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Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church

4.25  ·  Rating details ·  336 ratings  ·  59 reviews
Twenty-one timely, affecting essays by those who survived hardline, authoritarian religious ideology and uprooted themselves from the reality-averse churches that ultimately failed to contain their spirits.

Winner of the 2019 Eos Award.

In this necessary and revealing anthology, Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O Neal collect original and previously published pieces about leaving C
Paperback, 281 pages
Published December 1st 2019 by Epiphany Publishing
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Community Reviews

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Average rating 4.25  · 
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 ·  336 ratings  ·  59 reviews

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Jul 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“I truly felt that for some reason I’ve been spared to tell this story. Everybody I know is dead... I’m still here. Okay, thank you, God. I don’t believe in you, but thank you, anyway.” ~Larry Kramer, ACT UP

Before I get started, let me say that some bad things happened to me when I was a child, things that had nothing at all to do with religion. My father was a high functioning sociopath who ladled out beatings for the slightest transgressions. Even though my beatings (there were LOTS) were stri
Matthew Lloyd
I read Empty the Pews at the end of last year, and I have been digesting it ever since, trying to figure out what to write in a review. My overall sense was of familiarity but in a less-intense setting. I come from a not-too-strict semi-religious background, in that I went to Catholic school in the UK, where it's not such an unusual thing to go to religious state schools, and much of the religious influence in my life came from school and friends rather than home life. I also made a lot of frien ...more
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
I felt something while reading these essays that I haven't really felt before as I make my way through a book: the fact that so much of this carried the heavy feeling of, "Wow, I could have written this myself." And unlike some sarcastic critiques of art, I don't mean that in a demeaning way - I meant it because I, too, have experienced so many of the things these writers shared.

Evangelical Christianity literally ruined my life, and I am still working on picking up those pieces and rearranging
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
Jun 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
Everybody’s story is different. Some of the stories told in this book were as if I was being buried alive and couldn’t escape from the torturer since it seemed that the tortured have no mouth and can not scream because they were in their own private Idaho created by parents who needed to outsource their anger in order to direct it at their defenseless children.

Kudos to all who escaped their abusive relationships. Walking away or changing ones forced illusions that just don’t make sense even whe
Jan 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: know-thy-enemy
I eagerly awaited this book for a long time. I can't say why in the past few years I've fallen down the exvangelical rabbit hole (other than my deep belief that they're responsible for ruining the country (not true; America always sucked) and thus I need to understand them). I grew up Methodist in Tennessee (which is (was?) more mainline anyway, but they are gonna split over LGBTQ+ acceptance issues, a story I've followed with more detached curiosity than sorrow), but I've been an atheist for ov ...more
Full disclosure: I was one of the contributors to this volume of essays. In many ways the stories are very similar, like the anti-conversation narrative, but I think people who have experienced a coming away from the church or a religious deconstruction period will related to these stories. And some are just so beautifully written. I'm grateful to have been a part of it. ...more
Dec 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you have chosen to believe in God, and you have chosen to be a Christian, particularly a conservative Christian, you owe it to yourself to read this book. I haven't read it all -- it's the sort of book you can easily dip into. It contains 21 stories written by people who have left the church. There are five categories of stories:

Purity culture, sexuality, and queerness
Focusing on the family
Trauma and abuse in Christian contexts
American Christianity, diasporas, and missions
Mar 15, 2022 rated it really liked it
As I read through the several essays inside this book, I could not help but think, “I very well could have written something that belongs in this.” The details of being raised in a white evangelical conservative environment truly affects a person, and this book portrays those perfectly through true recountings of those environments. Most of the things in this book that drove people away from conservative evangelicalism and even Christianity itself are the same things that have driven me away fro ...more
Lynette Macleod
I’ve followed Chrissy Stroop on social media for a couple of years, as I found so many familiar voices among the ex-evangelical community there. I spent my adolescent years in an evangelical church (though I wasn’t raised in it) and left in my early twenties. I was disillusioned, frustrated, and angry about a lot of what I’d seen and experienced there. I’d lost years of my own growth (such as hiding my bisexuality and essentially exploding a deep and close friendship over it).
All of which is to
Dec 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Lots of wonderful, touching, poignant stories essays in this book. Some really really good stuff about accepting yourself for you who are above other considerations. And of course, the dull roar of rage that greets stories of such awful abuse, both physical and mental. My move out of American Christianity was tame by comparison.

