Seven years ago, my relationship with the church changed.
There was a time when I considered it my home, my identity, and the most important part of my life.
Then I realized it was not at all what I thought it was, and so much about what I had once believed to be true about it became untrue.
It has taken at least 6 of the 7 years for me to finally start to accept that it is OK that I have not been able to call a church my home again.
For the longest time, it felt so strange not attending. Gradually, other things began to fill the time and not being there became more normal.
Because I live in the South, I believed for the longest time that I was in the minority not attending church. Then the pandemic happened, and I realized that not attending had become the new norm.
Recent statistics reveal that those of us who do not attend church are now actually in the majority. Over half of Americans do not attend church. So at least I’m not alone.
My deconstruction process started seven years ago with a phone call to a counselor in another state. I called her from a Sunday school classroom in the back of the church where I worked as an administrative assistant. I sat on the floor leaned against an old sofa, cell phone pressed against my ear.
The first question the counselor asked me was what was going on in my life that I had made the decision to reach out to her. The secret I’d been holding in for almost a decade spilled out of my mouth before I even realized what I was saying.
I believed I was confessing all of my sins to this stranger on the phone. I believed telling the truth would bring relief and healing to my life.
But then she spoke the words I will never forget. “I believe your pastor is a predator, and he groomed you to be abused. “
At first I wanted to defend him, but deep down inside I knew she had spoken the truth my mind had not wanted to comprehend.
I was 19 years old when I attended church for the first time. One of the first Sundays I attended, I helped my husband, who was an elder at the time, prepare communion for the service.
Even though I was dressed in a new dress, I felt like I fell short of what I should be. It took months for me to finally start to believe I was good enough to attend.
I had spent most of my life surviving a traumatic home life, escaping my current circumstances in movies, books and stories that I wrote.
I will never forget the day I sat down with a pen and a blank piece of paper and said to myself that I was not stuck, I could write myself anywhere I wanted to go, and I did.
I think in a lot of ways attending church was like writing myself out of all the things that I did not like about my life. When I walked through the doors of the church Sunday after Sunday, I convinced myself that I could be someone better than I felt deep down that I was. On the outside, in my Sunday best, I was another sparkling saint washed clean in the blood of the Lamb. But on the inside, I carried a deep disgust for almost everything about myself.
Based on my experiences in the church, it would be easy to throw out my faith in Jesus just as I have church attendance. But thankfully somewhere in all of the mess between who I pretended to be and who I really was, I had an encounter with the real Jesus and He told me He knew everything about my life, that He had never left my side, and that He loved me more than I could possibly comprehend. This experience has been an anchor for my heart and soul, that has prevented my faith from being completely shipwrecked. So much of what I have believed has been shaken, sifted and burned in the fires of deception and doubt, but this experience is the gold that remains; a treasure worth everything.
In my deconstruction process, I have ripped down all the walls built with doctrines that convinced me if I believed the right things I would be saved. While I have no doubt that Jesus is the source of our salvation, I also believe that doctrinal beliefs alone cannot give us the love we need that saves us from self-destruction.
Even the demons believe and tremble.
A toxic relationship with a pastor taught me that doctrine can be twisted to justify anything.
Doctrines without love, revealed through our actions and not in word only, are a loud, clanging cymbal filling our ears with an irritating sound that block out the sound of His gentle whisper to our hearts.
Almost every day I read another story about another person in ministry involved in abusing or covering up abuse in the church. So many of these stories involve a perpetrator or someone justifying or excusing the perpetrators actions using biblical doctrines. I wish they would just shut up!
In my own story the doctrine of grace was grossly misused and abused to keep me trapped in an abusive relationship.
While I still believe in God’s grace and forgiveness, I do not believe they were ever intended to keep us from doing the work on our part to end our own destructive patterns. I believe whenever we ask for grace and forgiveness, we are given a tremendous opportunity to see the things in our lives that need healing. When we let this opportunity pass over and over again, grace and forgiveness doctrines just enable us to bring further harm.
If the grace of God in your life enables you to continue in the same destructive patterns that bring harm to yourself and others, it might be time to put down your Bible and make an appointment with a counselor.
I confess in my deconstruction process, there has been more torn down than there has been built up.
But these three things remain:
And the greatest of these is love.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. – John 13:34-35
I want to add that while much of this post has been about deconstructing my relationship with the church, I am not in anyway implying that there are not churches that are attempting to live out what they believe. I will always be thankful for the true believers who have loved me and helped me to heal.
If you are in the process of deconstructing your faith, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to comment below or email.