the Empathy List #76: What is religious deconstruction?
We're the Deconstructing Evangelicals, Part 1
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Hello friend, Liz here.
“Doubt is hip,” says one Gospel Coalition writer.
According to TGC, the source of the theological hot-takes of the “frozen and chosen” denominations, deconstruction is easily defined: “it’s a symptom, not a cause” of church hurt, poor (not false) teaching, the desire to have premarital sex and to fit in with the cool kids. Deconstruction means rejecting, doubting, rebelling, and it’s a sin that needs correcting with three easy steps… ;-)
Sigh. If only religious deconstruction were that simple.
Deconstruction may appear to be “hip” and trendy, but it isn’t a new phenomenon. Just take the first month as an example: St. Anthony in his cave in the deserts of Egypt, escaping the consumerism and power-grabbing of a church bank-rolled by the Roman emperor Constantine and instead, choosing the severity of the desert as the means to fill up Christ’s suffering in his own body. The church didn’t know what to do with the man.
Deconstruction isn’t American, it isn’t limited to a neat demographic, nor is it contained within a single denomination. Men, women, Boomers and Millennials, every single race and sexual orientation, all of us, in great numbers are leaving church as we’ve known it, for reasons as complex as each individual’s skin tone.
What is new are our numbers.
Today, those owning up to our religious deconstruction make up a notable percentage of Americans. We’re no longer content to take our places in the back row, nearest the exit, but instead our voices are being amplified by a crowd of those asking similar questions.
To me, that says the ground is shifting with tectonic force, plates colliding and dipping and losing ground and gaining it. While those of us on the outskirts of power may find this shift exciting, those within institutional leadership likely find it terrifying.
I suppose that those committed to church-as-it’s-always-been would call me part of the deconstruction movement.
If you’ve read this newsletter for awhile, you know the trouble I’ve seen in my 34 years within the four white walls of the American protestant Christian church. (Phew! So many modifiers!)
Due to a complex history—none of which has anything to do with premarital deflowering, by the way—I am one of those pesky voices calling for an entire gut of the building. I’d even take up a jackhammer to the crumbling brick exterior of many of our sacred religious institutions.
Persnickety writers and communicators like myself have always harped on the theme of integrity to God’s people, urging coherence in our beliefs and actions, our leaders’ lives and teachings, the way we exert power and the way we die.
(The prophet Elijah, for example, was called by an evil Israelite king the “troubler of Israel,” a moniker which I might need to adopt as my new tagline...)
This is the Spirit of God’s way of constantly reforming and renovating a church, at all times, so that whatever way the pendulum leans, ultimately we’ll find balance within the person of Jesus.
Those of us who are speaking out are not necessarily rebels without a cause, as we’re often painted by observers.
In my case, I’ve joined the resistance because I believe that Christ’s way renovates each of us so dramatically that the Christian church should be different than it is right now—it should resemble Christ, and in many important ways, today it doesn’t.
I cannot account for anyone else’s reasons for deconstructing. We are a wide-ranging group, and I believe we disrespect the long pilgrimage of faith when we write “explainers” containing formulas to fix every and any spiritual dilemma.
What those of us deconstructing need, more than anything, is empathy and space. We need time, we need safety, we need quiet, we need to be listened to.
After all, the point of faith is not utility or efficiency, but an openness to mystery—and especially to the mysterious presence that’s always beckoning the seeker.
Only in that mysterious unknowing can renovation finally begin.
Thanks for reading. Warmly, Liz Charlotte Grant
PSA: This is the first in a new series I’m writing, all about deconstruction and, eventually, reconstruction. Next week, I’ll share my own particular deconstruction story.
If you find these thoughts provoking, would you share them with a friend?
And I’d also be honored to hear your personal story of deconstruction/reconstruction if you’re willing to share it.
What’s the difference between reform and deconstruction? Tish Harrison-Warren attempts to distinguish between the two.
(BTW I have mixed feelings about whether I agree with her, though I find her insights worthy of discussion.)
Christianity Today | Read
My two elementary schoolers won’t stop fighting (oh, sibling rivalries…). Fortunately, a bouncer, a therapist, and a referee have advice for me.
“What do a bar bouncer, kindergarten teacher, hockey referee, marriage and family therapist, and police officer all have in common? They know how to break up a fight.”
New York Times | Read
Shopping ethically means taking into account where something came from, how it was made, and how it got to you—which, I know, is a lot to think about.
But since we’re all doing Christmas shopping galore, here’s a helpful guide for how to do your Christmas shopping ethically this year.
“…take a moment to think about those gifts you were planning on buying. Where do you think they were made? Who do you think made them? Did they work in humane conditions? Do you think environmentally friendly practices were used in the process or is it likely harmful chemicals were dumped into local watersheds?”
Relevant Magazine | Read
Speaking of shopping… have you ever wondered what happens to the too-small pants you ordered online after you send them back?
Hint: “The stuff you return probably isn’t restocked and sent back out to another hopeful owner.”
In fact, more of it ends up in a landfill than we’d like to think about.
The Atlantic | Read
As a therapy nerd, I could not stop reading this ode to in-person group therapy.
Here, one man documents the shift from group therapy meetings in-person to phone to Zoom and sets that against the history of distance within psychotherapy, as discussed in Hannah Zeavin’s new book, The Distance Cure: A History of Teletherapy.
“One of the differences between remote and in-person group work comes down to a common impulse (one that every participant in my group has confessed to): the urge to hide. In person, it’s hard to hide in a group. You can stop speaking, withdraw from what’s happening around you, but sooner or later your silence and disengagement will begin to take on a weight and texture that needs to be addressed. Someone will ask you where you are.
But on the phone it’s easy to hide: you just stop saying anything. Silences feel less like they belong to anyone in particular; they are the group’s silences.
Over Zoom, confronted with each other’s faces again, there were new ways to hide: not turning your camera on, or sitting further back from it, even discreetly occupying yourself with something off-screen (one participant recently confessed to doodling during sessions, disengaging emotionally from the conversation and keeping their hands below the camera’s line of sight).
The ability to hide, and a reluctance to call each other out on hiding, means that a kind of politeness has sometimes fallen over the group; we are concerned not to make each other feel too bad or guilty for our inattentiveness. Politeness is another kind of "distanced intimacy, one which means we avoid conflict. This, in therapy, is unhelpful.”
The Point Magazine | Read
Just for fun…
Do yourself a favor and scroll through the twitter account @shitduosays, which documents the best and weirdest sentences the language learning app Duolingo asks users to translate.
Psst, if you want to know the actual theory behind the absurdity, read this explainer from Slate.