Deconstruction Reason #1: Hurt from Churches, Pastors, and Christians

Written by Mark Farnham

On February 4, 2022

See the first post in this series here. New posts drop every Friday.

Types of Deconstruction

As I unpack my Ten Reasons Christians Are Deconstructing Their Faith, let me make a few introductory comments. My original post created a little firestorm on Facebook in a way I did not expect. I believe the fundamental mistake I made was to think that everyone understood deconstruction in the same way. I think deconstruction is used by Christians today in at least three ways, hence the confusion. Type 1 Deconstruction understands the word to mean simply reexamining one’s faith in the light of Scripture and rejecting beliefs they once thought were true (in a very benign fashion). It is not properly called deconstruction, but rather something more like spiritual maturity or “being a Berean Christian” who is willing to test any claim by the standard of Scripture (Acts 17:11). Perhaps every Christian has experienced this at times.

Type 2 takes deconstruction to mean something more serious, as when a Christian suddenly or over a long period of time realizes all the man-made corruptions that were added to their Christian experience growing up, such as legalism, hypocrisy, weak and erroneous theology and practice, and perhaps their overly strict and isolated upbringing, and rejects it in a way that constitutes a complete renovation of their beliefs. This kind of Christian still believes the basics of Christian orthodoxy, such as the deity of Christ, the truth of the Bible, and salvation by grace alone, but wants nothing to do with any expression of Christianity that bears a resemblance to how they grew up. The end result varies from a healthy renewal of faith to a seriously weakened commitment to cultural Christianity and identity as a Christian, with a strong distaste for anything traditional.

While both of those senses of deconstruction are very common experiences today (and probably have always been a part of Christianity, although accelerated and more visible in the age of the internet), I was trying to explore a more radical idea of deconstruction that begins with Type 2 but proceeds to a total abandonment of the faith, which we will call Type 3 Deconstruction. This type is marked by skepticism of everything about Christianity, motivated by growing conviction that it is completely contrived, manipulated by power structures throughout history, and in some cases, downright dangerous.[1]

So, I wrote the original post to help Christians who are confused by the seeming mass migration of (mostly young) people away from the church and belief in God at all.  In doing so, my tone was not particularly encouraging to Type 2 Christians because it was meant to give a biblical understanding to how and why people depart the faith. I stand by my attempt to explain what is behind some of the Type 3 Deconstruction (and probably some of the Type 2 as well). So, thanks to all who pointed out that my tone could have been more helpful for Type 2s. I agree and will try to incorporate a more helpful tone throughout this series.[2] Those who know me know I have a heart for believers struggling with their faith and the doubt caused by the unending onslaught of attacks against Christianity. I spend hours every week helping them sort through both.

And now, to reason #1…

Hurts, Abuse, and Trauma

At the heart of many reasons that Christians are deconstructing their faith in a Type 2 or 3 fashion is hurt from those who claimed the name of Christ. This hurt takes a myriad of forms. For some it was cruel or discouraging words spoken by an adult, a Sunday School teacher, or a Christian friend. The Bible speaks about the devastating impact of insensitive, malicious, and hateful words: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.” (Proverbs 18:21) That is, words alone can break the spirit and crush a person, setting a life on a course of despair, self-hatred, and dysfunction. 

For others the hurt is even more heinous. A pastor or church member said sexually explicit things to them, seduced them, or molested them. A religious leader told them to do what they knew was evil to avoid going to hell. Their religious parents beat them, berated them, screamed and spewed profanities in the privacy of their home, while smiling when at church and holding a position of leadership. They were manipulated, exploited, and blackmailed into staying silent, while they were raped or otherwise used for years. They were controlled and told what to do, so that they had no freedom, no agency to live by their conscience before God. 

They were lied to again and again by those who taught honesty. They were introduced to pornography by their youth pastor who defiled them when no one was looking. They were made to believe their pastor was without sin while he heaped guilt upon them week after week without a hint of grace. They were forced to go to a Christian college they didn’t want to go to because they were told that the strictness of the rules would keep them from falling into sin. Instead, they found a den of iniquity in the dorms that made them twice a child of hell. They were taught a God of judgment and wrath, even against his own children, despite the constant message of salvation by grace.

