Today I’m proud to be publishing the following interview with Cindy Wang Brandt, an ex-Evangelical writer and advocate for social justice and healthy parenting for whom I have great respect. Cindy founded and moderates the large, active Facebook community Raising Children Unfundamentalist, where she is truly doing, dare I say it, the Lord’s work by helping parents from fundamentalist/Evangelical Christian backgrounds unpack the destructive legacy of raising children in fundamentalism so that they can do better by their own children. She also blogs on Patheos at Unfundamentalist Parenting, where she once invited me to contribute an essay on the psychological impact that being raised in conservative Evangelicalism–which is a variety of fundamentalism and as such pervaded by spiritual abuse–had on me.
In addition to the above, Cindy brings to the table the perspective of being a missionary convert who internalized white Evangelical ideology and norms as a child in Taiwan, later coming to recognize and work against the sexism and racism inherent in that type of Christianity. In today’s ex-Evangelical discussions, Cindy’s voice is unique and important, and I’m really glad to have connected with her. You can read more about Cindy’s story and her impressive projects below.
Christopher Stroop: Cindy, thanks for agreeing to this interview. Could you tell us a little bit about your background and where you are now? How did you end up converting to Evangelical Protestantism in childhood, and what factors have shaped your understanding of faith since then?
Cindy Wang Brandt: I call myself a missionary convert. I was born and mostly raised in Taiwan, and my parents chose to send me to a school for missionary children in order to expose me to a western education. For me, it was full immersion in the Evangelicalism culture of the 90s, with a heavy dose of zealous missionary activity. I was technically converted via a friend who is a missionary kid, but the culture of the school was designed to evangelize us, from Bible class to Bible studies to chapels to missions trips—the works.
My faith journey has been one of unveiling the various social/historical/cultural layers that accompanied the “gospel” story I was told. As a non-westerner, I had to unpack how much of Christianity was wrapped up in American culture via American missionaries, with all the good and the bad. That was only the beginning as I began to also grapple with my gender, my race, and how the “Good News” given to me turned out to be kinda really bad news for a woman of color like me. This threw me on a path of extracting myself from the toxicity of my childhood and learning to recover and heal and find wholeness for myself.
CS: You’ve mentioned that you have a transgender brother. You are currently a fierce advocate for LGBTQ inclusion and acceptance, but have you always found acceptance and affirmation of non-heteronormative gender identities and sexualities compatible with Christian faith? If this isn’t too private of a question, does your whole family accept your brother, or has there been some fallout, given Evangelicalism’s seeming inability to evolve on these issues?
CWB: Yes, the story of my trans brother coming out and the trauma both he and I endured as people who used to be intimately embedded within the circles of Evangelicalism has been, well, traumatic. No, I have not always been gay affirming, I was a product of my evangelical upbringing. Like many others, I had to look for ways to rationalize loving gay people as who they are with biblical, or at least theological, justification. This was important to the integrity of my faith at the time. I want to respect those who require this, because I remember needing it myself. But honestly, where I am right now, I don’t need to read a theological treatise to justify loving people; it’s unnecessary to my current ethical paradigm. Love is love, and that is all.
My brother tells me his is a story of privilege. Indeed, he is one of the rare people from his trans community whose family accepts him. And we are both proud and nonchalant about this. Nonchalant because it shouldn’t be surprising or special to love our own brother/son, but proud because we also don’t take it for granted when so many others face rejection from their families. I hope people can see the way my brother is thriving in an atmosphere of acceptance and witness for themselves how affirmation breeds life.
CS: How has being a woman of color in conservative Evangelicalism shaped your experience? Do you think that white Evangelicals and Evangelicals of color represent a single demographic community in any meaningful sense? Do you have an opinion on the work of Deborah Jian Lee, author of Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women, and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism?
CWB: I ADORE Deborah Jian Lee and her book on rescuing Jesus, mostly because it gave language to much of my own experience. Yes, I internalized a lot of sexism, by believing my best path in life was to marry a godly husband and serve him while neglecting my own gifts. Yes, I internalized a lot of racism by assimilating into white Evangelical culture. I am still in the thick of reclaiming my own identity and voice, discovering what it means to live as authentically myself with all of my rich heritage and power as a woman. Of course, white supremacy and patriarchy reign supreme beyond Evangelical borders, so I have to resist even outside of the church. But that’s what makes it all the more frustrating when I see Evangelicalism not helping the resistance, but exacerbating, or perhaps even more sadly poignant, as the breeding ground for the racism and sexism we face in the world.
