Youth Group

Coming of age in the church of Christian nationalism

Non-Fiction - Social Issues
192 Pages
Reviewed on 07/15/2023
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Author Biography

Lance Aksamit was born into a world dominated by two authoritarian regimes - one political and the other ontological. General Manuel Antonio Noriega Moreno was the Panamanian autocrat, and Jesus the benevolent dictator. These two regimes found themselves at odds in the backwater jungles of the Darien when Noriega accused Lance’s blind father of being a spy. The son of an ordained minister and missionary, Lance’s life was intended to have a straight and narrow trajectory and for a while it did. He grew up fully immersed in the Evangelical church, not some fringe element or offshoot, but mainstream nondenominational “born again” Evangelicalism. As a teen, he picketed abortion clinics, accosted strangers in the name of Jesus, and debated his teachers on the falsehoods of evolution, global warming, and Catholicism. He rarely failed to perform such Christly duties as warning fellow students about the dangerous lies humanists and atheists were busy propagating in the classrooms. Lance was an annoying zealot.

The unthinking convictions Lance adopted at a young age would later propel him into close proximity with the Alt-right. They hawked secret and suppressed knowledge that smelled of home. Ultimately, his flirtation with right-wing conspiracy theorists fizzled out. However, his short-lived immersion in the burgeoning Alt-right did provide a unique perspective from which to critique. Lance found his way from Christian fundamentalism to atheism and from right-wing conservatism to Marxist humanism over the course of 8 years while he traveled the globe.

Lance is currently a history teacher.

    Book Review

Reviewed by Joe Wisinski for Readers' Favorite

Youth Group by Lance Aksamit is the author’s personal story about living in evangelical Christianity intertwined with the current wave of Christian nationalism, a powerful political force in the United States. Aksamit is the son of Christian parents who worked as missionaries. He was taught not only about the Bible and evangelicalism but about the unique culture that’s found in strict Christianity. So he participated in such activities as several-times-a-week church attendance and evangelizing others. He was also taught to participate in many activities that are not part of the lives of most children and teenagers, such as purity culture and the burning of CDs that are not thought to be appropriate for Christians. Aksamit eventually left Christianity and wrote from the standpoint of a former Christian. The book provides insight into the history of Christianity in the United States, including how it interacts with government, especially in the current time. Each chapter of the book begins with an anecdote from another person who has also left evangelical Christianity.

Youth Group by Lance Aksamit is fascinating from beginning to end. The author writes honestly, not hiding his feelings about evangelical Christianity, both when he was a part of it and after he left. I liked that Aksamit wrote to evangelical Christians, former Christians, and those unfamiliar with evangelicalism. It’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, for non-evangelicals to understand the hold that the movement has on its adherents, so Aksamit’s book serves a valuable purpose in explaining the dominance of Christianity on the lives of those who are true believers. The explanation of Christian nationalism and its effect on politics and culture is another important aspect. The intertwining of the history of evangelicalism with Christian nationalism serves as a warning for the country. Youth Group should be required reading for evangelical Christians so they can see their religion from the standpoint of a former practitioner. The book is also valuable for those who, like Aksamit, have left the church because they’ll find their feelings validated. I highly recommend this excellent book.

Pikasho Deka

It's undeniable that in recent years, with the advent of social media and the internet, there has been a rise in religious fanaticism and nationalism in many different parts of the world and America isn't exempt from this phenomenon. Youth Group by Lance Aksamit is a book that provides an eye-opening look at the overall impact of Evangelical Christianity throughout America's history. Born in Panama, Lance's parents joined a fundamentalist Christian commune in Wisconsin that introduced him to the tenets of Evangelical Christianity. Having grown up as a member of various Christian youth groups, Lance presents his experiences of the "purity" culture, the CD-burning phase of the 80s and 90s, and the Evangelical martyr complex, which made foes of everyone who did not agree to their way of life, real or imagined.

Lance Aksamit gives readers a thorough overview of Evangelical Christianity and its influence on various aspects of American society. This part memoir, part historical nonfiction book explores how intertwined religious fanaticism is with nationalism and, in a broader lens, has its roots in fascism. Youth Group perfectly showcases how Evangelists often portray a form of self-victimization and secular oppression to push their beliefs onto others, negating everything not conforming to their principles as basically evil and a threat to America. Despite the serious subject matter, the author sprinkles humor throughout the pages, bringing much-needed fun to the proceedings. As someone who is not a fan of religious fanaticism of any kind, I found this book informative, educational, and thoroughly eye-opening to read—highly recommended.

Essien Asian

As Lance Aksamit takes a trip down memory lane, he reminisces about his youth and the version of America he grew up in. Things have changed since those days when terrorism and the tech boom consistently made the headlines but one thing that has remained constant through the years has been the Christian Evangelical front's approach to fighting the sins of the flesh. His life as the son of missionaries gave him a unique perspective on this group's activities that, over time, have gotten more militant in their thinking and veered even more prominently into the nation's political consciousness. For those who struggle to understand this subset of individuals and their intentions for the nation, he has been kind enough to pen a book about his experiences growing up. Youth Group is the product of that journey.

Lance Aksamit’s book focuses on how unusual practices have pushed the evangelical church to the forefront of the discussion in the American political sphere. His memoir is quite detailed as it touches on the history of the church and the lesser-known practices of its next generation showcasing how a culture of intolerance has pushed many of the nation’s future leaders toward the precipice. His personal experiences make an interesting read as he is honest enough to call it as he sees it even where his parents are concerned. This eliminates the tendency for a book to sound a little too righteous for the neutral reader. The icing on this revealing read is the excerpts from the accounts of others who went through similar circumstances as Aksamit. They paint a picture that is better imagined than experienced. Youth Group is the book you need to read that everyone tries not to talk about.


Funny and poignant expose of Christian nationalism.