So the term “exvangelical” is a thing now. It’s an earnest hashtag on Twitter. It’s also the name of a podcast1 with over seventy episodes. The Guardian even used the term for evangelicals who dropped the label after the 2016 election.
You can guess who exvangelicals are: folks who were raised in conservative evangelical homes, have now become progressives, and who keep enumerating the ways their childhood injured them. You can also guess that I reeeeaaaaaally don’t like the term. And yes, I have bullet-pointed reasons for it.
Here’s why you shouldn’t call yourself an “exvangelical,” even if you were raised by Jerry Falwell but now blog for Huff Po’s Religion section:
- You’re going too think much about evangelicals. If you call yourself “exvangelical,” then evangelicalism still plays an active role in shaping your identity. You’re therefore more likely to think and talk about it. Maybe because it’s cathartic. Maybe because you’re trying to prove your old friends and family wrong. Maybe because you need to keep justifying yourself. The result is the same: more thinking and talking about evangelicalism.
- You’re going to be unfair to evangelicals. It’s inevitable. If you’re a human being, then you’re harshest toward the groups that you’ve left. That’s probably a reason why the term “exvangelical” irks me so much–it’s a viewpoint that I used to hold. Because exvangelicals are primed to be too harsh to evangelicalism, using the label will only make the problem worse. Rather than keep spiraling, it’s better to give yourself a clean break.
- It encourages pride. Just below the exvangelical surface is an undercurrent of pride. You are the one who looked around your evangelical culture and saw through the deceptions. You are the one with the courage to leave that toxic world. And now, you are the one wise enough to find fault in every thing evangelicals do, and to speak prophetically into each situation with a combination of snark and condescension. I know this because I’ve been there.
- It neglects what you are now. I used to read a theology blog by an Eastern Orthodox guy who converted to Anglicanism. A lot of the content was good, but I eventually got tired of his habit of constantly listing reasons he left the Orthodox Church. I didn’t want to keep hearing about his old grievances—he’s an Anglican now. I wanted to hear about Anglicanism. It’s the same thing with exvangelicals. Sure they used to be evangelicals, but they’re something else now. Talk about that instead.
Now of course, there are proper times and places for critiquing evangelicalism (see, e.g., this blog hopefully). But there’s also a time and place to leave the past and focus on what you are now. That’s why John Mark Reynolds of the Saint Constantine School recommended all “post-evangelicals” find a new angle by age forty.
So that gives me nine more years….
1 I want to make it clear that this post is about the phenomenon of exvangelicals in general, and not this one podcast in particular. Because I haven’t listened to any of the episodes, I’m in no position to form any opinion on it.
Photo by David Clow