Faith Deconstruction (a few years over due)
Kinda similar to getting hit in the face by the lip of a wave …
I want to write to you about my faith deconstruction.
To give some context, I grew up in a loving Church family, around 25 years ago my mum founded our church and was one of very few women to do such a thing at that time. Both my parents are incredibly inspiring, my dad has always supported my mum and has empowered myself and siblings in every way possible. Their kindness and generosity blows my mind and they have shown an ability to adapt and open their minds through the changes in faith and belief structures over the years. My dad wrote a book ‘Jesus the man behind the woman’ and has always spoken about the importance and power of having women in leadership and equality within Church. When the discussion about Hell arose years ago, my dad spoke about the differing beliefs and fearlessly acknowledged how his opinions on the matter had changed, despite the pushback that came with entertaining the belief that perhaps God doesn’t send non believers to burn in a literal fiery hell for eternity … I mention my parents because it’s important to me that you understand where I came from and how I was raised - I didn’t ever feel oppressed by the belief structures, I felt empowered. I felt like I could change the world, like I could make a genuine difference and like my life truly mattered. My parents and church family instilled this belief in me. I’m so grateful for that. Through church I was encouraged to be creative, I learnt to play the drums and then the bass guitar. I got to travel a lot, which ignited my love for experiencing new cultures and led to countless trips abroad. I was enabled to speak in front of the church, initially this was terrifying but I was loved and encouraged so much that I eventually enjoyed speaking from the front. I was allowed to lead from a young age, first helping out at the Friday night youth club and years later leading the Church youth club every week and running youth conferences.
My initial response to any problem was always to ask God for his help. My life revolved around Him. If I wasn’t sure if I was doing the right thing I would ask him to speak to me, to help me to know, and I would make a decision based on how much peace I felt in my heart. I believed that God spoke to me that way. I would spend my evenings reading Christian books, soaking up as much info as possible about how to better serve the Lord. I journaled constantly, listened to worship music as much as possible and got excited by the next prophet or big speaker who might help bring about the next Revival. My biggest aspiration was to be significant in bringing about Gods will on earth. I wanted to be a game changer. To be radical and to change the world. (A few of these things are still somewhat true but my perspective on what it all means has changed.) When deciding where to go to university I chose Swansea, because at the time I was still running the youth group and didn’t feel it was right to leave them, I was so invested in working with them and even though I felt like Plymouth might have been the better university I wasn’t willing to sacrifice the youth work - it was my priority. This made for a very challenging first year at university, but I lived at home which made it easier to continue working with the Church.
During my second year, around five years ago I moved to Swansea and started to consider that maybe, actually I hadn’t got it all right. I had started dating Matthew…he wasn’t, and still isn’t a Christian. I knew that dating him would be controversial and essentially frowned upon because dating a non Christian might 1. Cause me to question and potentially lose my faith and 2. Inevitably lead to the loss of my sacred virginity. As a youth leader there was more pressure to make the right choices in these areas as I was holding a position of influence with the younger people. I expected to feel a lack of peace at some point in my relationship, like God would tell me it wasn’t the right thing. But that didn’t happen and I fell deeper in love…it was the best thing that has happened to me. I’m grateful for Matthew every day, incredibly happy even when things are difficult and I can’t quite believe that our lives crossed in the way they did and that we’ve ended up living such a creative and beautiful life together.
So during all of this, my faith fell apart. I consider this to be good thing, not because I have issues with faith, but because I would rather have gone through that faith deconstruction and faced the questions, doubts and fears in my heart than to have continued unaware of them. Everything I thought or said, came into question. So many statements would roll off the tongue, so many beliefs about the ‘others’ that were based on what I’d been told rather than what I’d learnt for myself. I had opinions about Jehovah Witnesses, Freemasons and new age hippies, but didn’t really know why, there were books I hadn’t read because they might lead me away from God. So during this time I decided to strip back prejudice and fear and try to learn, to open my mind and attempt to comprehend a world different from what I had always believed to be true. I spoke to people holding differing beliefs and I realised how insanely similar their faith structures were to mine just with a different name and some different doctrine - but in essence, the same. Had I been brought up in their ‘tribe’ I’d probably be on their team. My mind was literally blown, there was so much out there. So much more to learn outside of the constraints of what I thought I needed to learn, I used to be afraid to read certain books but I started to read them all, because I didn’t want to be afraid of what I might learn, of what might resonate and of where it might take me.
