My Road to Deconstruction: Part 2 The Realization
Before I get into my next section about my time at the missions organization, I want to make a few pre-reading statements. Obviously my time at this organization is in fairly recent memory not just for me but for people who know me. I still love and talk to lots of people in this organization and have absolutely no ill will toward anyone there. Truly. There are people there who hurt me, who did or said upsetting things, but at no point do I think they are bad people. I am not angry. I genuinely believe people there have the best of intentions. They believe what I once believed and have dedicated their lives to it, like I once did, and I applaud them for that no matter how much I disagree with those beliefs now. But I will say again, none of this comes out of anger or resentment or revenge, I share things only because of how they pertain to my deconstruction journey. I will do my absolute best to leave out any identifying details about individuals because I have no desire to hurt them or make them feel bad. Like I said, I’m just sharing MY story, my perspective, about my deconstruction.
My Story About Christians That Didn't Like Me
I started with the missions organization in 2012. The first few years really shaped my path to deconstruction in a number of ways that I’ll try to chronicle as succinctly as possible.
When I started there I was young (only 24) and excited to be fulfilling my passions and what I thought was God’s calling on my life to share Jesus with everyone in the world. I was excited to be working with other people who felt the same way, who had this same passion. As most 24 year olds are, I think I was very naive and idealistic. I thought working in a ministry with a group of Christians would be so fun, encouraging, that I’d have amazing friends built into my job. And while I did make some incredible friends, I also somehow made enemies, I guess?
I still have no idea why some people there didn’t like me, but boy they did not. As childish as I feel using this word, I felt bullied for years. They would make snide comments to me and about me, to other people behind my back, even publicly on our interoffice social network. I often felt left out, mocked, and resented by my coworkers. I went to the organization’s leadership multiple times and nothing was ever done (to my knowledge) outside of a few meetings where these people continued their attacks of me, my work, my job performance, even my personality. This is why I think all churches and ministries need an actual HR department, but that’s another blog for another time.
To this day I genuinely do not know what I did to make these people dislike me so much. Did I hurt them in some way? Did I do something offensive that I never knew? Was it just something about my personality they hated? Was I that bad at my job? I don’t know. And probably never will. But to say it was a miserable few years would be an understatement.
During this time I got engaged to another missionary in the org, made plans to move overseas, and was then unceremoniously dumped in a hotel lobby in Kansas City because I struggled with anxiety and “wouldn’t make a good missionary wife” (GIANT EYE ROLL). After that I felt like even more of an outcast at work, with people purposefully leaving me out of activities or gatherings, feeling like people were “choosing sides” and leaving me feeling incredibly lonely and broken.
There were also people I worked with who loved and supported me, who made me feel accepted and who were incredibly kind to me. I don’t want to leave that out or make it seem like everyone there was awful, that wasn’t the case at all. But like most situations, the awfulness usually stands out more in our memories.
At a certain point during these years my views on some things started changing. I didn’t really know if I thought being gay was a sin, for example, or if Republicans were really more Christian or who really goes to hell (or if hell is even real). During these years of questioning I faced more unkind opposition from Christians I worked with, like when someone sent me a barrage of Facebook messages until I had to block him, demanding to know my views about homosexuality because he couldn’t work at the same organization as someone who thought gay people should get married.
These years of heartbreak are what led me to the point where I realized that Christians weren’t always Christ-like. Up to that point I had really only had good experience with Christians and churches. Sure there were small issues here and there (like when my college boyfriend questioned the seriousness of my faith because I would doodle during chapel haha) but for the most part, Christians had always been pretty good to me. It was such a shock to my system to realize that sometimes, Christians are just mean. Or hurtful. Or rude. Or bullies. There is no magical Christian church or workplace where everyone gets along and has everyone else’s best interests at heart. Christians are people, and people kind of suck sometimes.
As I said before, I truly hold no ill will towards any of these people, because I don't know THEIR story about what happened. I’m sure I made plenty of my own mistakes. But I do know that this is where I began to feel disillusioned with Christianity the way I knew it.
My Story About Being Confused by Christians
I think the next stage of my deconstruction journey started, where so many others did, in the election process of 2016.
There’s not much I can say about this that hasn’t already been said. From my perspective, people that I had always known as kind, loving, generous, Christ-like people seemingly abandoned all their beliefs in favor of a mean, cruel, bully who stood against everyone Jesus stood for. But because this man was purported to be a Christian, it was ok to overlook everything he did and said and believed in.
