Deconstruction of one’s fundamentalist religion is common on social media, but that doesn’t make it trendy. Trendy implies that it’s being done because it’s popular and for the “likes.” One famous pastor even claimed people are deconstructing because “it’s sexy.” There’s nothing more “sexy” than being disliked and branded as traitors by both Evangelicals and the groups we oppressed as Evangelicals. I’m not saying feel sorry for us; I’m pointing out we don’t do this to win the popularity contest.
So, why am I deconstructing? Despite the claims of wanting to be liked, rebelling against God’s authority, and letting my feelings deceive me, the answer is simple. I am deconstructing to arrive at a place of authentic faith. I am a Christian, I prayed the prayer and I still firmly believe in all of the key doctrines and confessions. It is arrogant to say otherwise. I’m deconstructing to save my faith from all of the garbage it has accumulated for the last twenty-five years.
In my Introduction to Philosophy college course, I learned about a German theologian by the name of Friedrich Schleiermacher. Schleiermacher was confronted by higher criticism coming out of German theological schools and new ideas that put prior understandings of Christian truth in doubt. After thinking through these critiques, his new approach sought to make Christian faith more personal and up to the interpretation of the reader. To Schleiermacher, this approach encouraged a more authentic faith, even though he conceded it wasn’t a perfect one. Schleiermacher was not alone in his desire to keep the core of Christian faith while dispensing with what was not true.
Fundamentalist Evangelicalism put a lot of trappings on my faith that cannot be justified or proven. Most of the trappings revolve around assumptions based on dogmatic doctrines like: inerrancy, the idea that the original manuscripts of the Bible are curated by God and do not contain errors; textual infallibility, which is the claim that the writing of the text is completely authoritative; and scriptural sufficiency, the idea that the Bible is all you need and contains the answers to all life’s questions. Religion that is authentic, adaptable, and correctable cannot exist in concert with these doctrines. That’s why if the Bible says it, I don’t necessarily believe it, and it doesn’t settle the question. I want a faith that is intellectually honest and spiritually humble. Evangelicalism does not provide this because it embraces fundamentalism and dogma.
There’s much to unlearn from Evangelicalism. I’ve spent years trying to detach my mind from what fundamentalism preaches: dogma, reactionary theology, and prejudices. Often when interacting with others on social media I will catch myself saying something in a tone that is too certain. I realize that I’m not trying to get to the truth; I’m trying to be right. Doubt is an unpleasant but necessary bedfellow for one who takes on this faith overhaul. I’ve found myself angry at being lied to, depressed at the pain I’ve caused, and confused about how to move forward. There is always fear and shame lurking in the back of my mind whispering, “What if you’re wrong? God will be angry with you…” I don’t believe this is true, but the impulse is always submerged in my religiously abused subconscious.
Deconstruction is not triumphalism. We’re not throwing parties and hosting orgies. We don’t boast about how we’ve slain the dragon of fundamentalism in its lair – because you never do that, or at least I haven’t managed to do it. As someone who’s been homebound for most of the pandemic, I struggle with how I’m living out this new understanding of faith. I feel like an actor at times, maybe because I am one. I live with a deep frustration at how many years I wasted in Evangelicalism, lying to myself and not taking a stand against its abuses sooner. My Evangelical pastors and professors lied to me about other people to make themselves look holier and better. Do you realize what this does to trust? And they did it all in the name of Jesus. So much of my deconstruction journey has been angry, and that, too, has been strange and difficult coming from a place that told me, “do not let the sun go down on your anger.”
My M.Div. was obtained from Liberty Divinity School (yes, that Liberty) at the end of 2013. While there are aspects about the education I appreciate, like the exposure to translations of Patristic texts and learning about the Southern Baptist Resurgence, there’s a lot to dislike. I’ve since learned about liberal theology, liberation theology, neo-orthodox theology, Greek Orthodox theology, and other forms of Christian faith. I’ve learned how Judaism is misunderstood and slandered in our Christian circles, and it has been humbling and wrecking to discover how our own sacred text paints our Jewish neighbors in ahistorical, biased lights. Christianity has a history of embellishing facts to make itself look better than other religions and divert attention away from its own shortcomings.