As a relatively young person (24 when I'm writing this), it was interesting to read perspectives from people who were older who had been out for longer. Their actions he
James Kingman
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2020
Book Reccomendation: Empty the Pews.

If you are either a lapsed member of a church, a present member confused and concerned by the diminishing youth membership, or simply interested in the effect of the American brand of conservative evangelicalism in modern lives, this book may be clarifying.

The last time I spoke at a church event was 11 years ago at Tuesday Fellowship at Rhodes. I talked about how probing for answers and testing the intellectual limits of your faith is not merely acceptable, it
Michael Morgan
Mar 21, 2020 rated it liked it
I did enjoy this book, just as not much as I thought I would. I thought I would be able to relate to all of the essays more and I don’t know if it was just my privileged world view that lead me to think that way but most of the experiences the authors had had within the church were either foreign to me or I had made different revelations than the authors had. Also, for some reason, the Queer essays regarding the church did not hit home for me. I can’t exactly put my finger on it but something wa ...more
Aug 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
this book is so, so important. As someone who has left fundamentalist Christianity, it was both chilling and validating to see some of my own experiences reflected back at me in these essays. This book cultivates a kind of community that I thought I had lost access to, which pushes back on the alienation that is often felt when leaving the church. The beauty of this book is that it is a collection of essays -- you hear a variety of experiences, some of which will resonate more than others. incre ...more
Nov 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
These are nicely written essays. The subject matter as a whole has only so much interest for me, but just because I don’t have much reason to debate for or against Christianity. I don’t really care much about it one way or another unless someone is trying to make me adhere to it, but that’s the same as any other religion doing the same. These essays manage to keep my attention pretty well given that though.
Jan 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Poignant, compelling, but above all: relatable. This book is a must-read for anyone deconstructing from Christianity; for anyone trying to make sense of themselves and the world around them without the false security of a blind faith; for anyone who has felt alone in their journey away from religion. Heartbreaking and hilarious, touching and infuriating, Empty the Pews is an opportunity for readers to explore different perspectives leading to the same conclusion: departing the church.
Nov 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I am so, so grateful for this collection of well-written and deeply personal essays. As an ex-evangelical from the South who escaped that life and fled to San Francisco, I sometimes find myself struggling to explain to my new liberal friends what it was like, and why my relationships with my surviving family are so complicated. This book helps me feel less alone.
Sami Perkins
Feb 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: deconstruction
Amazing and relatable stories- a must for anyone who has - or still does- identified as a Christian. This is truth that needs to be spoken.
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
A great collection of viewpoints on leaving faith behind.

Here are some of my favorite passages:

I say I have sloughed off religion like a diseased limb, like it is no longer of use to me, but that's not entirely true. Without it I am unsteady, vulnerable in a way I couldn't be when I was not of this world. The thing about religion is that when you have it, it feels good, like any opiate, the withdrawals are painful.
I do not feel cured or free. Instead I hang in the disquiet of remission. Sometime
Aug 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: trauma
This might sound weird, but I'm so happy that this book exists. Obviously I wish religious trauma wasn't a thing altogether, but it is, and this anthology made me feel very seen in so many ways. I like that there it contains a diversity of experiences and styles.
Would wholeheartedly recommend to people grappling with religious trauma (be it overwhelming or fading in the background most of the time), as well as to Christians willing to acknowledge the sort of abuse committed in the name of God w
Nov 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I have followed Chrissy's work for quite some time and respect her infinitely. This book of essays she and Lauren curated is such an important reflection on all that is wrong with Christianity. As a women whose family was torn apart by the "well meaning evangelicals" who outed, abused, alienated and almost destroyed a very close family member for being a lesbian, I certainly have more than enough bones to pick with religion and the underlying toxicity of the church. Although I was made to attend ...more
Charles Wagner
Dec 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Misleading title

The title is a bit misleading. Regardless of what the Pew Research Center publishes, Evangelicals are not losing ground. In fact, the group(s) is probably more powerful than ever.

