I’ve been doing my volunteer work for over a year now, compiling lists of resources to help people who are leaving or have left high-control religious groups (cults, for sure, but also the kind of churches that aren’t necessarily regarded as cults but which take over their members’ entire lives). It’s deeply fulfilling work, and it makes me happy to know that I’m helping people build stronger, more meaningful lives. There are so many people out there who need this kind of support, and this is obvious in books like Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church, edited by Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neal (Epiphany Publishing, 2019). This has been on my list since it came out, but the pandemic stopped me from visiting the nearby library where it was located. The pandemic isn’t over, unfortunately, but I’ve been able to check books out from that library lately, and I’m thrilled! (Also, I learned that Chrissy Stroop and I have a mutual friend, which makes me feel cool by association – the only kind of cool I’ve ever been, hehehe.)
This is a collection of essays by various authors who have left different forms of Christianity. Some have left more cult-like groups (like the IFB); others have left what are regarded as more mainstream churches, evangelical or otherwise. What all have in common is an awakening, be it sudden or gradual, that this was not a good fit for them, for various reasons. Some left immediately afterwards; others tried hard to cram themselves into a box where they would never fit. All made their way out in a painful process that, for many, takes a lifetime to recover from.
I love essay collections, and this was a great read on a difficult and emotional subject. I was pleased to recognize many of the authors – some from Twitter, others because I’ve read their writing elsewhere. The authors are all in various stages of exit: some are still freshly out, while others have been out for years. Their pain and sadness are all similar, however; it’s hard to leave such all-encompassing belief systems, and it shows in these essays.
Empty the Pews is thought-provoking. Not quite a condemnation of Christianity, but it points out where it hurts its members, where it’s doing more to chase people out than fill the pews, and the pain it causes, which can ripple down through the generations. Ms. Stroop and Ms. O’Neal have collected and edited a wonderful collection of essays that doesn’t hold back in illustrating the pain its authors have gone through, and this book should be an eye-opener for those who haven’t had the experiences of their religion pinning a target on their back solely for who they are.
Wonderful collection, and I’m glad I finally got to read it.
Visit Chrissy Stroop’s website here.
Follow Lauren O’Neal on Twitter here.
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