4 min. to read.
If you’re worried about the number of Christian folks who are deconstructing, take a deep breath. If you’re experiencing it yourself, no need to panic. I’ve had a tangible experience of deconstruction these past few weeks that clarified how it is often a necessary and healthy experience.
I love sitting on my deck in the morning sun, reading a book with a cup of tea. The deck, though, is old. We’ve been trying to hold back the rot and decay with imperfect patches and repairs. Finally, it became clear we were losing the race with entropy. If the deck was going to remain a safe and enjoyable space for our family, it needed restoration.
So my son and I started the project by taking off the decking. Some of the surface boards had visible damage. Once removed, we could see additional damage we didn’t even know about. The posts had settled. There was dry-rot in a few joists. In a couple of spots, the supporting structure had been expanded in a way that couldn’t possibly last and wasn’t even really safe.
My son and I were doing deconstruction. Taking the deck apart piece by piece gave us access to the underlying structure. We could see that some of the supports were solid and trustworthy. Others were badly damaged from weather and insects. In a few places destructive rot was spreading.
Our work of deconstruction was not malicious or irresponsible—just the opposite. We wanted to preserve, even improve the deck. Our motives weren’t cynicism (“Decks are just a scam by big lumber!”) or unhealed injury (“Once I was pushed off a deck, so all decks must be destroyed.”). We love our experience of that space. Our work looked destructive, but its purpose was renewal.
Your system of religious beliefs is a construction project like our deck. It’s been built and expanded all your life. A complex system of supports lies beneath the surface, laid by people before you—parents, teachers, pastors and theologians for nearly two thousand years.
You may have noticed a few loose boards. (“Hmm… why is the passion story in Matthew so much different than that in Luke?”) Maybe you stubbed your toe on a nail sticking up. (“People keep quoting Paul to say that women shouldn’t have leadership. That doesn’t seem right.”) Some dry-rot has crept in. (“The way some Christian leaders cling to power doesn’t seem like Jesus.”) The deck stairs are so broken folks have been injured. (The LGBTQ community? Racial minorities? Women? Abused children?)
Some manage all of this by throwing on another thick coat of paint. After all, this old deck has worked for us for so long. Why should we change it? Other folks decide the deck is too unsafe and the whole deck has to come down. Between those two responses are the many who have found their experience of the deck to be meaningful and life-giving, but they have hope it can be better. Safer. Less likely to harm others. More accessible. (More like Jesus, to step out of the metaphor for a moment.)
Maturing faith requires restoration and repair.
I’m re-doing my deck because the deck has been life-giving to me. I want that experience to continue for me, for my kids, and for others around me. My faith and associated religious belief system are a much more consequential construct than my deck. They shapes my thinking, my relationships, my choices, and how I relate to those around me.
Like many others, I am captivated and compelled by Jesus and his way. I have become confident that to follow Jesus well, deconstruction is necessary—at least for some of us. Following Jesus’ path of service and other-centered love means removing the boards of power and self from the deck. Any aspect of faith and practice that violates Jesus’ character and teaching, or that leave behind “collateral damage” must be rethought.
Jesus told us to love God with all we are and have, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Take this seriously, and we must then deal with the broken, rotten, or failing parts of our faith and belief system that keep us from Jesus’ calling. So, whether you are the one deconstructing or if it’s someone you love, don’t panic. Deconstruction, in this way, is an act of love and faithfulness. It is a necessary step on the path of spiritual maturity, emerging from a our belief that Jesus wasn’t wrong when he called us to die to self and love others.