitious songs and "lessons," or services that focus on emotion and groupiness, turn some people away because they don't contribute to and may conflict with our spiritual experience. Once again my people are erased from the record, merely and entirely because we're not a demographic group to whom the Loony Left has ever tried to appeal. 

In the twentieth century there was an unmistakable, though seldom documented, demographic pattern where introverts felt that we were being pushed out of some churches because we were introverts, even though most of us had been too thoroughly miseducated to be able to summarize the situation as simply as that. Before neurological studies confirmed that introversion is a permanent physical trait, less visible but no less innate than height or color, people used to believe that introversion was the same thing as being shy or feeling socially inadequate. When introverts' social relationships led us away from these churches, we did not feel shy or socially inadequate; if anything the churches seemed socially inadequate. Sometimes there was even the sort of confusion the Episcopal/Anglican church vocabulary makes so easy, about "High Church," like "high school," appealing more to people in higher income brackets. Well you know, dear...little sing-along "praise choruses" projected onto screens, as distinct from the classical music of the church printed with proper musical notation...that sort of thing. Then there was the counter-accusation of being a snob when in fact Real Musicians didn't need expensive printed scores to hear the music...As an introvert, age nineteen, I found something in a "High" Episcopal service that I'd never found in an Adventist service. It gave me much to think about. It obviously gave Jon Ward even more.

Some people think Seventh-Day Adventists are special, hold some kind of prize, when it comes to alienating sincere Christians from the social bullies in the church. Adventists "correct" one another continually. We'd visited a church in California a few times when, in casual conversation, my mother wished someone good luck, and the other lady huffed, "We don't trust in luck! We trust in the Lord!" It seems unfathomable to me now that Mother ever went back to that church or spoke to that woman again, but she did; she was a faithful member for the last half of her life. The majority of people who encountered that sort of utterly typical Adventist behavior just decided they didn't like Adventists, Malcolm Bull and Keith Lockhart documented in Seeking a Sanctuary during the years when my generation of introvert Christians were becoming ex-Adventists. 

Seeking a Sanctuary is not about the introvert journey into and out of the Adventist church, although the title sounds as if it could be. It's a more general demographic study. At the time it was hilariously accurate, and I still recommend it, but the story of my tribe remains to be documented. Some of us went into church sanctuaries, alone, before "Sabbath School" meetings got started, and prayed silently, and were scolded for not going in with groups and chattering. "Antisocial" was the word. 

McCammon, who doesn't seem to recall any experiences that might be part of an introvert Christian's journey, does seem to have sought out other "exvangelicals," some of whom don't like that word or even like "evangelicals" as a description of their churches. (There are or have been denominations that have "Evangelical" in their names; the kind of churches McCammon and Ward describe aren't part of those denominations, though evangelical they certainly are.) Some of them affirm that Black evangelical independent churches are different; McCammon wouldn't know how. 

Some of these people were or were expected to be the rising stars of the more "conservative" evangelical movement. Franky Schaeffer disowned his parents' ministry and declared himself an atheist, but is not featured in this book. Abraham Piper, son of John Piper, is featured. Josh Harris, who won fame in his own right by "kissing dating goodbye," is mentioned. Ryan Dobson, Franklin Graham, and other evangelical preachers' kids who have become active Christians, are not interviewed for the sake of balance or contrast. 

There are the obligatory attention seekers who want their religious experience to be all about their "sexual minority" identities...I find it disgusting when human beings limit themselves to "sexual identities," and although I can see how genuine gender confusion is guaranteed to complicate the experience of growing up in any culture, I think young people need to base their bids for attention on something that is interesting. Attention young people: What you do with your stinkybits and how you feel about it is interesting only to you and, arguably, your pediatrician. You will probably grow out of it so it's a good idea to say no to surgery, but if you want to have yourself mutilated at your own expense, it's absolutely nothing to me. Anyway you should find something interesting to do, like getting a job, which in today's economy would be an interesting feat, and come back and tell us how that went.

So where do McCammon's "exvangelicals" go? Where is the one place that's even more stultifying to creativity and individuality, even more doomed in the sense of falling for very bad ideas and resoundingly wrong predictions, even more of a snakepit of hostile competition hiding behind polite phrases? National Public Radio, with its appeal to real (now oldfashioned) liberals, many of whom are decent human beings, seems to have led McCammon there...the newfangled Loony Left, of course, where insider status must be preserved by displays of bigotry and Trump Derangement Syndrome. 

McCammon grew up in a church where all the members were White people but they believed they were meant to love everybody, for pity's sake. Where one Black visitor growled that she would only ever be a visitor. Who exactly is showing race prejudice here, and who is the victim? Credibility outside the cult makes no difference to the New Left. They don't talk to people outside the cult anyway. The White church is racist, of course, because it is White. To anyone but a member of the New Left as pseudo-religious cult, that Black visitor may not qualify as an active racist, herself, either but she certainly is displaying bigotry. When we read McCammon's summaries of other people's rants about how some churches condoned slavery in 1850 as having anything to do with anyone's religious practice today, we can clearly see who the race haters are. Black Americans need to dissociate themselves from that kind of idiocy. People of any demographic type have a right to tell their own stories and explain how things affect them, but six generations into the past is overdoing it. 

