Q&A With Sarah McCammon

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Q&A With Sarah McCammon 

After recently finishing EXVangelicals: Loving, Living and Leaving the White Evangelical Church by Sarah McCammon, I have the honor and pleasure of doing this Q&A with her discussing the book which will be published on March 19th! Sarah is a journalist who’s reporting mainly covers political, social & cultural divides in America. The link to order the book is available here

Q: Sarah, would you like to tell the readers of the blog briefly about The EXVangelicals?

A: At its core, The Exvangelicals is the story of millions of Americans who were raised in evangelicalism at a time when the movement was at its peak – and are now coming to terms with the impact of that movement.

The numbers have fluctuated a bit but starting roughly around the late 1980s and continuing off and on to the mid-2000s, nearly 1 in 4 Americans identified as white evangelicals. Those of us who were growing up or coming of age at that time were raised in a massive religious subculture that was also becoming deeply intertwined with an increasingly powerful right-wing political project. 

And in, many of us are reflecting on its impact – both on the larger culture and on our own lives. The Exvangelicals is part memoir and part reporting. It tells our personal and collective stories at a time when the seeds that were being sown by the religious right back in the 1980s and ‘90s have borne fruit in the form of Trumpism, an increasingly conservative Supreme Court, and a deepening alignment with anti-democratic movements like white Christian nationalism.

Q: In the Acknowledgements section, you wrote As I’ve told several people while writing this book, I feel like I’ve spent my entire life—certainly my adult life—working on it. When did you realize you needed to write this book? Why was now the right time to release it & how long did it take you to write it? 


A: I do feel that in many ways I’ve been writing this my whole life. But after covering the 2016 campaign and watching the events of January 6, 2021, unfold – with their deep and explicit connections to Christian nationalism – I felt like this was the time to write the book.

There were many things about growing up in the white evangelical movement that I struggled with long before 2016, though. An important character in the book is my gay grandfather, whose sexuality and secular beliefs created a rift with my family and forced me to confront different ideas from what I was being taught at my church and Christian school. 

That happened a long time ago, and as an adult I’d largely distanced myself from my evangelical background. Then in 2016, I was assigned to cover the presidential campaign, and I found myself confronted with this history and the power of the evangelical movement all over again. Having grown up seeing evangelicals oppose former President Bill Clinton over his moral failings, I became very curious about their responses to Donald Trump. I wanted to understand how they and their leaders would contend with this Faustian bargain they seemed to be making. 

At the same time, I noticed that lots of other people with evangelical backgrounds were wrestling with some of these same questions – often very publicly on social media or in podcasts. Some were very publicly distancing themselves from the white evangelical movement. Trump seemed to be a catalyst for those conversations, but they were also unearthing all sorts of other things – trauma surrounding sexuality, race, abuse, and even apocalyptic theology. 

I was aware of data indicating that white Christianity, including the evangelical movement – was on the decline. This was happening while evangelical political power in America had reached its apex. 

I started making notes off and on in 2017 and began actively writing a book proposal during the pandemic. Then I spent about a year reporting and writing the book, and another year off and on editing and revising it. Most of the writing took place in 2022, the same year that a U.S. Supreme Court with three justices chosen by Trump overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, and the book is being published as that court considers cases related to Trump’s alleged efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

So, it feels like the right time to be collecting and sharing these stories. We hear a lot about what evangelicals believe and why they believe it, but we don’t hear nearly as much about the many who leave.

Q: What lessons do you hope both religious and nonreligious people take away from reading EXVangelicals? 

A: I wrote this book both for people with deep experience in the evangelical world and for those with relatively little understanding of it. For those from the evangelical world, particularly those who’ve struggled with that background, I hope they will feel seen and described. For those on the outside, particularly those who’ve felt confused or confounded by evangelicalism, I hope they will come away with more understanding of their evangelical and exvangelical friends and loved ones – and more insight into how we got where we are today, politically, and culturally. Through my experiences and interviews with dozens of others, I’ve tried to paint a very intimate and granular picture of what it’s like inside the evangelical world – and what it’s like to move beyond it.

Q: If you can spoil, what parts if any, were the most painful to revisit? 


A: The people who spoke to me for this book were so open and authentic in sharing their experiences, and I felt that it was important to be equally frank in sharing my own. The book is organized around several key points of cognitive dissonance that many of us have experienced growing up evangelical – themes including sexuality, theology, abuse, and extremism. For many of us, including myself, those tension points were the product of painful experiences – especially some involving our families. Those were the hardest parts to revisit. But I thought hard about it, and ultimately shared what I felt I needed to share. And so far, I’m hearing from people who are reading the book that many of those moments are resonating deeply for them.


Q: In the book you mentioned feeling so uncomfortable and pressured to convert your Muslim friend to Christianity. As a Catholic Christian myself, were you ever pressured to try to convert any Catholic friends to the evangelical faith? Not to lump all evangelicals, but there are some evangelicals who spread lies about my faith saying that we worship saints, especially The Virgin Mary. So, I had to ask this question even if it wasn’t mentioned in the book. 

A: Our view of Catholicism was complicated. I’d often hear things like “some Catholics are Christians” (which would seem like an unintelligible statement to anyone who’s studied church history but reflects the evangelical understanding of what it means to be “truly Christian,” which is to have embraced a specific view of salvation). We were asked to “share Jesus” with anyone we suspected of not being “truly saved,” and yes, that could include Catholics. We were often told that Catholics focused on works – doing good deeds – rather than belief in the grace of God. I realize this is a huge oversimplification and misunderstanding of Catholic theology, but that is what we were told. For us, salvation was not about baptism or confirmation or confession, but simply a matter of the heart, between the individual and God. The only question was, “Have you accepted Jesus as your savior and repented of your sin?” We were taught that doing so was as simple as praying a private prayer. Ironically, though, for all the emphasis on individual salvation and a personal relationship with God, it was very easy to be viewed by others in the movement as not having your heart in the right place, or not being truly saved.

Q: What’s it like being a journalist for NPR? What advice would you give to anyone wanting to go into journalism?


A: I love the pursuit of understanding, information, and truth. I love being there for important moments in history and having license to ask strangers questions and probe their thinking about important matters. I have always loved words and writing, so I love that part of it, too. The most difficult part for me is the endless pace of news, the cycle of adrenaline and sometimes exhaustion. I’m also a parent, as many of my colleagues are, and balancing those realities can be tricky. I would tell aspiring journalists to think hard about that part of it. But if you are a news junkie and love to think and learn and ask questions and tell stories, it can be truly exhilarating.

Q: Are you currently writing your next book? If it’s not too early to say, what is the topic about this time around?


A:  Yes, I’m in the early stages of researching what I’m hopeful will become the next book project. I’ll just say it’s something that flows logically from The Exvangelicals, and it’s a topic that feels challenging but also exciting and hopeful.