Fathom Mag
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To whom shall we go?

Maybe I was already deconstructing.

Published on:
May 17, 2021
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4 min.
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Faith deconstruction is confronting hard questions and grievous experiences that a believer has suppressed for years, forcing them to finally deal with the doubts and concerns that have always been there, lurking in the shadows,” writes Mark C. Hackett. 

Back in February, I noticed the word deconstruction more and more in my Twitter feed. Initially, I figured deconstruction was simply a catalyst for abandoning faith altogether. But as I’ve watched people pick up their spiritual crowbars, I’ve realized there’s more nuance to the idea than I originally recognized. And, in turn, I recognized that maybe I was already deconstructing too. 

As I’ve watched people pick up their spiritual crowbars, I’ve realized there’s more nuance to the idea than I originally recognized

Ready to Rethink

“I think there is always a sense of grief that comes along with deconstruction,” writes Sarah Bessey.

Yes, grief. Mine started in March a year ago. A pandemic and protests consumed 2020, and like Paul after his encounter with Ananias, I felt the scales on my eyes falling to the ground, just over months instead of moments. Each shed scale left me rattled.

Though the politicization of the pandemic and George Floyd’s murder thrust me into rethinking my own set of beliefs, the January 6 insurrection crushed my spirit in its entirety. “Many people’s process of deconstruction begins with an inciting incident—a personal earthquake that shakes them loose from their moorings,” noted the RELEVANT staff in an August 2020 article. Mine came as I beheld “Jesus Saves” banners in the same space as a makeshift gallows. I set fire to my former self that day and prayed that the blaze would preserve some remnant that God could and would refine. Two questions emerged, mirroring those from a recent article by Fathom columnist Aarik Danielsen: “How will I be different? My God, how can I stay the same?” 

To put it another way, I’m ready for fresh, unflinching scrutiny.

The Work of Rethinking

“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” writes the apostle Paul to the church in Phillippi. 

I have found plenty of both as I examine my thirty-plus years in the church and how that setting has both enhanced and distorted the lens I use to navigate life. But, interestingly, the unease surrounding deconstruction has been less difficult, ironically, because of the pandemic. The ability to hole up at home away from any conceivable social setting has provided me with ample time to wrestle down my thoughts and read about others who are walking the same path. I’ve had time to try and answer the obvious question: what does deconstruction look like from a practical standpoint? 

Frankly, I have no idea. I just started pulling up the floorboards that looked rotten. 

The first plank was race relations in the country and in the church. I’ve taken it upon myself to read, watch, and learn about the history of racism in the United States and what I can do to be a voice for my neighbors. 

Then I started looking at celebrity pastors. I’ve grown quite weary of the phenomenon in the American evangelical church. Case in point: Carl Lentz, the former pastor of Hillsong NYC who was fired for “leadership issues and breaches of trust, plus a recent revelation of moral failures.” Then there’s the late apologist Ravi Zacharias, who used his ministry to conceal explicit images of women, sexual abuse, and a rape allegation. This is a lot of shitty stuff to process, dear reader.

Acknowledging the Angst

“A lot of talk in faith circles about deconstructing. I don’t think what I’ve been through in the last 5 years has been deconstructing. I think it’s been more of a nervous breakdown,” tweeted author (and former Southern Baptist member) Beth Moore on February 21.

I long to say the early angst of the deconstruction process has lessened to a degree, but the truth is the opposite in light of the murder of eight people in Atlanta on March 16, six of whom are of Asian descent. That tragedy is further compounded by the rise of hate crimes towards Asian Americans across the country. According to a Stop AAPI Hate National Report, between March 19, 2020, and February 28, 2021, 3,795 incidents were reported, though the authors note that the figure is likely much higher as many instances go unreported.

I foresee a changed man on the other side of this spiritual crucible. To be clear, it’s deconstruction, not destruction, that I’m choosing.

A few days ago, I viewed a short interview between Seth Meyers and the comedian Ken Jeong. In the clip, Jeong spoke about the Atlanta shootings and made a remark that’s now lodged in my brain forever: “As a human, I don’t know how to solve racism.” It seems fair to say that none of us do. That’s a heart condition I have to believe requires nothing short of encountering the presence of the living God. 

Knowing Where to Turn

“To whom shall we go?” Five staggering words from the apostle Peter to Christ when others were abandoning Jesus. 

Peter’s statement from the book of John was a reoccurring answer to a providential tweet. The author had asked fellow Christ-followers why they remained committed to the faith. Many replies were offered, but I kept returning to that quote from the book of  John, the one about returning to Jesus. 

Despite everything I’ve experienced personally and watched from afar the past four years, I still follow Jesus. In fact, he’s the one—the only one—that will help me navigate my deconstruction. And my reconstruction. I foresee a changed man on the other side of this spiritual crucible. To be clear, it’s deconstruction, not destruction, that I’m choosing. The former employs a scalpel; the latter, dynamite. I’m not detonating my beliefs, but tactically purging the unfruitful dross (by way of prayer in hopes of becoming more Christlike in my words and actions). For those doing the same, Godspeed.

Austin Bonds
Austin Bonds, who lives north of Atlanta, is a stay-at-home father and distance runner. For more of his writing about the intersection of running, restoration, and resonance, visit his website and follow him on Twitter.

Cover image by Brigitte Tohm.

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