“I am deconstructing my faith.” I have heard these words from friends, family and colleagues. The word “deconstruction” has caused much anxiety for churches coping with the fact that people’s faith can change.
But what is deconstruction? A basic definition is that it is the process of taking something apart, piece by piece, in order to deeply examine it.
The anxiety comes from the possibility that deconstruction will lead to people walking away from the Christian faith.
It is true that many people have abandoned the Christian faith after deconstructing it. But it is also true that deconstruction has led some people back to the church.
One mistake the church makes is to label deconstruction — or any sense of doubt — as a negative thing. We have tried to control people’s faith by not giving them the space to question or reexamine the faith they have inherited.
The journey of deconstruction doesn’t just pop up out of nowhere. Often it is due to spiritual trauma. A person’s faith has come up against something that has forced them to rethink what they believe. Maybe it was the realization that the church has been complicit in racism. Or that it has discriminated against women.
When the faith that we have been given is challenged, we reexamine our relationship with God and the church. Many of us were force-fed a certain kind of theology at a young age. But as we grow and experience life, we make our own decisions.
Though this process can feel threatening to churches, it is not something to run away from. I believe deconstruction is a natural part of growing in our faith.
Yes, the church is called to shepherd and teach people the ways of Jesus, but it also needs to make room for people to discover God for themselves.
I believe the church should walk alongside those who are deconstructing, not discourage them from going through this experience. The church ought to be the safe environment — the community that supports them — while they ask the questions they need to ask.
Deconstruction does not mean someone is losing faith. It means they are examining it. They are looking at it more closely to see how they can experience the divine in a fresh way.
When I think about deconstruction, I am reminded of the Apostle Thomas and how he doubted Jesus’ resurrection.
Thomas had been through trauma. To see one’s beloved friend and teacher beaten and executed must have been an awful burden to carry. I can imagine the shame Thomas must have felt in knowing that he, with many of the other disciples, fled the scene when the worst of times fell upon them.
Thomas had experienced the divine in Jesus. But Jesus’ death forced him to reimagine his faith.
Was Jesus really who he said he was? Was this journey all for nothing? I imagine questions and doubts going through Thomas’ head.
Hearing of the resurrection, Thomas doubted. The trauma was too much. He could not get his hopes up again. The dead cannot come back to life.
Even after Jesus appears in his resurrected state, Thomas wants evidence. When Jesus appears a second time, and Thomas sees Jesus’ wounds, he accepts it is indeed Jesus before him. Through his process of doubt, he is able to experience the divine in a new way.
Thomas was not alone. The other disciples were with him. He was a part of a community that walked with him through his doubts and questions.
As the church, we must be willing to accompany people as they face their doubts. Whether they’ve experienced spiritual trauma or simply moved beyond the simpler answers they were taught, they need the church to be there for them — even if they step away from the church for a while.
Mennonites are the spiritual descendants of deconstructors. The first Anabaptists doubted the theology and practices of the church they grew up with. They found new ways of following Jesus that changed the course of history. We are grateful for their deconstruction. Needed change begins with people who aren’t afraid to question the way things are.
We can participate in deconstruction in community with one another. We can reexamine our faith together and pray with confidence that God will meet us on the other side.