Growing up in a deeply evangelical family in the Midwest in the ’80s and ’90s, Sarah McCammon was strictly taught to fear God, obey him, and not question the faith. Persistently worried that her gay grandfather would go to hell unless she could reach him, or that her Muslim friend would need to be converted, and that she, too, would go to hell if she did not believe fervently enough, McCammon was a rule-follower and–most of the time–a true believer. But through it all, she was increasingly plagued by fears and deep questions as the belief system she’d been carefully taught clashed with her expanding understanding of the outside world.

more …

less …
  • St. Martin's Press
  • Hardcover
  • March 2024
  • 320 Pages
  • 9781250284471

Buy the Book

$30.00 indies Bookstore


About Sarah McCammon

Sarah McCammon is a National Political Correspondent for NPR and cohost of The NPR Politics Podcast. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including the intersections of politics and religion, reproductive rights, and the conservative movement. She is also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines and has appeared on the BBC, CNN, PBS, and MSNBC. During the 2016 election cycle, Sarah was NPR’s lead political reporter assigned to the Donald Trump campaign and previously reported for NPR Member stations in Georgia, Iowa, and Nebraska. She lives in Norfolk, Virginia with her husband and two children.


“With sensitivity and candor, Sarah McCammon offers readers an intimate window into the world of American evangelicalism. Fellow exvangelicals will find McCammon’s story both startlingly familiar and immensely clarifying, while those looking in from the outside can find no better introduction to the subculture that has shaped the hopes and fears of millions of Americans. Filled with humor, insight, and hard-earned wisdom, The Exvangelicals is a gift to all who find themselves on a spiritual journey.” –Kristin Kobes Du Mez, New York Times bestselling author of Jesus and John Wayne


“No one else could have written The Exvangelicals but Sarah McCammon. The way she seamlessly weaves together her own journalistic expertise and deeply personal experience of leaving evangelicalism to explore this moment in American history is stunning. Immediately after reading this book, I found myself already excited for her next one.” –Nadia Bolz-Weber, New York Times bestselling author of Accidental Saints


The Exvangelicals is a sensitive, informed exploration of what is often most personal and perplexing to us–our faith. McCammon takes the scramble of thoughts, feelings, and fears that characterize this era of religious re-examination and makes them legible. This isn’t just a book about what evangelicalism has become, it is also about the ways people are trying to find what comes next.” –Jemar Tisby, PhD, New York Times bestselling author of The Color of Compromise and How to Fight Racism


“Sarah McCammon’s The Exvangelicals is a necessary and powerful unveiling of Christianity as one of the most powerful forces in American culture and politics. With precision, personal insight, empathy, and rigor, McCammon investigates her own past and in the process illuminates the America of today in all its gory complexities and fervent faith. A must-read for anyone looking to understand American politics, faith, and culture.” –Lyz Lenz, author of God LandBelabored, and This American Ex-Wife


“Sarah McCammon is an extraordinary writer and reporter, telling the story of growing numbers of people deeply disillusioned with their religious upbringing. She writes The Exvangelicals with such precision, passion, and insight because she’s one of them. Highly recommended.” –Brian D. McLaren, author of Do I Stay Christian?

“Making sense of the larger movement currently taking place throughout evangelical spaces is no easy task, but McCammon takes it all on–while anchoring the reader in the personal, human details that made me feel I was not alone in my own increasingly wide-ranging faith journey.” –Jessica Willis Fisher, author of Unspeakable


“A bold, intriguing, intimate read . . . McCammon’s poignant book serves as a launchpad to learn more.” Kirkus Reviews


“Incisive, clear, and deeply compassionate, The Exvangelicals is a brilliant critique of a powerful cultural movement, and a moving meditation on loving (and eventually leaving) one’s roots.” Shelf Awareness


“[A] clear-eyed look at the mass disaffiliation from evangelical churches and culture in recent years . . . a lucid picture of life inside the evangelical community and the complicated choice to leave.” Publishers Weekly

“Informative, thought-provoking, and enlightening.” Booklist

Discussion Questions

  1. Sarah writes about growing up in what’s been described as a “parallel universe,” with Christian TV and radio shows, music, books, and textbooks all designed to insulate children in an evangelical worldview. How do you think different people might respond to that kind of upbringing? 
  2. Many children who grow up in evangelical churches are raised with a belief that it’s their job to save other people by “winning them to Christ.” How did that compare to your spiritual or religious upbringing? 
  3. Many exvangelicals describe feeling uncomfortable with the pressure to try to convert non-Christians to Christianity, or even to convert people from different Christian sects to their specific theology. Do you think it’s possible to hold deep religious beliefs and not on some level want everyone to share them? 
  4. If you’re a religious person, how do you think about other faiths? If you’re not, how do you feel around religious people? 
  5. Sarah’s grandfather is an important character in this book, and her relationship with him leads her to question some of the preconceived ideas she was taught. Have you ever been moved to change or question your beliefs because of someone you knew? 
  6. Many former evangelicals experience a lot of pain in leaving behind a community that once felt like home, even if staying in it is also painful. Have you ever wrestled with something similar? How did you navigate those decisions? 
  7. Have you ever been close to someone who sees the world radically differently than you do? Have you been able to remain close despite your differences? 
  8. Have you ever changed or evolved in a way that was painful for someone close to you? How did you handle conversations about that? 
  9. Sarah writes that the best version of evangelical purity culture taught women to think of themselves as valuable and deserving of healthy, loving relationships— but very often, the takeaway message was that their value was tied up in their sexual “purity.” Many of the messages about sexuality were particularly alienating for queer people in the church. What messages did you receive about sexuality growing up? How did they shape your self-concept?
  10. Many people of color who’ve grown up in spaces dominated by or adjacent to white evangelical culture describe feeling marginalized or excluded even as some leaders spoke about trying to be inclusive. Have you ever felt excluded in a religious community because of your identity?
  11. What is lost by religious traditions when the voices of women, queer people, and people of color are marginalized in a religious community?
  12. Many people who’ve grown up in unhealthy religious communities later struggle with religious trauma. Have you experienced this? How have you dealt with it?
  13. For people who’ve grown up with a strict religious upbringing and left it behind, it can be difficult to decide how to raise their own children. If you’re a parent, how are you parenting similarly or differently from the way you were parented? Do those differences ever cause family friction?
  14. Do you think it’s important for children to have some kind of religious upbringing? How do you talk to your children, or children you may be close to, about the big questions that religion tries to answer? How do you decide what to shelter your children from and what to expose them to?
  15. Religion is often most meaningful and needed at difficult times, such as when facing illness or death. Is it necessary to move through those experiences?
  16. Several exvangelicals described finding community in new and different religious spaces, or outside religion altogether—through education, art, activities like yoga, romantic relationships, and other outlets. How and where do you find community? What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
  17. What are the best and worst aspects of religion? What are the qualities that make for a healthy religious community? And for people who thrive outside of religious communities, how and why do they seem to do that?