One of the reasons it felt so insane was because of the whiplash of support I saw. In 2015 during the primaries I was at a meal with a bunch of other Christian people and we were talking about all the Republican candidates for President. They all openly mocked Trump, saying how insane it was that he was running, that he was awful and they would never vote for him. I even have a screenshot of one of their Facebook posts talking about how they couldn’t believe people were voting for him. That same person, not one year later, was openly attacking me on Facebook because I was questioning why Christians were supporting Trump. The rest of the people at that table all became fervent Trump supporters, too.
I think that was the part that really rocked my faith. I literally saw, in real time, people abandoning their beliefs in order to what, gain political power? Make sure the “right” laws are enacted? It still doesn’t make any sense to me and it absolutely rattles my brain to try to figure it out. How can we be reading the same Bible and come to such different decisions about what’s right?
During the years of 2015-2017 I began to get much more vocal about politics and Christianity on social media. I was still working at the missions organization and facing criticism daily for my posts and views. I was told to take posts down because they “didn’t reflect our organization’s values” even though others were allowed to post plenty of opposing views on their social media with no backlash. At one point they tried to tell me I wasn’t allowed to post to social media during work hours anymore, to which I responded, “You can’t make that rule just for me because you don’t like what I post and I get breaks just like everyone else and can use them how I want.” They backed off after that.
It’s important to mention that during this time there were other people in our office who were handing out and posting HOW TO VOTE guides (ie, which candidates were “Christian” meaning Republican, anti-gay, pro-life). Someone put pro-Republican governor materials on our prayer time tables. During our office Christmas party of 2016, which was being recorded and sent out to all our missionaries all over the world, I was asked to come up and speak about what my department did that year. I was sitting there, in front of all my co-workers, knowing I was being recorded, and the first thing they said was “So Kelsey, you had a pretty intense political agenda on social media this year and that really failed, huh?”
I would again like to make a plug for HR departments in churches and Christian organizations.
My Story About Being Othered
The stuff at work was rough, but what was even harder was the response from so many of my supporters. Now remember, I work entirely off support from churches and individuals. So if they decide they don’t want to support me anymore that means I get a huge pay cut. The organization did not provide me with any money, my supporters did.
And boy, my supporters did not like my views anymore. And to be fair, I knew that when I started sharing my views publicly. I expected people to be unhappy and stop supporting me, but it was so important to me that I was willing to do it. It’s their money and they don’t have any obligation to give money to people they don’t want to give money to.
But it still hurt.
People stopped sending checks, some gave flimsy reasons, some gave none at all. But the most painful experience was with a church that had supported me since the very beginning of my ministry. Those people had LOVED me. They shared my posts about the ministry, they had handmade made me a prayer blanket, they celebrated with me every time I came to visit. And I had loved them, I felt like they truly cared about the mission as much as I did.
I went to visit them one Sunday (which was a feat because they were 8 hours from Louisville). I even let them know I was coming ahead of time and they said nothing. From the moment I got there it felt off but I didn’t know why. Turns out, they had stopped supporting me without telling me (I had had no idea) and now wanted nothing to do with me. They told me my views no longer fit with the beliefs of their church and people were uncomfortable with supporting me now. Which I would understand if I was suddenly saying I didn’t think Jesus had resurrected or something, but my fundamental beliefs were the same. I was still doing the same missions work, just my political views had changed. But to them, political views equaled religious views. So basically what they were saying is, your work is fine, we just don’t like YOU anymore. It was beyond embarrassing to be there in person, with no clue they had abandoned me.
That was when I realized that American Christianity and American Republicanism is one and the same to a lot of people.
More and more supporters dropped off. “We’re supporting another missionary now and we can’t support both of you.” “We want to support someone who’s ‘on the front lines.’” Someone’s card got declined once and when I emailed them about it they said, “Just let it lapse.”
That one hurt. It made me feel like I’m not even worth an explanation, like my work I dedicated my life to was just a bill they didn’t want to pay anymore. Just let it lapse. Ouch.
Again, no one owes me their money. I chose a career where I relied on other peoples’ generosity, and I made posts knowing it would upset some people. But that didn’t make it hurt less. I felt like I had a real relationship with a lot of these people, and I realized they didn’t feel the same.
I do want to take a minute to acknowledge all of the people who I KNOW disagreed strongly with me but kept supporting me. I have so much love and respect for those people who saw me, not a political party, who loved me for who I was and who supported the work I was doing. That meant so much to me. And it still does.
