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 the biggest apologists for Donald Trump’s worst behaviors? I know many Christians voted more for the platform values than the specific candidate. Yet it was hard not to notice that certain Christians — the same ones who emphasized how much character matters during the Clinton/Lewinsky era — seemed to love Trump for his raunchiness, not in spite of it.
Seeing this in headlines day in and day out took a heavy toll on my ability to trust the Holy Spirit to change people (among other things).
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 hypocrites. 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 Always 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, the only Holy Grail is 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 when it comes to spiritual doubt. A healthy church, not to mention a loving God, can handle questions compassionately. A healthy church will welcome conversation on difficult topics rather than attempt to resolve them with platitudes or shame. 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.
The space for me to process doubt in a healthy way 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. Many doctrines I “deconstructed” were issues that I reacted to with emotion rather than a sound understanding of where the teachings came from, and why they are important.
I learned that it’s okay to still wrestle with things we don’t fully understand. Less okay is thinking that we modern people are smarter than 2000+ years of consistent teaching from church fathers, theologians, and scholars — particularly the writers who were guided by the Holy Spirit when writing the Bible. Rewriting doctrines that don’t align with modern values is not an act of integrity, but the height of arrogance.
My return to orthodoxy began with learning to trust the inherent goodness of God’s character. Our ever-changing cultural values can never out-love the savior of the world.
Photo by Anna Hecker on Unsplash
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