"Empty pews" by Jason Scott / CC BY 2.0

“Empty the Pews” Gives Voice To Those Who’ve Escaped Toxic Christianity

Dec 11, 2019

By Chrissy Stroop and Lauren O’Neil

What inspired you to put together Empty the Pews: Stories of Leaving the Church?

Chrissy Stroop: When I first approached Lauren with the idea, it seemed to me that capturing this moment of major generational conflict and shift around religion and identity would be a valuable thing to do. We began working on the project in the summer of 2016, and by fall the religiously unaffiliated, or “nones,” had exceeded a fifth of the U.S. population, with sociologists having linked the rapid growth of this demographic to the Christian Right’s culture wars.

Lauren and I both believed that it would be good for the “chattering classes” not just to be talking about the nones, but to give us a seat at the table. And we believed that having a talented and diverse group of writers craft powerful personal essays about surviving authoritarian and abusive Christian Right upbringings could be a way to tell the world that we are not just statistics, that we have voices that deserve to be heard.

Lauren O’Neal: I would say the genesis of the project goes back even further than that. When Chrissy and I first met, one of the first things we bonded over was having left the faiths we grew up in (although we were probably both at pretty different points in that process than we are now, over ten years later). I think we were both struck by how our stories were completely different yet were similar in so many ways, which of course makes you think about what you’d find if you juxtaposed a whole bunch more stories with each other. We started saying, “One day we should do an anthology on this” in, like, 2012! And it took this long to actually make it happen.

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