I became a Christian in the fall of 2008, after growing up in a liberal Jewish household. You would think that someone who made such an extreme conversion would have a great deal of certainty about her faith. But from about 2013 to 2017, I was basically an agnostic. I believed in God, but didn’t know if I could continue being a Christian. This was due largely to what I call Christians Behaving Badly.
For years, I wondered: If the Holy Spirit was supposed to make people better, then why were Christians some of the cruelest people I knew? Why were Christians the biggest apologists for Donald Trump’s worst behaviors; the ones most likely to vote against policies that help lift people out of poverty; the ones most likely to deny immigrants legal asylum? Those are just a sampling of observations I made about Christians failing to live up to the values of the savior they claimed to worship. Perhaps you’ve made similar ones.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I was part of what is now called the Deconstruction Movement. I was an “ex-vangelical” who wanted to retain my faith, but didn’t think I could do so when churches seemed to be full of bullies. Questioning the role of the Holy Spirit led to a rabbit hole of other questions, like how God could still be considered good when evil seemed to be winning, to whether eternal punishment was really justice. It was quite a lonely place to be.
Deconstruction Isn’t Sexy
There is a tendency among conservative bloggers right now to decry the deconstruction movement as a mere trend. It’s “cool” to question and dissect orthodoxy. In many cases, this leaves people not with a different form of Christianity but rather universalism, if not flat-out atheism. In fact, it’s now almost a trope for Christian musicians, authors, and “influencers” to embrace exactly that.
There may be a place in the publishing industry for these stories, but from personal experience, I can tell you that the actual process of deconstruction isn’t an easy one. For one thing, it can be terrifying to question your beliefs – especially when they are so interwoven with the only community you’ve ever known.
When I tried to raise my questions with some friends at church, many offered judgment and condemnation instead of encouragement. “Real Christians” didn’t ask those questions; real Christians prayed and had faith. Needless to say, that didn’t exactly help disprove my fear that Christians were the Mean Girls in the cafeteria called life.
Reconstruction Isn’t Always Sexy, Either
God was gracious to me in my wandering. At that point in my walk with Christ, I had established a routine of daily Bible reading and writing down prayer. Because I’m a creature of habit, I kept up with these practices, albeit begrudgingly. Sometimes my prayers looked like laundry lists of complaints, but I was praying nonetheless.
Slowly but surely, a new foundation of certainty grew. Once I was certain that our God is in fact a good God, and someone who could be trusted, other things fell back into place. I can’t say I understand everything, but that which confuses me are the things I promise to wrestle with. “For better or for worse” is a promise that applies to faith as well as marriage.
But while deconstructing isn’t easy or glamorous for most people, I’d be remiss not to mention a community that exists where questions and doubts are considered sacrosanct. This group can be found on social media using hashtags like #exvangelical, and can be just as condemning as their conservative counterparts. These people who supported me in my doubts were not quite as kind and welcoming when I started to regain my spiritual footing.
In this particular world, nothing is certain except being your Authentic Self. Orthodoxy is basically a box to force people into rather than something real and true. These deconstructionists wanted to be affirmed as Christian, but their worldview seemed indistinguishable from the values of secular culture rather than centered on Christ. A faith built entirely on questions is not sturdy enough to stand on.
The loneliness took on a different flavor this time.
A Safe Place to Doubt And Grow
Not every Christian community is so extreme, where doubts are treated as either Unforgiveable or like a Holy Grail. A healthy church, not to mention a loving God, can handle them with love. A healthy church will welcome conversation on difficult topics rather than attempt to resolve them with platitudes. Struggling with a doctrine or Bible verse is not the same as rejecting it. Unfortunately, many Christians don’t see a difference, and will consequently push doubters further to the edge of unbelief.
For me, my “safe space” for doubt ended up being the Anglican church. I was fortunate enough to encounter a priest who said “Let’s talk more about that” when I expressed a lingering uncertainty in Bible study. In the end, the things I “deconstructed” had more to do with Christian culture than Christian doctrine. I learned that being a Christian didn’t necessarily have to mean being evangelical.
There is an art form to living with questions and certainty. It is possible to have both.
A condensed version of this post originally appeared on Rev. Kyle Norman’s blog.