My Road to Deconstruction: Part 1 The Beginnings
My deconstruction journey has been years in the making. It’s been a big part of my life for over 5 years now, but most of that was spent in the dark. Hours in my own head, wrestling with doubt and questions and feelings of betrayal from the church I loved so dearly. Whispers of “I’m not so sure…” when faced with theology I’d always believed but was now questioning. Knowing that if I said too much too loudly I’d face all sorts of unknown consequences from my Christian job, friends, church, family. That’s not to say I’ve been silent by any means, but I’ve definitely only shared bits and pieces, but never the whole puzzle all together.
My goal in sharing this is mostly to document my deconstruction journey. For me, writing helps me process my experiences and feelings. And in 20 years I want to be able to look back and see how I felt, thought, and experienced what I will hopefully remember as a huge turning point in my life. But I also want to share this in hopes that it could help someone else. Maybe you’ve felt the same way, been in the same boat, had similar experiences or questions. Maybe not. But if nothing else, it will give you an insight into what’s been going on in my head for the last few years.
This is a long ride. As in, multiple parts long. Read what you want, or don’t. Read a few bits of one and a few bits of another. Totally up to you. Choose your own adventure.
One of the things my therapist says when we’re talking is “Tell me your story about ___.” I really love that. It’s always important to note that MY story about a certain event or time period is just that, mine. It’s my perception, my understanding, my viewpoint, my assumptions. I’m not arrogant enough to think that this is the absolute truth, I’m sure other people involved have different thoughts on what happened or their motives or intentions. But this is my story, told as truthfully as I remember it.
My Story About The Beginning
I’ve been a pretty serious Christian my entire life; full of all the self-righteousness and good choices that make up most “good Christian kids.” I was baptized around 9 or 10, went to Christian summer camps, Sunday school and youth group (when our small church had a youth minister or other kids my age, which was intermittent and rare). Jesus was always important to me, even when I was young. In high school I always made “good decisions.” I never drank, never smoked, didn’t really date. I had bible verses in my locker and on my planner. I bought a Jesus Loves Me keychain when I got my license. At one point during my teen years I had my parents buy me devotional workbooks I could do on my own because they didn’t really have a Sunday school class for kids my age. I remember arguing with teachers about abortion and George W. Bush (I had a weird obsession with him all through high school and assumed, as many do still, that my faith made me a Republican by default). My faith wasn’t performative or for attention, it was genuine. I was truly all in.
When it was time to make the decision to go to college I felt very unsure. I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I had no real passions that I thought I could turn into a career and the idea of going to an office every day for the rest of my life was truly terrifying. I was really torn about whether or not to attend bible college. I didn’t have any interest in being in ministry or teaching (those were pretty much your only options), but I didn’t have interest in anything else, either. But I did have an interest in Jesus. I prayed and told God I would go to whatever school gave me the most scholarship money. The winner was Cincinnati Christian University.
Funny story, when I told our student council advisor I was going to bible college she sat me down and tried to talk me out of it and even asked me multiple times if my parents were making me. She genuinely thought it was so insane that I would choose that for myself. I assured her that both of my sisters went to state colleges and my parents didn’t care at all where I went, but I don’t think she really believed me. Part of me felt very proud that my faith was so strong it not only seemed crazy to someone else, but it could withstand that type of “persecution” (hello persecution complex). Looking back, I really appreciate her concern. While I’m glad I went to CCU, I think she made a few good points in those conversations.
My Story About Getting Into Missions
Fast forward to CCU. I need to declare some type of ministry track. I didn’t want to be a teacher. I wasn’t allowed to be do the preaching track as a girl (eye roll). One of the other options was missions. This was something I had always been interested in for a few reasons. One is that I loved to travel and wanted to see the world. Two was that I genuinely believed that people who didn’t accept Jesus would go to hell, even if they’d never heard of him before. So I thought there was no greater or more important way to spend my life than to make sure everyone knew and loved Jesus so they wouldn’t burn in fiery torment for eternity (it seems so insane as I’m even typing that, given how much my view on hell has changed). My desire to do missions came from a genuine desire to save people, I was truly afraid for people that I thought would burn in hell forever. It’s funny because that same love and desire to help people is still there, but my approach and end goal is so much different now.
I didn’t actually end up majoring in missions (though I did take a lot of missions courses) but I knew it was what I wanted to do. My sophomore year of college I spent a week visiting with missionaries in South America. The summer after my senior year I spent 2 months in Kenya on an internship.
I just want to take a minute and say that I need to admit and recognize publicly that my views and approach and mindset toward overseas missions was problematic to say the least. It was fraught with colonialism, a white savior complex, I’m sure some racism was mixed in there too. I think about the amount of money I raised to go spend 8 weeks basically making full-time local workers babysit us and….oof. At one point I remember one of the local workers asking us how much we had to raise to come there and when we told them they were shocked and told us that was more than they made in a year. Think about what they could’ve done in the community with that money. Ugh. My point in all this is, I have a lot of issues with missions now, and a lot of guilt for the way I participated for many years. Even if my heart was in the right place, I was a big part of the problem and I feel terrible about my participation.
After I graduated I ended up working with a missions organization in Louisville. In order to work there I had to raise my own support, which meant asking a bunch of people to give me money every month. I would visit churches, small groups, friends of friends, anyone that I could find who would listen to me tell them about my work at the org, why it was so important, and how I was going to help bring Jesus to the most remote places in the world where I was sure our white colonial version of Christianity would change their lives for the better (eye roll again). Just to give you an idea of how wholly invested I was- I remember at one particular church I was speaking with a Sunday School class about my future missions work and why it was important. This was in 2011 and the insanely devastating tsunami in Tohoku, Japan had happened 2 days before my presentation to this church. I got up to do my normal presentation but ended up sobbing the entire way through it, because I was so convinced that all of those people who had died were going to hell because we hadn’t been able to tell them about Jesus yet.
I was passionate, to say the least.
I share all this background just to give you a full understanding of the type of all-in, wholly focused, intensely serious Christian I was. This was my starting point pre-deconstruction. And looking back, despite how problematic some of my beliefs were, I am weirdly proud of that person. Because she not only fully believed, but she acted on that belief. She thought people were going to burn in hell forever and she was genuinely worried about it and wanted to save them. And she dedicated her life to that. She was a practice what you preach kind of person, if nothing else.
Up Next: Part 2 The Realization