Chrissy Stroop on Giving Victims of Religious Trauma a Voice

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Chrissy Stroop is the co-editor, with Lauren O’Neal, of “Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church.” The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of BCNN1.


On Jan. 8, Cindy Wang Brandt, a podcaster and author of “Parenting Forward: How to Raise Children with Justice, Mercy, and Kindness,” tweeted: “Do not evangelize a child. Do not colonize a child’s spirituality. Do not threaten a child with religious control. Your religion does not have a right to stake claim to a child’s allegiance.”

Predictably, her tweet sparked outrage from (mostly right-wing and mostly white) Christians, while many people who, like me, grew up in what scholars call “high-demand” or “high-control” forms of Christianity, cheered Brandt for courageously defending moral autonomy.

Along the way they told their own stories of the cost of being evangelized as kids. Twitter user @Nick0j0m replied to Brandt, “Yeah my fear of hell and the devil directly influenced a lot of the mental health problems I battle today. It might not be the same for everyone, but I truly would have rather grown up in an atheist family.”

Another user, @JennHolton, replied, “As a kid, Church wanted me to evangelize and did that whole ‘if you don’t do it, they’re going to Hell’ thing. It was worse with my social anxiety — I felt like every time that I didn’t witness, it was directly my fault that they would go to Hell. So there was extra anxiety.”

@SweetGeekling observed simply, “Child abuse wrapped in Jesus is still child abuse.”

Many of these supportive responses to Brandt’s tweet came from “exvangelical” Twitter, an online community in which survivors of Christian fundamentalism have been working to get their voices heard for years, using hashtags like #EmptyThePews#ExposeChristianSchools#ChurchToo#ChristianAltFacts and #RaptureAnxiety.

The urgency of this outpouring is a testament to how little we hear in our national conversation from those who have experienced religious trauma. Even though 1 in 4 Americans is religiously unaffiliated — a group referred to as “nones” — our voices are rarely heard. Many of us grew up in religious homes and believe that the religion we experienced was harmful.

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Source: Religion News Service