An evangelical Trump supporter at a political rally in Georgia, March 2024 (Robin Rayne/ZUMA Press Wire)

Evangelicals are hypocrites. How many times have we heard that critique since 2016? “Character matters,” except when it comes to the bloc’s preferred candidate. The movement claims Christ—and at the same time, allows for white supremacy and sexism. Power is the endgame of piety.

In her new book The Exvangelicals: Loving, Living, and Leaving the White Evangelical Church, NPR politics reporter Sarah McCammon contributes to a growing body of work on evangelicalism’s “fusion with right-wing, nationalist politics.” Her study of the “decades of political activism and careful curation of alternative media and educational institutions” culminating with the election of Donald Trump includes plenty of familiar critiques, backed by stories from her own Evangelical childhood. White Evangelicalism is nationalist, racist, anti-science, anti-women, and anti-LGBTQ. No wonder the children raised inside of it are leaving in droves—based on Pew Research data, some 25 million even before Trump announced his first presidential campaign. McCammon is one of them. Growing up in Kansas City in the 1980s and ‘90s, she was “tightly cocooned within conservative Christian institutions.” She went to a Christian college. She married—and later divorced—a preacher’s son. Now, she’s on the outside of the movement looking in, part of the “loosely organized, largely online movement” of exvangelicals “trying to make sense of the world as it is, and who they are in it.”

It’s not that the critiques McCammon documents in The Exvangelicals are all wrong. It’s that they are, by this point, very familiar. (Especially for those of us, like me, who are part of Evangelical institutions; I’m an editor at the magazine Christianity Today.) The indictments are coming from both inside and outside the church—a reality McCammon recognizes by quoting exvangelical figureheads like Blake Chastain and Abraham Piper alongside CT’s editor in chief Russell Moore and evangelist Beth Moore. The “further reading and listening” at the back of the book is flush with reporting, academic papers, and memoirs covering topics like purity culture and the prosperity gospel, corporal punishment and conversion therapy. It’s bibliographic evidence that for years now, journalists, scholars, data wonks, and bloggers have been chronicling the shift away from Evangelicalism. For some, it’s been a wholesale abandonment. For others, it’s looked more like “deconstruction,” parsing religion from politics and culture.

But can a distinction be drawn between the three? Can one be a political evangelical, all Republican and no religion? Can one be part of the evangelical tradition—often defined by its high view of Scripture, focus on the cross, emphasis on conversion, and activism—without the voting patterns, the Christian rock music, or the word “Evangelical” itself? These are the questions that lurk underneath The Exvangelicals and underneath all of our conversations about evangelicalism in America.


For many of McCammon’s interviewees, the answer is no. Evangelical theology, for them, is inseparable from authoritarian politics. Claiming a one true God means adopting fundamentalism, closing down questions, “turning a blind eye to new information.” A high view of Scripture necessitates an impoverished scientific education. Valuing life means voting Republican. And evangelicalism—whether as a theological, political, or cultural identity—is traumatic.

Certainly there’s evidence of that trauma in The Exvangelicals. Interviewees describe restrictive dress codes designed to keep their male teachers from “temptation” by the bodies of their female students. They describe sexual shame, racial othering, and instances of outright abuse. For many of them, end-times teaching created crippling anxiety. One interviewee describes a time that her mother laid out a sweater and sneakers, then hid in the basement. When her daughter arrived home from school, she panicked—until her mother revealed herself. It was a test, her mother explained: Did her daughter think the rest of her family had been “raptured”? If so, why? Wasn’t she assured of her own salvation? As a child, McCammon herself was denied a relationship with her gay grandfather. Her regret about lost time with him is the wound at the center of this book.

It’s not that the critiques McCammon documents in The Exvangelicals are all wrong. It’s that they are, by this point, very familiar.

Good riddance, then, a reader might say. Leave that religion behind! But for all its political and cultural entanglements, leaving evangelicalism isn’t leaving the Republican Party or a shoddy homeschool curriculum. It isn’t leaving a family that paddled you or played a rapture trick. It’s leaving a vision of reality, a relationship with the Almighty. McCammon acknowledges the gravity of the departure and the sorrow that often accompanies it. “I’m still attached to the story of Jesus,” she confesses. “The thought of God inhabiting the human experience, knowing the joys and deep suffering and vulnerability of embodiment, resonates with me.” “But,” she continues,

the evangelical impulse—the idea that “people need the Lord,” that we have been given a unique understanding of the Truth about the most complex questions about reality, and which we must impose through persuasion or coercion—has never made much sense to me when I survey the complexities of the world.

It makes sense to some of us, though—including to some of the voices McCammon includes in The Exvangelicals. These are Christians who may be grappling with the “inconvenient passages” about sexuality, slavery, women, and genocide—but they haven’t abandoned Scripture. They may have put aside sloppy punishments and undue blame—but they still acknowledge the existence of sin. They know that we live in a pluralistic culture; they’re not so afraid of contamination by “the world.” And yet, they also know they have good news that the world needs to hear.

Teaching a creed doesn’t have to mean shutting down questions. Acknowledging capital-T “Truth” doesn’t have to make us arrogant. These are risks—but not inevitabilities. And by the grace of God, we’ll avoid them.

“We’ve been given minds that can reason and inquire, but that can only understand so much. We have hearts that can feel compassion and empathy but are always constrained by the limitations of our own experiences and observations,” writes McCammon in the conclusion of The Exvangelicals. That’s certainly true. She goes on: “Peace, when I have found it, has come from accepting that I don’t have to solve the riddle of the universe or uncover any magical answers. That life isn’t an elaborate calculus problem, and that God isn’t waiting to punish us if we make an error.”

There’s truth here, too; God meets our mistakes with mercy. He’s not a mother playing a cruel joke with a pair of sneakers. But though we don’t have to solve the “riddle of the universe,” I think we’ll all inevitably try. We’ll try to solve the problem of suffering, the problem of injustice, the problem of love. We’ll search for an answer to the questions life asks of us. And when we think we’ve found one, well—I think we’ll want to tell everyone.

The Exvangelicals
Sarah McCammon 
St. Martin’s Press

$30 | 320 pp. 

Kate Lucky ​is an editor at Christianity Today.

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