Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church
Stroop and O’Neal, both former Christians, deliver a collection of essays about losing faith, begun with the Twitter hashtag #EmptyThePews, which created a groundswell of response from those who had left Christianity. Though the pieces address American Christianity and are weighted towards conservative evangelical Protestants, the essays feature diverse viewpoints within that scope. In “Now Defunct,” Stroop writes of a surreal teenage mission trip to Russia in 1999 that made her rethink her faith. In “Saint Tornado-Kick” Peter Counter explores the stifling Catholic schools of his youth and the moment he lost faith, during a robbery in Costa Rica. Some themes are repeated—discovering and embracing queerness, feeling out of place, questions of theodicy—and others are explicitly addressed in section headings, such as “Trauma and Abuse in Christian Contexts,” in which Mel Wells offers a gripping account of the complicated, abusive relationship she had with her Mormon stepfather in “Burden of Proof.” While some entries are overly brief or serve as just-the-facts recitations with little reflection, many others, such as Carmen Maria Machado’s story of a toxic friendship with a youth pastor, “A Girl’s Guide to Sexual Purity,” stand out for their lyricism and lucid introspection. This collection serves as an important public testimonial of those who have walked away from religion, and will surely inspire others to tell their stories. (Dec.)
Correction: An earlier version of this review used an incorrect pronoun to refer to contributor Mel Wells. It also incorrectly noted the book was self-published.