This book primarily contains 21 mini-autobiographies of those who have left their religious communities of birth, a vast majority because they did not belong in the accepted heterosexual stereotype.

But, although the subjects left their family religions, the religions never seemed to leave them and ha
Jan 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What does it mean to shed a whole ideological system? What happens to your world when familiar ways of meaning-making are lost? These are the most compelling questions this anthology poses, and allows a diversity of writers to explore in different styles, from different angles.

All of the essays in this anthology are well-written and interesting and several left me with insights I am still thinking about a month after reading them. The "stickiest" of these was Lauren O'Neal's, which explores the
Richard T Evans
Jul 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Yes someone is out there like you.

Great book, I didn't really have any expectations starting, I already know that God is not real, and did.not have a strict religious upbringing to overcome and for each that conclusion. My favorite chapters are Becoming Lost and Rapture. Would love to.read more on the reform school in the DR, as it reminds me of the children's home in brother spent about seven years in and outbid growing up. Run by older southern Baptist employees would beat the carp out of us
Aug 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Excellent collection of essays from a broad range of perspectives. This collection is thoughtful, introspective, and personal. A major issue is the need to provide the sort of community that cults/religions/gangs provide, but without the quid pro quo. Sharing these kinds of life experiences is one step towards buliding that sort of empathetic, honest community. To manipulate good people and compel them to do harm in the name of purported righteousness there is no greater weapon than the dogma an ...more
Apr 18, 2021 rated it really liked it
As with so many books that are a compilation essays, some really struck me hard while others were happily over quickly. It's simply because writing styles are different and how some people's stories feel closer to home than others. Everything was well written and thoughtful. I mention this just so you don't pass on the book if the first couple of chapters don't interest you. There is a variety of perspectives and styles in the book, so it is worth reading on. I personally thought that the co-edi ...more
Apr 27, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion, non-fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Lisa Anderson
Not all of these short stories are created equal. While some authors offer critical insight into evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity (or, sometimes, Christianity in general), others prattle on about losing their faith or any other arbitrary story they selected. At times I felt I was listening to R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion" but with less creativity. Not all authors are particularly adept with writing, either. I noticed rookie over veteran writers early on. I would have enjoyed the book ...more
Kelli Freed
Sep 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Empty the Pews is made up of personal essays from people who have left the church for various reason. Any one of these stories could have been mine and many were very similar. Whether you’re a Christian, a struggling Christian, someone of another belief, or someone that doesn’t buy into this stuff, I think it’s an important read. It’s important to know about others experiences in life. It’s especially important for anyone who thinks it’s not their fault or the churches fault for people leaving t ...more
Hannah Dyal
Jun 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful collection of stories with a common thread of what it feels like to separate yourself from the religion you were raised in. What strikes me most is how similar yet different each story is. Each story has it's own arc, and some are very different, but there is a commonality that brings them all together. Encouraging and hopeful for those seeking something when a religion has betrayed them or left them. ...more
Gillen Brown
Dec 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a collection of essays from those who have left religion, mostly conservative Evangelical Christianity, after it played a big part in their lives. I have a very similar story, so many of these stories were very relatable for me. Many of them clarified things I've been thinking myself, so reading this was healing for me. It's hard to write too much of a review without digging into the individual stories, but if you've left Christianity, then reading this book may be healing for you too. ...more
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