A friend of mine texted me recently after I posted a blog about the HB2 Bathroom Bill in North Carolina. He’s a pastor who lives in the south, and we’ve known each other our whole lives. When I came out to him, he told me I was still family to him, that he loved me. I’ve never been afraid to share my views with him and challenge him to love better.
I’m one of the only gay Christians he knows, so naturally I have become a resource to him as conversations around LGBTQ+ inclusion and equality have become more present where?. I never get tired of his curiosity.
Sure, some of this stuff I could say “go pick up this book” or “read this article,” but I’m not sure anyone has ever been fully convinced by a book or an article. I think people are always transformed through personal relationship. That’s how we help people step into a season of deconstructing faith.
And “deconstructing faith” doesn’t mean abandoning it or the values we have. It means taking it apart, looking at all the parts, seeing how they work, and assessing what needs to stay, what needs to be thrown out, and what needs to be added to move forward.
The Colonized Mind
That’s what the deconstruction process in faith is all about. For too long in the Christian tradition, loving people has looked like making “them” look like “us.” That’s a colonization mindset that we’ve picked up from our forefathers, unfortunately. The idea that “we” are right, and “they” are wrong, OBVI.
European colonizers came to the Americas and forced language, dress, culture, and even Christianity on a native people, mostly obliterating their way of life. (This is obviously a blog for another time, but man… it’s literally one of the biggest hidden wounds of America’s history. We never talk about it, and it is such bullshit…)
Christians, especially those in southern evangelicalism, love to colonize the hearts and minds of people who come to fellowship with them. It makes everything pretty and uniform. It makes faith easy to digest. And it’s easy to digest until you encounter something or someone doesn’t fit into that system.
Let’s use a very practical example: say you meet a guy who comes to your church, he’s an amazing person, he wants to serve at your church, experience in ministry, is perfect for the role he’s looking to fill…but he’s gay. (I bet you didn’t see that coming.)
For many people, the scenario goes that they’ve never met a gay Christian before, let alone a non-religious gay person or any of the other letters in the LGBTQ+ line. They’ve been told their whole lives that gay people are raunchy, sleep around, hate God, have AIDS and are going to hell.
But then you met this guy and he’s nothing like that.
That’s the kind of encounter I’m talking about. This person doesn’t fit into a rigid constructed belief system because you can’t be gay and Christian… and yet, here’s a gay Christian standing right in front of you.
You didn’t expect it. Perhaps you didn’t even want it. But it happened. This person is now in your life and it’s challenging the way you think about things.
And this can be for anything. You could meet a thoughtful person from the opposing political party and it humanizes them for you. You could meet someone of a different faith tradition and it totally reshapes your view of an entire religious group. It’s a personal relationship that brings about transformation.
In my experience with southern evangelicalism, that’s not how it always goes. Many times, it’s a process of becoming like the people group you are trying to enter, or risk not being accepted. It starts off as “come as you are” and ends up being “come as you are so you can look, talk, be like us.”
But that promise of belonging is so sweet that people naturally will buy into the process, at least I did.
I think back to when I first started going back to church and realized how much I had to to belong. I toned down who I was a lot as a queer person. I tried to man up. I went to men’s events and did “manly things” to be one of the guys, like watching the big fight at someone’s house even though fighting literally makes me feel ill. I wore jeans that weren’t as skinny as I used to wear. I even lowered my voice when I was talking to people at my church from its usual effeminate, slightly nasal quality.
But when I started thinking differently about marriage, namely that perhaps same-sex marriage might be okay, those who were in authority over me took action quickly. I got sidelined on every service team I was a part of. Just for thinking differently and voicing those differences of opinion.
Why? Why was thinking differently so wrong? Why was believing and expressing my faith such a dangerous thing?
Because, for some, it’s a matter of life and death, heaven and hell.
Doubt, Deconstruction, and the Edge of Faith
I think for many of us coming from/recovering from evangelical dogma, faith was making sure we were praying the right prayer, singing the same song, and believing the exact same thing. Deviations from this were dangerous to power. We were taught to fall in line and not to question, to never doubt what was handed to us. And when we did question, rather than being allowed to ask the big mysterious questions, some of us were met with discipline or worse.
Do you know what I’m talking about? There is that questioning voice at the back of your mind that makes you wonder what if…
What if it’s possible to be gay AND Christian?
What if women actually are able to be pastors? What if they SHOULD be pastors?
What if there is a racial inequality problem in America? What does that mean for me as a white person?
We all have these doubts. All of us. They are floating around our minds and hearts, and we write them in our journals, voice them to our closest friends, but rarely do we put them on the table and let them live. But we have to make friends with our doubts. If we don’t, faith can easily stagnate because it has no reason to move forward.