This was both liberating and terrifying all at once. Because I could feel my connection to God changing, perhaps disappearing and I didn’t know how to approach the world without him. And I was really scared of how to go on this journey without distancing myself from my Church family. I wanted to keep them close, to show them that the stereotype didn’t have to be true. That dating a non christian didn’t have to result in me losing connection with them. But it was hard, because I knew how afraid it would make them. I didn’t want to put people through it and didn’t want to be on the receiving end of people trying to save me. I just wanted to be allowed to go through the process without having to worry about other peoples fears. I wanted to keep my Church family but be able to be completely honest and open about my journey. I’m not placing blame on any individuals here, I know that I reacted poorly to my friends and siblings when they went through similar things…I wanted to save them too. I felt deeply saddened and afraid when I thought they were lost. But I’m so incredibly sorry for this now, because I know, that that wasn’t what they needed. And that I was speaking and acting out of my own fears.
So I’ve started to wander if it’s possible, to create a space where people are able to be part of Church community without feeling like they’re a little bit ‘out’ when they’re not following the norm or conforming to what we perceive the perfect ideal Christian walk to be. We often talk about how it’s okay to be imperfect, but what if we can recognise that we all have different ideas about what ‘perfect’ is. So to be flawed in one persons eyes may not mean being flawed in anothers. Can we co-exist within faith with these different ideals? Can we co-exist and thrive whilst accepting that we don’t need to change each other, that God is not asking us to change each other or have an opinion about each other. I’m not saying that this is possible-I really don’t know if it is, I’m simply asking if we can start talking about it a bit more?
If a person in the congregation decides to have sex outside marriage, are we able to strip back our fear and assumption and simply let it be. Have a conversation if we are asked, but take away the assumption of guilt and simply be there, talk about it, ask if the sex was pleasurable and safe. Not simply talk about methods to avoid it or to ‘reclaim’ viriginity. Is it possible to have a member of the congregation who is openly LGBTQ and also on the leadership team without controversy? I focus on those two issues because sex and sexuality seem to be real sources of fear and pain within the Church and I believe, too current and important to be ignored.
At times I genuinely thought that ignorance may have been better, especially when the questions seemed to be tormenting me and the foundations of all my understandings shaken. I can honestly say that losing my faith was the first time I experienced heart break. I cried, a lot, my first year of dating Matthew was probably the hardest, for both of us. He spent a lot of time consoling me whilst not really understanding why anyone would have an issue with us dating. He listened continuously as I voiced my doubts and questions surrounding my faith. But by stepping outside of the world I had come to understand as truth and the only truth, I started to see the world differently, lighter and with more hope. I no longer looked at non Christians or people with other faiths as if they were missing something, or like I must enlighten them so that they could be truly happy. I met people who seemed content, fulfilled and whole, without having a specific faith in Christ. People have faith in many things and I learnt that having faith in something other than Christ isn’t necessarily harmful. It’s how we manifest that faith, how we talk about it, how we relate to others that matters.
To finish, when I was going through all of this, at times I felt alone. This was probably self inflicted but, I knew how much my Church family were invested in me, and I didn’t always feel like I could openly have the necessary conversations. I’m a people pleaser so I was always hyper aware of how the person was reacting as I spoke, which led to me tailoring my words.
Some friends led me to a podcast called the Liturgists, and in a couple of their episodes the hosts talk about when they went through their Faith Deconstruction (this is where I discovered the term, which helped me to define my experience.) And on some other episodes their wives talk about how it affected them. These podcasts are just a few of many of theirs that have helped me so much. If you want insight into how I and a lot of other people going through a loss of faith feel - I suggest you give it a listen.