CS: Can you tell us about your work on Unfundamentalist Parenting? Who are the Unfundamentalist Christians, how did you get involved with them, and what originally motivated you to start writing about how to parent children in an “unfundamentalist” way?
CWB: It began with a simple blog series. As a faith shifting parent, I struggled with knowing how to pass on my faith to my children when it’s shifting and crumbling and reshaping, while in the thick of parenting, so I decided to blog about it. I titled the series Raising Children Unfundamentalist, to capture both my own path of faith deconstruction and a search for a better path away from authoritarian parenting. I thought I was such a unique snowflake until I found out there was already a large blog presence and Facebook page with the same title, Unfundamentalist Christians. Since then, they have welcomed me with wide open arms to contribute together to the public discourse. They have changed their name to Unfundamentalist (to reflect a broader scope of conversation), and I continue to quite proudly align myself with that crew of kindred spirits.
CS: Tell us a bit about your experience creating and running the very large and active Facebook group, Raising Children Unfundamentalist. When did you found the group, and how have you adjusted as it’s grown to around 11,000 members? What are some of the challenges and highlights of running a group like that, and what place do you think online support groups can or should occupy in building ex-Evangelical community?
CWB: I founded RCU in November 2015, so it’s been a little over 2 years. Even though it has grown in size, I have not changed the way I run it in any major way. I seek to provide quality resources, moderate meaningful conversations, and create camaraderie with like-minded people. I know social media is a challenge for some people, and moderating a group forum sounds like hell for a lot of introverts, but I genuinely enjoy good conversations, so it is right up my alley.
I am very pro social media. It’s hard for me to understand the judgment towards “click-tivism” when we’ve seen the movements that have risen out of powerful hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter and more recently #MeToo, and from your own hashtag creations, Chris, like #EmptyThePews. I’ve noticed that RCU has a large demographic of Bible Belt folks, and I think it’s because people from liberal bastions like Portland have physical communities. It’s the isolated unfundamentalists who need support online. I’m honored to provide a refuge for them. I am always happy to support others who want to create online spaces—if technology serves to make our lives better, then it is the best use of these tools.
CS: Speaking of ex-Evangelical community, do you consider ex-Evangelicals to represent a movement as well, or to have the potential to become one? Many ex-Evangelicals, yourself included, are advocates for social justice. Do you think that ex-Evangelicals ought to be organizing politically or engaging in advocacy as ex-Evangelicals, or that we bring anything particular to the table in this regard?
CWB: I don’t feel it is my lane to speak to whether ex-Evangelicals are a movement. I identify as a writer more than an activist; my job is to tell the truth. What I am certain of is that ex-Evangelicals are able to contribute to social justice conversations in a very unique way that should not be ignored. Religion reporting, in general, is under-appreciated, which is mind-boggling because it is the driving motivation for politics, culture, family, academia, just about everything that is meaningful to be human. Regardless of where one lands on the religious spectrum (from fundamentalism to atheism), you’re missing a big chunk of why people do what they do if you ignore spiritual roots.
In particular, ex-Evangelicals who have gone through the excruciating process of forging a new identity have done all the hard work of identifying what is truly toxic. Take the election of Donald Trump. How much power white Evangelicals held to be capable of helping a racist, sexist, immoral man win surprised many people. But people who have had to endure the dark side of Evangelicalism, having been on the wrong side of their doctrinal fence, know exactly the kind of power they have and how they wield it (with fear, control, shame, social ostracism, gaslighting, etc.)
Glennon Doyle says sensitive kids are like canaries in a coal mine, they can smell the toxins and warn everyone else. I think ex-Evangelicals are like that, and most of us happen to have been sensitive kids growing up as well.
CS: You’re currently working on a book project. Could you tell us about that process and what you hope to accomplish with the book?
CWB: Yes, I’m writing a book about parenting. We don’t have an official title for it yet, but I think of it like a parenting for social justice book. I want to help parents raise children WITH justice FOR justice, and to make the world a better place by raising children with gentleness and integrity. If you’d like to follow for news of book release, you can sign up for my parenting newsletter here.
CS: Is there anything else you’d like to say to readers of Not Your Mission Field?
CWB: Thank you for reading a bit of my story today. I do everything that I do as a public writer in hopes of connecting meaningfully with others. It’s how I met Chris and have learned so much from him, and I am grateful for an opportunity to be introduced to his people. In Chinese we have a concept called “yuan”; it’s kind of like the idea of serendipity or fate. So I am honored to have the “yuan” to have connected with you today.