Christianity is the source of white supremacy and white European privilege. Christianity was the justification for the enslavement of an entire race of people and the genocide of another. Christianity has been the primary driver of terror and abuse toward those who are LGBTQ+. None of this is sexy; none of it is comfortable; none of this makes me feel good. When coupled with challenging my definition of spirituality and what is “good and honorable,” I’ve discovered that deconstruction has brought me hurt and unease. Spiritual devotions no longer have the same meaning; adjusting to corporate liturgy, social justice, and freedom of conscience/thought turns over all the tables. Evangelicalism wasn’t like this – it was certain, sure, organized, and easily backed up with “chapter and verse.” But it was a lie. The hurt and unease are worth it for truth.
At the first Episcopalian bible study I attended someone spoke about an interpretation of a passage that caused all of my bad instincts to rise. I sat in indignation, waiting for the priest to intervene and correct them like every Evangelical bible study I’d attended.
But the priest didn’t, and neither did anyone else in the room. Instead, I was floored by how they began to discuss the merits and implications of what had been said, how that particular interpretation helped the listeners better understand their faith, even if they disagreed with it. When I left, I challenged myself to be more willing to listen than to teach. As a result, I’ve grown so much from being exposed to the ideas of others, whether I agree with them or not. Fundamentalism often tries to resurface during these moments of exposure to the new, but I always find it more rewarding to tell it to shut up and let myself learn.
There are things I miss about Evangelicalism. I can’t look at the Bible the same way anymore; it’s become just another book, even if it has an honored place. Music allows me to emotionally connect with God, but so much of the music I used to listen to has either a terrible message or is ruined by the messengers who abused others to make it, yet I still miss the music. I miss the focused drive of Evangelicalism that is all too often lacking in mainline denominational settings.
But here’s what I don’t miss: I don’t miss false certainty and false confidence, and I wouldn’t trade them for what I have now: an authentic, human faith journey.
Before each Holy Eucharist, our priest says, “Wherever you are in your journey of faith, you are welcome at this table.” There are days I don’t know where I am – but not all who wander are lost. We’re all on this sojourner journey together, even if our paths often diverge.
Deconstruction isn’t “sexy,” but it beats all of the fool’s gold currently being sold in Evangelicalism. It leads, when done thoroughly and humbly, to a faith that is real. I might be right, but I might be wrong – and I’m okay with that. There are far worse things in this world than being wrong. If I’m going to err, I’d rather err on the side of love and grace for all my fellow humans than on the side of judgment and disdain.
I believe the Gospel saves us from ourselves and leads us into a better life. The seeds of the gospel are flourishing in most religions and in every culture. Loving God by loving others as you love yourself has the power to change the entire world if we embrace the fullness of what that truly means. Resurrection – the belief that life comes despite death – is foundational to understanding how God works through everyone to make all things new.
I don’t need to assent to creeds or commit to an exclusive religion or faith tradition. There are those who don’t consider themselves to be religious and yet they’re more like God in practice than many fundamentalist Evangelicals. These folks have embraced the ethos of loving others as they love themselves; they show this by seeking to free people from the systemic oppression that drapes our world. I am one with persons of color, LGBTQ+ people, and those who find themselves destitute and impoverished. I am with those in prison for crimes they did not commit, for those suffering physical or mental illness, and for the elderly left forgotten in deplorable conditions. I find common cause with the differently abled, the single mothers and childless career women, and all those shattered by the evil in our world. We are not free until we are all free.
These causes called by the Gospel sound exciting and romantic, especially for the cis het Christian white guys with savior complexes who believe leading others to deconstruction is now their life’s work. However, there have been many painful moments for me. I was going into ministry. That is lost to me now. For the last six years I’ve tried to re-establish my motivation, but it isn’t there. I didn’t realize how much my “calling” to teach was bound up in my Evangelical faith. It was the steam engine of my life, the guiding star, and it’s gone. At nearly forty, its absence causes me to wonder what will ultimately become of my life. I no longer know. And, strangely, I’m at peace with that, even if it’s painful.
Christians believe God sees the heart. I hope that when or if God sees mine it will prove to be whole and at peace with who I am and how I’ve helped and loved others. I hope that I’ve tried to make the world a better place for everyone – the goal, I believe, of the kingdom of God.