I began losing my religion in January of 2014. I was a missionary at the time, the archetype of what “good Christian” was supposed to be. But my faith was stacked up like a house of cards, and removing even one of them could bring the whole thing down. However, experience not just removed a card, but smashed the whole thing. My religion was fragile because my view of God was so small. But it was moving from a rigid, constructed view of faith, having it deconstructed by circumstance and experience, that lead me to reconstructing a faith in God that was not only bigger, but boundless.
My friend Sarah told me one time that she couldn’t even go back to a theological context that wasn’t inclusive, that it didn’t make sense to her anymore. Not just for LGBTQ+ people, but for justice work as a whole and for how she viewed how God interacts with the world and with the Church herself. I’m right there with her.
But what does that mean when we run into people we want to invite on this journey of discovery? When we want to examine something other than the same old conservative, white theology we were handed growing up as evangelicals? Often, it means a lot of hard conversations, a lot of tears, perhaps a few fights, and sometimes strained relationships.
I’ll completely admit that I’m still learning what it looks like to be a reformer and revolutionary who handles these situations with grace. I get upset because I try to present my most authentic self, my full truth, but despite that folks still fail to be moved to my point of view. I’ve nearly ruined some friendships over my zealous nature but, again, I’m learning.
It’s just been recently that I’ve discovered the writings of Richard Rohr, who talks a lot about contemplation, non-binary thinking, and about the redemption and salvation of everything, not just the personal salvation we’ve been taught in American evangelicalism. One idea that he unpacked on both Rob Bell’s and The Liturgists podcasts was about construction, deconstruction, and and reconstruction when it comes to our faith and the paradigms in which we live.
This is the journey on which we invite our friends as we begin to discuss justice, inclusion and affirmation for LGBTQ+ in the church.
Construction: Stuck in a House of Cards
I don’t know where you are in your personal journey, but I assume that there are things you hold very close to the center of yourself, things you say are “true” for you. I put that in quotes because as we continue to move on in our lives, as we observe the world and have experiences, we are shaped, molded and influenced, whether we like it or not.
A child will say, “Vegetables are yucky.” And for that child, this is the truest thing in the universe. But as the child gets older and has an experience which influences them, they see, “Oh, well actually broccoli is pretty good.”
Ask yourself, do you believe the same things in the same way you did ten years ago? I hope the answer is a resounding, “No!” You have changed, you’ve evolved, you have become the person you have always meant to be and you are still becoming. At least this is true for some of us.
But for many people, especially conservative individuals, they have a very carefully constructed set of beliefs, a very black and white way of looking at the world. It’s right and wrong, left and right, Republican and Democrat, gay and straight. And this, truly, is how we are wired as humans. Very rarely can we look at something or feel something and just let it exist. We have to assign meaning and value to it, and see how it fits within our paradigm and belief systems.
Conservatives tend to get stuck in this first rigid stage. They hold tight to their religion with a grip so firm it would choke out just about anything, including genuine faith in others. (Now, if you are conservative, don’t get mad and click off the page. Liberals get stuck in deconstruction, but that’s on the next blog, so keep reading.)
It’s very much like a house of cards, the cards being our system of beliefs and values. Each card is carefully placed, and each one is dependent upon the other. As we go on in our lives, we build it higher and higher, protecting it from anyone who would seek to point out that maybe there is a different way to think about things. We don’t let even a hint of doubt creep in because we’ve been taught that doubt is the enemy.
Whether it’s about God, the nature of the universe, why we’re all here, doctrines we’ve always thought were Truth with a capital T, whatever it is, we protect what we know.
This is a tribal mindset and conclusions drawn this way will always distinguish between who is on the morally correct side of God and who is not, especially in Christian context.
This is where it gets tricky, because as dynamic, spiritual beings, there comes a point in all of our lives when we encounter something that cannot fit on top of our house of cards. We have an experience, meet a person, read a book, or just have a moment of extreme clarity where we open our eyes and say, “What the heck am I doing?”