When their father died of cancer, the sympathy and compassion were short lived, and there was no one present to share the deep treasures of the heart of God for the hurting because they were just supposed to get over their grief and move on. Lament was a lack of trust in God and they should rejoice in all things, “don’t you know.” 

She was supposed to stay in the marriage while her husband systematically tore her down emotionally and physically until she was a walking shell of a person. He was supposed to bear up under a cruel and belittling wife, with no help from the church and no support, until his heart broke on the inside and his kids grew to hate their cruel mother, who was so well liked in church as a model Christian woman. No church discipline was every exercised against adults known to be in unrepentant and continual sin, while any teen caught having sex was paraded in front of the church to be shamed, especially if she was showing. Youth culture was condemned outright with no distinctions, while the ushers told racists jokes in the lobby during the services and older women eviscerated each other with venomous gossip any chance they got.

I could go on and on and probably not touch on a fraction of the scenarios that people carry around inside themselves for years, wondering how God could be good and Christianity could be true while these things continue. My point is that when people walk away from the faith, it is not always because their beliefs have changed, but rather because of the pain and trauma they have experienced at the hands of those who profess Christ.

Some downplay this hurt. They say things like, “We’ve all been hurt, but that is no reason to hang onto it or let it affect your faith.” Some call people who express genuine hurt “snowflakes” or “fragile.” The betrayal of spiritual leaders is minimized. “Everyone has faults. We are all human. We can’t expect perfection in our leaders. Do you think you are without sin?” Or, “Just forgive that youth pastor who groomed you and molested you. Hanging onto bitterness makes you the guilty party. He said he was sorry. Are you going to ruin this man of God’s reputation for one indiscretion?” Or, “If the pastor made a pass at you, you must have done something to encourage it. Maybe you are the problem.”

There are a thousand varieties of the minimization of sin. Jesus never played this evil game, however.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18:5–6)

May all the excuse-giving, cover-ups, back-room dealings, and blame-the-victim mentality burn in hell. It has nothing to do with Christ. It reeks of the sulphur of hell and the machinations of the devil. For too long churches have tolerated, abetted, and advanced hellish behavior that has left millions of crushed hearts and bruised souls in its wake. While priding ourselves in our right doctrine and adherence to biblical commands (both good and necessary things), we have neglected the inner man, the heart. We have taught morality without being virtuous. We have had a prophetic voice (again, a good thing) without a shepherd’s heart.

The Solution 

What can be done? We must take all of Christ’s words to heart. We must see as he sees, with compassion and longing to heal. We must embrace the gentle and lowly heart of Christ to sinners and saints alike, while still standing firm and battling the error and wickedness of this age. We must shun churches that lack integrity. We must speak up against Christian hypocrisy when we encounter it. We must live lives that equal our profession. We must help those who are bleeding find healing, exercising patience for as long as it takes.

To those who have walked away from the faith I say, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” This is hard to hear, but just because someone did something evil in Christ’s name doesn’t mean that he in any way represented Christ’s way. Jesus will never hurt, never disappoint when he is understood correctly and believed in truth. “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory.” (Matthew 12:20). The problem is not with Christianity or God, but with those who take his name without truly knowing him. 

Not every church is hypocritical, hurtful, or corrupt. Christ’s bride, the Church, can never be fully corrupted, and there will always be true churches proclaiming truth, showing the heart of Christ, and healing the hurting. Don’t turn your back on Jesus because there is nothing else out there that offers life. He is the Shepherd of our souls and your only hope.

[1] Type 3 Deconstruction has its roots in postmodern and French philosophy that was in vogue in philosophical circles for many years, abandoned because of its inherent self-contradiction, but which found new life in academic departments such as literature, sociology, psychology, history, and law among others. It sometimes manifests itself as higher criticism or Critical Theory.

[2] The challenge, I fear, will be that some Type 2s will not like the way I describe the ten reasons for deconstruction, and will discount what I am saying out of offense to their experience or the way they perceive it.

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