All of the stuff that happened between 2015-2017 really changed how I viewed Christians, how I viewed the church, how I viewed everything. I grieved the loss of people who had once loved me and now wouldn’t return my emails. I gathered myself up to go to a job every day where I felt like a hated outcast. I knew something inside me was changing, breaking, but I wasn’t sure what yet. I knew that being a Christian didn’t mean what I thought it had.
Christian people and churches had loved and supported and guided me through so much of my life. And now they didn’t. And I realized this is what it felt like to be an outsider, an “other” to church people. I had never been on the outside, I had always been VERY staunchly on the inside, in the middle, surrounded by the best of these people. But now I was seeing their worst.
This made me really start to overhaul my beliefs about “other” groups like immigrants, LGBTQ+ people, addicts, atheists. During this time a lot of scandals of abuse by pastors, churches, and Christian leaders were also being uncovered.
And this is when my view on hell really started to change.
My Story About Why Hell is Dumb
It started because, as I was being hurt by Christians, I realized how many others had been hurt by Christians and churches in MUCH worse ways than I had been. I was always one of those “not all churches” people. If someone said they’d been hurt by the church I’d always respond with “but not ALL churches are like that!”
But then I started to think about those people who I had assumed would go to hell because of their lack of belief in Christ. Let’s say Bert goes to Church A with Frank. Frank hurts and bullies and abuses Bert. Bert tells Church A and instead of helping Bert, Church A sides with Frank. Bert is ostracized, he feels betrayed and alone and traumatized. He becomes resentful and suspicious of all churches and vows to never step foot inside another one and becomes an atheist.
Now according to my beliefs at the time, Bert would go to hell while Frank and all the leaders of Church A get to joyride right into heaven for all eternity.
And I’m sure you’re thinking, “Well if Frank is unrepentant then he would go to hell, too. And Bert always could’ve found another church.”
GINORMOUS EYE ROLL
The church has a thousand year history of hurting people, misrepresenting who Jesus is to them, and then blaming them for not loving the mean, cruel, hurtful Jesus they’ve been shown. If your only experience with Jesus is the people who claim to represent him hurting you or others, and they’re convinced they’re in the right and never apologize or fix it, who could blame you for not wanting anything to do with him? I don’t want anything to do with that Jesus either.
And yet those people are supposedly going to hell while all the offending Christians get to float to heaven on the grace of Christ? Where is that grace for the people who have been hurt by the church?
There was plenty of grace for people in the church, but almost none for those outside. And who decides who is outside the church? The people inside.
What solidified my questioning of hell was a post I made in 2018 while trying to raise more support for my missions work. I made a number of videos about my ministry, what we were doing and why. And my final video was about hell. I said something along the lines of “I”m not sure if hell is real, but if it is, there are thousands of people dying and going to hell every day because we haven’t told them about Jesus yet. And I cannot live with myself knowing I didn’t do everything I could to help them.”
My wonderful cousin Heather, who has taught me so much, commented on that video and said, “It’s hard for me to imagine Kelsey sending anyone to Hell, and I’m reasonably sure that God is both more loving and more powerful than Kelsey. Some Christians believe that Jesus’s sacrifice to save humanity worked, and since that day, Hell has been empty.”
That was when I realized my view of hell was pretty messed up.
I won’t go into the specifics of all the theological reasons I don’t believe in hell anymore. It was a long road that took years of study, reading, conversations, and questions. And there are way smarter people than me that have written entire books about it and I won’t do their thoughts justice here. But I will say, the way most Christian churches view hell is super messed up.
If I can have love and empathy and want to do anything in my power to keep these people from hell, how much more does God feel that way? Am I capable of more empathy than God? I really, really hope not. Was Jesus' sacrifice so small that it didn't include outsiders? I don't think so.
Through 2018 and 2019 I was going through a lot faith-wise. I wasn’t sure what I believed, I didn’t think hell was what I’d always thought, but I worked at a missions organization where the entire purpose was saving people from hell. It was a weird time.
But as anyone who’s been in ministry can tell you, when you’re in the midst of it, in the thick of the ministry stuff, there’s not a lot of room for doubt. Maybe it’s a self-preservation thing, maybe it’s fear, knowing that if you really start to pull at that thread your entire life, your career, everything could unravel. And that’s really scary. I had already lost so much. But during these years it was very much of an internal struggle, like a fight between kids in an 80s school movie, my bullying sense of preservation beating the crap out of my doubt, shoving doubt’s head into a toilet for a 2 year long-swirly and letting it come up for breath long enough that it didn’t die, just lost the will to fight.
Up Next: Part 3 The Reckoning