[Updated: June 7, 2018]
By droves, Xennials and Millennials are exiting American, Evangelical churches. While a few ecclesiologists and missiologists saw a trending decline (since 2010ish) in Evangelicalism (See this ARTICLE based on the book, The Great Evangelical Recession), no one foresaw such a dramatic exodus of Evangelicalism by these younger generations.
I am at the forefront of the Millennial generation, having been born in 1982 and having graduated high school in 2000. We are not a bunch of griping, spoiled brats like some media outlets like to caricature. True, unlike our parents and grandparents, we think factory work is for robots, not human beings. We also see more to life than 30+ years of arriving early and staying late in a cubicle, only to die early from stress and a depressing lack of fulfillment. It’s just that we can’t stand the placement of power over people or conquest (economic, political, religious) over genuine community. We ARE interested in authentic societal harmony, in devoting ourselves to occupations & efforts that “move the societal needle” (i.e. make a real difference in quality of life for all, humans and non-humans alike), in utilizing technology and information openly for others’ benefit, instead of hoarding it for gain, in the principles of practical equality among humans, and in renouncing and revolting against systemic abuses, especially by religious “authorities.”
All of these traits come to bear on our faith or lack of it. A kind of permanent flash mob in reverse is happening among one-time fundamentalist and conservative evangelicals, who are generally comprised of Xennials and older Millennials. These youngish adults, once having held to the broader Evangelical American church labels, find themselves enduring religious disaffiliation and not for trifling or superficial reasons. For now, they are completely unorganized, except through the hashtags and mentions that allow them to find each other’s thoughts on various social media platforms; and they are not seeking official organization under one particular leader or even a few leaders. They go by the name #Exvangelicals or Exvies for short. The label predominately represents political ideals, which run antithetical to an Evangelical-endorsed political conservatism. The name inextricably bears religious overtones, but again, most #Exvangelicals want no religious affiliation at all… or else to affirm pluralism.
The term Exvangelical reflects a desire to #EmptythePews, while telling their stories of abuse, disenfranchisement and disillusionment, particularly with Fundamentalist and Conservative Evangelicalism’s traditional doctrines & the virtual minefield of spiritual abuse laid out by them, from #ChurchToo to #ExvangelicalConfessions to #BeingExvangelical to #ChristianAltFacts to #HowExvangelicalAreYou to #HowToEvangelical to #EvangelicalIntoEnglish #EvangelicalContributions. Leaders of coalitions and seminaries and other bastions of false hierarchy in Evangelicalism appear either to be in denial or else writing denunciations of the Exvangelicals.
Whether Evangelicalism is ready for it or not, #Exvangelical has already happened. People are leaving conservative and fundamental Evangelicalism, due to the movements’ warped practical theologies, biased and limited systematic theologies, political and ethical hypocrisy, and notoriously bad interpretations, …which all together have led to and perpetuated the church abuses now disclosed by thousands and the societal ills propagated in the USA by “the Church.” Perhaps the chiefest of these ills is the apparent plotting of a Christian theonomy within the American democracy in order to create a Christian, conservative quasi-theocracy. It began to take shape in the 1970s with the Moral Majority & the Religious Right, grew in 1994 with ECT, and then rejoiced with Donald J. Trump’s election (See HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE and HERE for explanations of the ecumenical history of the 20th Century and early 21st Century). Exvangelicals would assert that the Church had no business trying to mandate the morality of disbelieving society by hijacking democracy in the USA and globally. That effort, by Evangelicals and Catholics, was firmly rooted in bad theology, such as post-Millennialism, Kingdom Now Theology, Covenant Replacement Theology, Dominion Theology, Christian Reconstructionism, Fulfillment Theology, Inclusion Theology. As a result, most #Exvangelicals want nothing to do with Church.
However, not all of these people are exiting the Faith to enter a void, when leaving Evangelicalism. While some of them look to the liturgical and sacramental churches (progressive Orthodox, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalian, Anglican Communion, Catholic), —they don’t see that it is all the same, except in name— others are labeling this the Second Reformation (#2ndReformation #21CReformation or #Insurgence), but they are admittedly the few Exvangelicals who wish to depoliticize the Church, while remaining Christian… even if it means abandoning the institutions of organized Christianity. Other, more politically focused and completely secular Exvangelicals say the reformers are not genuine Exvangelicals. Perhaps they are correct. There is confusion, because Exvangelical can hardly be separated from its inexorable religious connotations. A need arises to differentiate between those, who work to undo the political havoc wrecked by Church leaders and those who wish to reclaim the Christian faith that was hijacked by Church leaders. The two overlap. Regardless, those who are still clinging to faith but are leaving Evangelicalism prefer organic faith community; church politics and a religious, hierarchical, sociopolitical establishmentarianism are major parts of the problem to them.
For both the reformers remaining in Evangelicalism (or on its fringes) and for those who are de-churched or unchurching but not going into agnosticism or atheism, faith is shaken to its core. The disillusionment stings and burns the spiritual eyes so badly that God seems almost completely unknown. A process of deconstruction, dysphoria from religious disaffiliation and struggle to rebuild faith ensue. Yet they, like me, are striving to cut out all the disgustingly self-righteous dogma and sanctimonious gatekeeping, in order to get to something more authentic and cogent to a wider swath of the biblical data. We are unwinding the bad stuff and bonding together as best we can, from the friendship that blossoms from learning others, many others, endured what you did… that you are not alone. So, we go on the journey forward of re-learning God. We are interested in ditching what fundamental evangelicals call orthodoxy for something more cogent to the Scriptures, not unlike ancient definitions of orthodoxy or Paleo-Orthodox (See works by Thomas C. Oden and others).
[Aside: Even though Oden used his research to bring about perverted ecumenism (between Evangelicals and Catholics), which seeks to establish a Christian theonomy (quasi-theocracy) in each country, the works of Oden can benefit those who are “Unchurching” by allowing them to see their interpretations of Scripture are substantiated by the earliest of Christian writings.]
Personally, I could not be more thankful for books/community like Unchurching by Richard Jacobson or Tribenet from Greg Boyd’s ReKew… and for books from men like John Zens (Articles), George Barna (Revolution), Ray Stedman (Authentic Christianity, Body Life) and Frank Viola (Pagan Christianity?, Reimagining Church, Finding Organic Church, and Insurgence). These Christian authors give younger men and women like me some needed reassurance from an older generation, particularly in encouraging us not to trade one side of culture war for another, not one militant group for another, not one political side for another. Instead, we are encouraged to reclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom, which transcends culture, politics and religious traditions.
Below are the reasons I show sympathy for the Exvangelicals and am myself genuinely post-denominational Christian. This very blog (6+ years in the running) is the public diary of my walk away from legalistic fundamentalism into the mysteries of God. I have been on a long journey that has not yet ended… one that seeks to find the true face of the Creator in a world of masks.
[See this blog’s “About” Page.]