This one place where we can get stuck. We have questions and we don’t allow ourselves to ask them. We come to the edge of our faith because of circumstance and relationship and then we just stand there, looking at the view. We don’t trust that God is already ahead of us, beckoning us forward.
It’s scary. Understandably so. Because the other side of our what ifs are other questions like
What if everything I believe is right and this other person is wrong?
What if gay people are going to hell and affirming them would make me an accomplice and I’m ushering people into eternal damnation?
What if by thinking differently about stuff, God is gonna punish me?
But you know that these feelings are not completely true. They can’t be. Not that you can prove it, but your spirit just knows there has to be more…
So many people, rather than taking the leap, just stand there. They can hear the Spirit of God in the distance, calling them forward, daring them to leap into the mystery of their faith, but what if God doesn’t catch me? Everything in them wants to go, but habit and culture and consequences keep their feet firmly on the ground.
When it comes to talking about LGBTQ+ inclusion, this is where many people and many churches are standing. They want to be welcoming, but they can’t be fully affirming, because if they did that…what would happen? They want to love everyone well, but not take a firm stance, because if they did…what would happen?
They are on the edge of their faith, the boundary of what they can or are allowed to believe, completely terrified to take another step forward for fear the God might not be with them.
And that is the lie.
There is this lie that we’ve come to believe that if we doubt, if we question, somehow God is less pleased with us, gets angry with us, or we are removing ourselves from the center of God’s will. But I think it’s the exact opposite. I feel like if we push ourselves into doubt, if we explore the questions we are too afraid to ask, God meets us more directly.
God is in the middle of mystery. God is the mystery.
We’ve placed a false boundary that God never set, a ceiling, on our faith. We’ve replaced the mystery of our faith with methods of understanding a God that is infinitely more knowable and constantly is calling us forward into the more of who God is.
But we stand, petrified on the edge of our faith.
Like I said, this is where we can get stuck. Many people are afraid of the consequences, and rightfully so. The question then is, “What happens if I do?” However the better question is, “What happens if I don’t?”
And I think the answer to that is this:
If we don’t ever leap, if we don’t ever question, if we don’t actually figure out why we believe what we do, we stand to live a smaller life.
And beyond that, if we don’t let our spirituality become deeper, fuller, and more inclusive, there are people who may never live at all.
As someone who took the leap from the edge of my faith into the unknown, let me make one thing earth-shatteringly clear:
God won’t always catch you. Sometimes, you have to crash and burn a bit.God won’t always catch you. Sometimes, you have to crash and burn a bit. @thekevingarcia_ Click To Tweet
Crashing, Burning, Rising, Walking
Faith is not a guarantee of comfort. Faith is not anesthesia for the pain that comes with not knowing. Brené Brown says, “I wanted faith to work like an epidural; to numb the pain of vulnerability. As it turned out, my faith ended up being more like a midwife – a nurturing partner who leans into the discomfort with me and whispers ‘push’ and ‘breathe.’”
That’s what this is, a bit of a new birth. But new life doesn’t come without a bit of pain.
I stood on the edge of my faith until my circumstances hip checked me and I plummeted to the bottom, exploded, and watched as everything (my job, my relationships, my ministry, seriously everything) went up in flames.
I think this is what happens to most people. We don’t want to make the leap into deconstruction, so God has to give us a little nudge. So if you are able to make the leap yourself, do it. I think you stand a chance of landing on your feet and it might make it easier. I dunno. That wasn’t my path.
Anyways! The crash site of a deconstructed faith is also where many people, liberals especially, get stuck in the process of discovering authentic faith.
We hit rock bottom.
Everything seems to explode into a zillion pieces.
We start crying a lot because nothing makes sense.
People run because they cannot handle the discomfort of our raw vulnerability and doubt.
Faith isn’t easy anymore.
We get angry and depressed and want to cuss out everything that moves.
(At least this was my experience.)
We had a faith community, a family, around us, supporting us, loving us. Now we don’t.We used to be able to clearly say what we believed and stood for. Now we can’t. We truly thought that we had it all figured out. Now we aren’t sure of anything. We wanted clear-cut answers. What we got was more questions.
And we can feel so alone. We feel everything has gone to hell and we’ll never ever be able to get back to where we were.
And that’s true. We won’t. We’ll never be able to fit the pieces back together again in the exact same way. Even if we did, cracks would be visible, reminding us of what we’ve learned, and the scars we’ve picked up along the way.
But really, would you want to go back to where you were before? Would you want to go back to a place where you blindly accepted things that were handed to you? To a faith that was small, when you know that you know that you know that there has to be more to all of this?
I didn’t and I still don’t. It’s like I knew it in my bones and spirit that this was a path down which I had to walk. I had to figure out what this yearning was about, this desire to know more.
I never want to go back to a place where it isn’t okay to question. I don’t want to be in a space that cannot embrace that their might be more, that won’t embrace the mystery of what we don’t and can’t understand.