Some folks call this waking up, others call it a crisis of faith, and either way, people get scared because their house of cards kind of faith is threatened. Because they see that something that they’ve assumed to be true their whole life might not be true. But if they remove that from their belief system, if they try to remove that card, the whole thing could come down.
Because if they are wrong about this one thing, what if they are wrong about everything else?
And that’s why conservatives push back against progressive theology or different schools of thought: because it threatens everything. This is where people will get stuck, and these are the people I run into and interact with all the time.
Usually, I am the one asking my conservative friends and family to take a look a certain card, a doctrine, or a practice, and question it.
(That’s another thing. We’ve been told in evangelicalism and in other conservative denominations not to question, just to believe. And for some things and for certain times, sure. God is, after all, a divine mystery. But to not question at all? That’s dangerous. That leads us to being lazy theologians and shallow practitioners of our faith.)
I’m not just asking for people to consider a different point of view. I’m asking people to dare to enter into full blown deconstruction of their faith, and ask two dangerous questions:
What do you believe? Why do you believe what you do?
That’s a brave and dangerous thing to do because it has consequences. In many circles, namely conservative religious circles, if you question the power structure, the status quo, even in just mere curiosity, you can lose your positions. Relationships change. People will easily call you a backslider or heretic.
But there is this hum in you, isn’t there? There’s this whisper that maybe there is more to all this. Perhaps there is a different way to think about this.
I’ve heard certain people say that, when it comes to the question of LGBTQ+ inclusion and affirmation in the church they want it to be okay, that they wish they could just believe that being gay was okay and we could all move on. But their house of cards is there, and removing that card will make a mess of their faith.
My friends, if that’s you, that whisper that says, “I want to be okay with LGBTQ+ people, I want to be affirming, but…” that means something. And, personally, I believe that it’s the Holy Spirit speaking to you, saying, It’s okay, I’m not going to leave you. Step into this. Receive what I’m wanting to give you. Open up your heart that I might be BIGGER than you thought, that grace was wider than you ever imagined.
Don’t ignore that whisper. Don’t silence that doubt you have. Let it be the waters in which you soak, the road you travel, the intrigue in which you marinate.
Your religion, your faith, shouldn’t be this stagnant, unchanging thing. If God is still speaking and constantly doing a new thing, doesn’t it make sense that it could be true of our faith?
I’m asking you to do something brave: do a little deconstruction, a little examination.
Look intently at the cards you’ve stacked. Because I bet you are feeling like you want to but you are too afraid. But I’m not asking you to remove anything, or throw anything out. The set of beliefs you have on certain things might just need adjusting, or perhaps rearranging. And yes, that is scary because it feels like the whole thing could come crashing down, but that’s part of life.
It if it’s not me challenging you, either someone or something else will.
This whole thing is a process. And it takes work.
And this requires work and curiosity and a willingness to let go of something, namely your need to be correct. God doesn’t get mad at us for asking questions. God doesn’t punish us for believing differently from the majority. God is infinately pleased with you. So suspend your fear. Let yourself dive deep into the depths of these questions that have been in your heart for so long.
Ask the question, What if…
What if there is a different way to look at the LGBTQ+ question?
What if there is a new way to see gender roles and gender all together?
What if science is showing us something beautiful about the human experience that just expands what God has revealed to us in the Bible?
What if the Word of God has been residing in me this whole time, and I wasn’t listening? Wasn’t trusting?
What if God is bigger and wilder than I ever imagined?
Republished with permission. Original link here.
** This is the first of a three-part series surrounding the idea of construction, deconstruction and reconstruction when it comes to faith. We will be featuring all three pieces of the series here at ALTARWORK, but we would really love it if you signed up for Kevin’s newsletter. If you haven’t already, SUBSCRIBE here so you don’t miss one. **