I’m in some de/reconstruction groups. I’ve been in the game myself for years so I’m pretty familiar with groups like that. Maybe some of this could help you or someone you know in some way. I shared my thoughts below with the groups recently because bitterness kept creeping up in mean and cruel ways. I believe these thoughts are important. That said, before I post the thoughts, I should add that I was bitter at the beginning of that process as well. I still struggle with it from time to time. I’m speaking to myself as much as I am those of you who are questioning your faith. Trauma usually manifests itself in bitterness. My only point is to be careful. Be gracious. See humans and not just trauma. You won’t always be able to do that. I can’t either. But have your eyes set on healing and don’t assume you will find it in bitterness or in perfect agreement.
Deconstruction is essentially tearing down presuppositions regarding your faith. Sometimes that leads to reconstruction and sometimes it leads to having other faiths or none at all. Reconstruction is the (lifelong) process of rebuilding your own faith from scratch.
I was using science, personal experience, relationships, philosophy, literature, and history to examine seasons of doubts, questions on doctrine, politics, morality, atheism, agnosticism, mysticism, and other religions. I left the church for that journey for three years, though I suspect I was already on that journey before and will, in some sense, always be on that journey.
Coming back to Christianity but still “de/reconstructing,” I had a “test all things” approach. By then, I had decided there was enough evidence for me to put my faith in a creator and especially in Jesus (I use the Greek understanding of “faith”: faith is trust and trust is faith. Like how we understand “faithful/trustworthy”).
The church and its presuppositions and doctrines were going to be tested in context and with science, psychology, history, philosophy, and humanity in mind as much as humanly possible. Of course, I would also “test my testing,” if you will. I am human, after all. Humility is a necessity. In my journey, somehow, almost ironically, I became a full-time minister for seven-eight years. I stepped down three months ago, but I never stopped my journey or hid my beliefs at any point. I’ve never tried to bind my beliefs but I’ve always tried to have those hard conversations. I’m surprised ministry lasted as long as it did.
The de/reconstruction process has really come to a head in the last three years. I’ve been more aware of my mental health, which includes anxiety, bipolar disorder, and PTSD from being molested as a child. I’ve been more aware of my political leanings, which has, at the time, morphed into classic liberal meets left-leaning libertarian. And I’ve been more aware of my understanding of God’s character, Christ’s mission, and how that all fits in with biblical literacy, the church, and her teachings. Especially in regards to things like hell, homosexuality, women’s rights, and so on.
*ALLLLLL of that to say that I am extremely sympathetic to the flood of relatively new de/reconstructionists connected to the faith. I really am. My heart is with them on their journey.
Here’s my fear though… many (not all and maybe even not most) of the modern, more recent versions of deconstructionists are militant. Many that I run into are as militant, condescending, gnostic, impatient, and unforgiving as the denominations from which they came. It almost becomes like the legalism of the fundamental church found its way to a church of the non/pseudo-religious. A new kind of non-religious religion. Institutionalized Christians invented “woke,” (in quotes because it’s a loaded term. My context will determine my meaning of the term here) but it seems that the extreme versions of de/reconstructionists and/or the modern nonreligious are a religion of wokeness to themselves. They became the thing they hated.
But why be surprised? That is what happens when we take a page from the fundamental Christian extremists and put issues ahead of people and their context, humanity, motives, and love. And do we dare hold our own version of a legalistic standard against the Christian? Or better yet, against those who sympathize and are trying to understand? Or better even still, do we hold it against ourselves?
I am still on my journey and do not for a second pretend that I have arrived and have a corner on truth. I’m human.
And I feel so deeply for the 60% of 18-40-year-olds who leave churches in the US each year because they can’t find a safe place to ask questions (not to mention those who stay because they feel like they will be shamed otherwise). I wish I could hold their hands and give them a hug and tell them they aren’t alone. That Jesus takes them and their questions as they are. And even if they don’t believe in Him right now, I’m here for them and I’m not going anywhere. I do love those conversations whenever I can have them.
But to make a new “liberal” religion with new legalistic standards that are as unforgiving as anything we have ever known from “conservative” churches, that isn’t the answer. To pretend like you don’t need community unless they all think like you is as toxic as legalistic churches. It is an ugly and unkind bitterness that doesn’t help anyone to heal, especially the one who is bitter. We all need breaks. We all need to be self-aware. We all have our own personal journeys. But the arrogance of living in your bitterness destroys you and those around you. We must not confuse bitterness with healing. One must work through bitterness to get healing, but bitterness is not healing. It’s the same song but a different verse. I’m certain it is unintentional most of the time but it is true nevertheless.
The journey is the destination. Go on the journey. If there is a God, and I believe there is, the journey is where you find him. But to live in bitterness is to hop out of one grave and into another. It’s a whitewashed tomb. Where is the grace? Where is the understanding of context and background? Where is the patience? Speak the truth and speak boldly. But speak it in love. You don’t believe in God? Or maybe you do but not in Jesus? Or maybe you do but not the church? True faith requires you to ask yourself those questions. Go on your journey. I have my beliefs but It’s not what you say that concerns me as much as how you say it, and how closely it aligns with that which you hate…
Am I crazy? If I am, then feel free to rebuke me. I can take it. But I have a sneaky suspicion that I’m not alone. I love the journey of my de/reconstruction friends, but I see an entirely new kind of religion that comes from those who would deny all day long that they are extreme. It’s toxic. Where is the love? That is the answer. Not the subjectivity of the world’s love, but a real love that transcends hate and bitterness and impatience. A love that preaches a justice that restores and reconciles. – Jesse
See also: Same Song, Different Verse