But in the midst of beginning to deconstruct my faith, as incendiary and sudden as it was, I realized that many people couldn’t make the leap with me and they couldn’t walk with me through this wilderness ‘cause not even they had tread it.
That’s where bitterness sets in. This is the other place where we get stuck.
It is easy to become bitter. It is easy to settle into patterns of cynicism. It is easy to isolate ourselves. I’ll go as far as to say that in some ways it’s even trendy in some ways to just be in this space of “screw everything.” People love to brood.
Liberals, myself included, will often stay in this holding pattern far too long. We are angry, we wait, we pray, we get a spark of hope, and we chase that spark. But then we encounter the thing that sent us spiraling down to the depths of our anger or sadness or whatever, and we run back to our crash site because it’s becoming more comfortable the longer we stay there.
And all the while, people in this deconstruction phase look at people who still have rigidly constructed faiths and get angry at them for not seeing the cracks in the system like we do. We get mad because they are so damn happy. It’s almost envy of their ignorance. I’ve found myself saying, “They don’t know how asleep they are! They don’t know that there is more! Why can’t they see it?” Thus, we keep pushing people away.
BUT! All that to say, it’s all okay. It’s okay to be here, to feel all the things you feel. It all belongs. Sadness, anger, and frustration belong just as much as joy, happiness, and curiosity. To shut one side out is to limit your capacity to experience the world and to experience the more of God. So don’t push it away.To shut one side out is to limit your capacity to experience the more of God. @thekevingarcia_ Click To Tweet
Now, here’s the thing: you can’t stay here.
Stay as long as you need, but there will be a point when you’ll get tired of being tired. You’ll be over being over it. You’ll miss the joy that came so easily. You’ll look at yourself and say, “When did I become so bitter? Why am I so cynical and critical of everyone around me? Of my church? Or my family and friends?”
Because it’s not who you want to be. It’s not who you were created to be.
Eventually, that path in front of you, which is very much uncharted, will stare you down and you’ll have to move forward. The Holy Spirit beckons you to step into the mystery of what you will become.
Stumbling into Your Path
My last year of college, a professor brought in a friend of hers. He had us sit down in a circle and asked one question of us: “What’s next?”
A bunch of us looked around the corner, some of us continuing onto the MAT program, others to grad school. But many of us, myself included, had little to no idea how this whole thing was going to turn out. I was getting my degree in music and then going to be a missionary. After that I was clueless.
I think the lesson for all of us in that is that maybe there is a better question to ask. We can look at the systems of faith we were given, see the cracks that exist, see the corruption, the racism and sexism and homophobia and transphobia and ask, “Why?”
And “why” is good and important. But sometimes “why” gets in the way. Because we ask “why” to everything, get the answers, and end up with just more cynicism. We can easily point out the problems.
Because yes, people are awful and operate out of fear.
Yes, many church congregations are missing the mark when it comes to issues that affect our daily lives.
Yes, many people’s faith is as shallow and whitewashed as the denim that they are wearing to their overpriced brunch.
Yes, being the only one who seems to give a damn in your community is frustrating.
And here’s the question: “What’s next?”
What now? Who will you be? What will you create to move this thing forward?
That’s the step towards reconstructing a faith that is bigger, wider, more inclusive, AND invites other people to come with you.
When you finally start taking a step on your path towards figuring out what you will do with the information given to you, you enter into a space that makes room for it all. Your pain, your story, your life, your glory, and everyone else’s as well. It all belongs. It’s all needed.
And it will be messy, and it will not be easy. But! It is good. And there is peace that comes with knowing that you are walking towards God. And that as you step towards God, God steps towards you as well.
God meets us in the mystery and misery of a deconstructed faith, one that is free for God to move and reveal more than we thought possible. Because the box is gone, and there is nothing left but our broken heart, the Spirit flows into and through it like water and wind, filling us up and flushing out that which we no longer need.
This process takes time. This process will also reveal that the process will never end. That this third phase of reconstructing faith is a never ending process. However, I take comfort that even Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit to come face to face with his own humanity. That’s what drives any one of us to this point.
Just as God brought the Hebrews out of the bondage of Egypt to worship and be free, so too does God call us out of our own bondage (which actually look more like comfortable places) into deserts where we feel alone, afraid, and full of questions, to meet with us face to face.We rise up from the crash site of our faith and we see a path before us, lit only by the flames of our faith behind us. @thekevingarcia_ Click To Tweet
** This is part 2 (of 3) in the series ‘Accidentally Rediscovering Authentic Faith’ by Kevin Garcia. Read part one, “Losing My Religion”, here. And go sign up for Kevin’s blog here. Originally published at www.thekevingarcia.com. Reprinted with permission (and love). **