It’s a beautiful day to remember that right wing Christians aren’t the gatekeepers of Christianity, no matter how boisterously they posture themselves as such. Be free.Thomas Horrocks
If you have been around my social media, you may have noticed that I’ve hinted at a deconstruction process over the last few years. It hit with an exponential speed in 2020, as I saw my evangelical friends and family aligning themselves with Trump to win the culture war. But deconstruction has been a persistent theme in my life for the last 13 years.
A Christian is someone who follows the teachings of Christ. I still desire to emulate his ethics and embody his virtues. But I want to explore my spirituality without all this extra baggage that I was raised in: Christian Nationalism, white supremacy, purity culture, patriarchal culture, the prosperity gospel, etc.
I spent some time making this nodal graph, as it helped me to make sense of my journey and gave me a place to catalog some of the pieces that got me here.
How it all Started
I was raised in an evangelical bubble in the Bible belt of America. The pastor in the church I grew up in had sayings like, “if you leave, your family will fall apart” but also, “put your finger in a glass of water and take it out, that’s the difference it will make if you leave.” It was very authoritarian and high-control. And you didn’t question the authority. Love was a facade because behind the scenes, there was a lot of devastation. People were fired, excommunicated, and ruthlessly treated; and yet all this abuse managed to fly under the radar. Once you were axed from the church, you just didn’t talk about it publicly. I don’t remember any sermons on the goal of Christianity to be Christ-like, or the Sermon on the Mount, or embodying the Fruits of the Spirit. It was the prosperity gospel. Messages on faith that can bring you health, wealth, and happiness. There was also a lot of end-times theology mixed in, as well as political messages of America being chosen by God and the founding fathers being led by God to create America and the Constitution.
My deconstruction began when I was fired as a volunteer from this church. It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life. I was treated like an outcast, rejected, and given no compassion by the people I thought were like my family**. But it put us on this new path and got us out of the bubble we were in, and for that I am thankful. **I will say that I recently had the most beautiful reconciliation with the person that fired me. Before that happened, I was at breaking point. But from that moment, I was able to stay afloat from seeing an embodiment of God’s love through someone who dropped everything to enter into the ministry of reconciliation with me.
A Slow Awakening
Anyways, over the next 13 years, I would find myself slowly sloughing off the teachings of the church I grew up in like old skin. I no longer believed in the prosperity gospel, and started to see the role of suffering as a way of transformation, when before I had done everything I could to avoid it. Living with less so we could give more. The theology of enough. We sold our possessions and began a simple lifestyle and spent a lot of time serving our community, the poor, and our neighbors.
As I spent time with new people, I was also reading more diverse books. I began an exploration of learning and science and really couldn’t get enough. This may sound odd, but “worldly” knowledge was demonized in the evangelical culture I grew up in. We were taught that science was at odds with the Bible, but the more I discovered about the world, history, and science, it seemed to strengthen my faith, not weaken it. I developed an insatiable desire for learning, and my literal interpretation of the Bible started to see some very gaping holes.
Next was an expansion of my worldview. In my work with people from all over the world, and from many faiths, I began to have profound interactions that made me question my idea of love and what it meant to be formed by love. Many Christians I knew were harsh and judge-y of “outsiders.” Then there were folks outside my Christian bubble that were the most love-filled people I knew. What a mind-blowing revelation! If you have love, you have God, the scripture says. I was beginning to have a paradigm shift of outsiders and insiders, and how wrong I was to define those terms. I also began to see how the complex problems of the world were oversimplified in my “Biblical worldview” – I was no longer comfortable defining things as black and white and giving a pat answer or solution.
Fast forward to 2020, with the American Evangelical rejection of the modern-day civil rights movement of BLM, the broad evangelical embrace of Trump, the truly confusing proliferation of conspiracies regarding Covid, and the painting of democrats as demonic (I am a registered democrat), the last of it came crumbling down. I think what was the most traumatizing thing for me in the last few years, was watching dozens of people who were spiritually formative leaders in my life drift so far from Christ-likeness. To see their beliefs morph into something so completely far from the Gospel. It messed with me, and it was completely disorienting.
By this time, I had redefined what the purpose of the Gospel was. It’s about love, liberation, and wholeness. Jesus went around doing good and healing people, but it seemed like this American evangelical gospel I grew up in was harming people more than helping. I saw people I loved transformed before my eyes–mocking, toxic, and unwilling to listen. Theirs was a certainty that could not be questioned. I thought because I loved them, they would listen to me, instead of Trump and right-wing propaganda. But that was not the case.
I am slowly rebuilding my foundation. I have never felt more FREE. I don’t have all the answers, but in the meantime, I’m having a great time asking questions. If you find yourself deconstructing, I just want to say, you are not wrong for tearing it all down and starting over. If there is anything left from the rubble, try and rebuild. If there is nothing left, build on love. Occasionally, we will have glimpses along the way of that stop-you-in-your-tracks kind of love. Hold on to that.
If you feel traumatized, disorientated, alienated, or isolated, know that there are so many of us doing this holy work of dismantling, and you are, most definitely, not alone.
Some people that have helped me on this journey of rebuilding:
The late Rich Mullins https://evie-s.com/the-faith-of-rich-mullins/
Brian Zahnd (When Everything’s On Fire) https://www.amazon.com/When-Everythings-Fire-Faith-Forged/dp/1514003333
Rich Villodas https://twitter.com/richvillodas
Pete Enns, The Bible for Normal People
Dr. Esau McCaulley https://twitter.com/esaumccaulley
Beth Moore https://twitter.com/BethMooreLPM
Zach Lambert https://twitter.com/ZachWLambert
The Holy Post Podcast https://www.holypost.com/
Kaitlyn Schiess https://twitter.com/KaitlynSchiess
Dante Stewart: https://twitter.com/stewartdantec
Dr. Derwin Gray https://twitter.com/DerwinLGray
Jayson Bradley https://www.patheos.com/blogs/jaysondbradley/
Rev. Ben Cremer https://twitter.com/Brcremer
“I began to doubt the cozy association between American patriotism and Christianity. I began to doubt the credibility of the consumerist Christianity that was so popular. Fundamentalism, literalism, nationalism, and consumerism have created layers of varnish that distort the beautiful image of Christ. But as we seek to remove these contaminants and recover the beauty of Christ, we cannot employ cynical and violent methods. If we do, we run the risk of destroying the priceless treasure in the process. We must be patient and reverent. If all we want to do is deconstruct and destroy the Christian faith, we can swing an angry sledgehammer or burn it all down. But if we want to restore Christian faith, patience and gentleness of wisdom are required. In our passion to rescue the Christian faith from its myriad of distortions, we are not like the Taliban blowing up the Buddhas of Bamiyan but like the artists who restored Michelangelo’s vandalized Pietà. In rethinking Christianity, we must always keep in mind that we are handling something enormously precious: faith in Christ. It’s precisely because faith in Christ is so precious that we—those who hope to hold on to Christian faith—are committed to the difficult task of restoring it to its original beauty. Thus we cannot use cheap cynicism and crude mockery in this delicate task. We go about it patiently, reverently, gently, always showing deep respect for what has sustained Christian faith and practice for two thousand years.”From the Book, When Everything’s on Fire by Brian Zahnd