“A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something.” --George Marsden
I was raised in a family of evangelical fundamentalists who were living in Colorado Springs at the same moment that James Dobson founded Focus on the Family, whose dogma figured prominently into my upbringing. Their subsequent indoctrination and religious fervor created a stranglehold on my life and experiences that cannot be understated. Decades later, I have unexpectedly found myself living in Colorado Springs again—which has since become an evangelical mecca—and in a current political moment whose very origins, I contend, can be traced to this place.
How did modern Christianity get so angry? How did its outer-most fringes become the center of contemporary American life? How did a relatively small group of people come to dominate our current political discourse, shifting policies that disenfranchise vast swaths of the population based on race and class? Where did it all start and how can we begin to understand it?
A significant portion of #exvangelicals involves conducting a typology of all of the physical structures that house Christian church services within the city limits—there are nearly 400 of them. What can one learn by examining the architectural language of these houses of worship? What other kinds of intangible information is made visible by looking at what these places call themselves by name, by whether they appear welcoming or austere or commercial, by how the sky appeared that day? What does immersion in the collective imagery of hundreds of churches in one town do to one’s notion of “church” or “holy” or “sanctuary?” Through this taxonomical analysis, I am able to explore my experience and understanding of these buildings as spaces that encourage alienation, bewilderment, fear and the uncanny.
Equally important to this project is speaking with and archiving the stories of those who, like myself, were raised in markedly religious Christian households that rigidly extolled dogmatic theology and lifestyle choices—that they then subsequently left, rejected or radically altered as adults. When someone becomes a religious convert from a state of non-belief, they are said to be "born again," but what is it called when it happens in the reverse? When one has lost their faith, or never had it to begin with but later deliberately renounces it? What is it to suffer the loss of an ideal?
When one leaves or rejects the teachings of such a community, or of their family, it is not uncommon —literally or figuratively—to have one’s picture turned towards the wall, or otherwise be disowned. The religious community can be so tightly knit, and individual churches and families even more so. I had heard stories of these exiles from the point-of-view of the avowed faithful, but never from the subject position of those who had been exiled. In the spring of 2018, I happened upon the hashtag #exvangelical, and then proceeded down a deep rabbit hole that would serve as my introduction to a growing community and movement of folks who either recently or for years had been struggling to disentangle themselves from the bonds of what is known in therapeutic circles as “religious trauma syndrome.” The process of this unlearning is referred to as “deconstruction.” As I continue to be involved with this community, reading, writing and identifying with such similarly traumatic and frankly bizarre stories of our collective upbringings, I recognize that the importance of these stories being shared and heard extends beyond the realm of self-care or self-growth. It is an important in-roads for the rest of America to understand the context of our current political and cultural moment, and one that further affects those harmed or otherwise influenced by our politics and policies.
The story of the #exvangelicals is the story of the end of a way of life, but it is also an account of the fall of what we’ve collectively recognized as The American Dream; a legacy that is more presently its living nightmare.
nota bene: if you had an upbringing such as described in this statement, or experiences like those described in this project, and are interested in participating, contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org