But no. All White people must flagellate themselves for being racists because they are White, because the New Left says so. And men who want to be married before they make babies, and provide for the said babies, are really showing more contempt for women than "gay" men who don't even want to sleep with women, because the New Left says so. And there's no reason to consider whether obnoxious, out-of-control extroverts are doing more emotional damage to their fellow believers than, e.g., opposition to flagrant displays of contempt for the law might be doing, because the New Left says so. 

McCammon uses the term "Christian Nationalists" repeatedly. She does not define it. There was a political party of that name in South Africa, eighty or ninety years ago. If Americans read more of the history of other countries they might take offense at being identified with the long-dead Christian Nationalist Party, but we are an insular nation. People who assume that, there being no such political party, a Christian nationalist simply means a Christian who is not a globalist, don't seem to mind being misidentified with a party that identified, and went down, with Mussolini. In fact "Christian Nationalist" with reference to the United States is--see the Wikipedia article on the subject--a bogeyman invented by the Left to mean "not us, ooohhh, how terrible." Marjorie Taylor Greene's attempt to reclaim the name is part of her ebullient, Jacksonian image but it may cost her more than it was worth. In the worst case it could spawn an actual party, and a political party identified with a religious tradition is never a good idea.

Was Donald Trump born and raised in racist times? Absolutely. Has he acted on prejudice? How not? Is he a gentleman? Duh. Change the record, we've heard that before. But apart from his fundamental extrovert obnoxiousness, which is as unchangeable as his unusual complexion, is Trump a racist in any meaningful sense of the word, other than "because he's White"? That mudball does not stick. Trump is of course detested in Washington, and has been, maybe even for longer than McCammon has been alive; that means a lot of Black Americans detest him for the same reason White ones do; he's loud and tacky, his orange complexion is easily seen as ugly, he's been divorced twice; his real estate "developments" are disgusting; he's trampled on property rights and sabotaged businesses. But his greed and bad taste, when he was a real estate investor, ticked off more White people than Black people. They weren't racist, or sexist for that matter, or based in hate of any demographic type of people; they were obnoxious simply. His border wall scheme, three-fifths rhetoric and two-fifths pork, would supposedly keep scofflaws, some of whom are White, from violating the property rights of US citizens, some of whom are Black. That's not much of a defense but it does show how desperate for an attack Trump's loudest opponents are. They can't even say "obnoxious," much less "hollow rhetoric for useless political pork," or "schemes that route tax money into my allies' bank accounts and then linger and become burdens to the public," because those charges could be thrown back against them; they have a need to say "racist." That word can be thrown back against them, too!

And has Trump, only just recently identified as a Christian, been identified with Christ? Yes. And how is that possible? Because he's been persecuted. Not on anything like the level Christ or the early Christians were persecuted, nor the level Dietrich Bonhoeffer was, nor yet Alan Paton, but his persecutors are so annoying they make Trump look good. Trump scandals? What price Biden, what price Clinton, what price Johnson Administration scandals? A political party run by honest or intelligent people would quit before they are even further behind. Trump has been useful; when an administration can't claim a single success, when a party can't rally around a single positive idea, they can always pipe up with "We have an alternative to Trump, who is not a gentleman." But that's not enough to reclaim the steady sequence of plops and splats that have been the Biden Administration. Trump is not a gentleman, what else is new, and what price Hunter Biden?! Today's D Party doesn't even have the sense to claim Robert Kennedy as God's gift to them; the last gift they were able to claim was Trump. 

"The insurrection," McCammon ululates repeatedly when a New Left reaction of bigotry against the non-Left seems to be indicated. The riot of January 6, 2021, wasn't bad enough for neo-Bolsheviks; they wanted an insurrection and, if tolerated, won't stop until they can have one. The word "insurrection" may be useful to identify toxic content. We need a good name for the riot as an historical event, though. I propose "The Censorship Riot." Let it never be forgotten that the Trumpistas failed to receive their official dismissal, and were led into a riot (even though all most of them did was wander about like tourists), because of censorship, which is un-American and which the Left have failed to oppose.

Even faster out of date are McCammon's wails about how those horrible conservative Christians didn't take the clot-shots during "the pandemic." Right. All cold virus are pandemic and it was alarming that a chest cold virus mutated, briefly, into a form a few healthy adults noticed having. Now that even the federal government has admitted that the hasty, experimental mRNA vaccines did not protect people against COVID-19 and probably accomplished more harm than good overall, how's that working for her new friends now? 

Though it's less of a personal apologium and attempts to be more of a survey of a small but noticeable movement, The Exvangelicals is a weaker book than Testimony. Likely to do less toward awakening the elders of churches, more toward aggravating the polarization and mutual ill will of the public. The interviews with other "exvangelicals" are interesting, though likely to embarrass mostly young people when they grow up. The ritual wailing is, however, meretricious. McCammon seriously claims to think that Dylan Root represented anything other than Prozac Dementia. Does she expect any rational person to believe that?

People of good will can read this book and find some useful information in it, but it is written for haters, with the intention of exploiting bigotry. McCammon, who wouldn't know an extremist, a racist, or even a right-wingnut if they walked up and bit her, needs to be required to write an honest and respectful book about Christians who have taken responsibility for their sexuality and not even been divorced, by way of penance. Christians observing where her unchurched condition has led the wayward McCammon will find reasons to pray for the young in this book.

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