8 Things to Know about Religious Deconstruction and Exvangelicals

by | Jun 26, 2024 | Faith, Series | 68 comments

Woman deconstructing evangelical faith

Deconstruction is a key term in evangelicalism that nobody knew 10 years ago.

It’s a growing movement, and it’s largely misunderstood.

I’m dedicating four podcasts to deconstruction, starting tomorrow. We’ll begin with Sarah McCammon talking about her book Ex-Vangelicals, and then we’ll look at Cait Rift’s beautiful memoir Rift. We’ll turn to Ryan George’s Hurt and Healed by the Church, and then Scott Coley’s Ministers of Propaganda.

They’re all very different. Sarah McCammon analyzes the phenomenon of ex-vangelicals, and why so many are leaving. Cait tells her story of what led to her leaving evangelicalism and going on a new spiritual journey.

But Ryan’s story is one of rejecting so much of what he was taught growing up when he realized it was toxic, but finding a different Jesus who actually heals and loves.

And Scott Coley gives us the intellectual tools to deconstruct things we’re taught that aren’t helpful.

So I thought today I’d go over some of the key terms so we better understand what’s happening.

Many faith leaders slam deconstruction as bad. 

Matt Chandler said that people were deconstructing because it was “sexy.” Others have said people deconstruct because they want to sin, or because they never believed in the first place.

None of this is true.

So let’s define terms.

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1. What is the definition of deconstruction?

Deconstruction is examining the things you were taught about faith, one by one, and really studying them to see if you still believe them, or even if they’re right and line up with what you know about God.

Deconstruction is usually triggered by something causing one to realize that the church, or tenets of the faith, are causing pain to themselves or others. 

Karen Swallow Prior wrote a great article in 2021 saying, “with this much rot, there’s no choice but to deconstruct.” 

Yes, deconstruction is risky. It always entails the danger of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. And as a church body, during these messy processes, it is our job to help hold those babies — but it is also our job to help dump that dirty water down the drain.

It is hard, terrible work.

But it is so very necessary.

Because deconstruction must take place for reconstruction to take place.

Karen Swallow Prior

Religion News Service, With This Much Rot, There's No Choice but to Deconstruct

What we do here at Bare Marriage is largely a project of deconstruction. We’re deconstructing what the church has taught about marriage and sex and gender roles so that we can recognize where things have been harmful and not of God. We’re trying to build something healthier on top of that. Because where there is rot, things will eventually fall.

When you read our onesheets on problematic books; when you look back at what you were taught about sex and realize that this isn’t the heart of God; when you decide that women matter too–you are deconstructing. You are rejecting some of the things that you were taught because you realize they don’t measure up to scrutiny.

2. People often deconstruct out of great pain

When teachers like Matt Chandler accuse those who deconstruct of just wanting to be “sexy”, or going along with a fad, they show they have no idea what they’re talking about.

The deconstruction I’ve had to do over the last few years has been one of the most painful parts of my life. The church that I had loved, that I had trusted, showed that it couldn’t be trusted to do the right things and care for people. That was an awful, awful thing to realize. That was tremendously heavy.

When people deconstruct, it’s often out of betrayal, despair, and disappointment.

They realize the church doesn’t care about abuse. They realize the church is marginalizing people rather than loving them. They realize the church leadership won’t accept accountability. They realize the church won’t listen to science or reason or truth, but only propaganda.

That’s an awful, awful thing to realize when you have loved the church your whole life and defined your identity by the church.

But you deconstruct because you have no choice. You can see that this isn’t of God.

3. It is usually the most fervent believers who deconstruct

When we measured those who deconstructed in our survey for our book She Deserves Better, we found it was often those who had attended church the most, volunteered the most, believed the most. And because they were immersed in what they now know was a toxic culture, and believed these toxic things so much, they were also hurt the most.

Those who were only marginal, or who didn’t base their identity in Christ or on the church, tended not to deconstruct as much. If you believed 80%, then it was harder for church to hurt you. But if you were all in, then the pain was tremendous and you couldn’t live with the cognitive dissonance anymore.

4. Those who don’t deconstruct often have what we call “survivorship bias” 

When people say that those rejecting the church are doing so out of bad motives, because the church never hurt THEM, they’re likely telling a partial truth. Even though we found that certain messages cause harm (like the modesty message to teen girls or the obligation sex message), that doesn’t mean it harms everyone.

Those who stay in the church were those who these messages were less likely to have harmed. Those who were harmed left; those who weren’t tend to stay. And so often a church can be filled with people who genuinely believe these messages aren’t harmful. That’s what we call “survivorship bias.”

They believe that because it didn’t hurt them, it couldn’t have hurt anybody. And they discount those who have left.

You may also enjoy:

Our Great Sex Rescue Toolkit, a helpful guide to deconstructing toxic beliefs around sex and marriage. It has beautifully-designed handouts you can email or print out and give to people to show why certain beliefs, like “lust is every man’s battle” or “girls shouldn’t be stumbling blocks” actually do real harm, and then proposes what we can teach instead. 

It also comes with help on how to approach people who still believe harmful stuff, and how to have productive conversations.

It’s priced “pay what you want/can”, so you can name your price. It’s as low as $3, but you can pay more if you’d like to support us. But we want to keep it accessible!

5. When people deconstruct, they don’t all end up in the same place.

  1. Some people leave evangelicalism and end up in more mainline churches, or in other types of evangelical churches that are more focused on justice.
  2. Some people still believe in Jesus, but find church too triggering, so they don’t go anymore.
  3. Some want to hold on to God, but have no idea what to believe, and they’re not sure what to call themselves.
  4. Some people fully deconvert, and don’t believe in God at all anymore.

6. Many who deconstruct will reconstruct

For many, deconstruction is the first step in reconstruction. You have to tear down that which is rotten in order to build on a healthy foundation. You have to go back to the foundation of Christ, and then rebuild something that honors Him and stands on Him.

Not everyone will do this, but many will. Many are deconstructing not to run away from Christ but because they desperately want to find Him. 

To label all deconstruction as rebellion, then, is to just show ignorance and malevolence.

7. The term “ex-vangelical” refers to someone who was once evangelical, but isn’t anymore

Ex-vangelicals can be in any of all four groups I mentioned above. They may still be attending church and still believe the creeds of the faith, but just not consider themselves evangelical anymore. Or they may go all the way to the other side and not claim Jesus at all anymore.

Ex-vangelical does not necessarily mean that one no longer considers themselves Christian (though it can be that). It just means a big change has taken place.

8. Most who deconstruct are on a journey

And that journey may change direction repeatedly! Someone who may not be able to set foot in a church right now may join a Lutheran church in three years when they want their kids in Sunday School. They may join a house church movement later on. Or they may never go back.

But it’s a mistake to assume that because someone is searching it means they have abandoned Jesus, or will never claim Jesus again.

And it’s a mistake to say that everyone needs to end up in a church again. For some, church will always be too triggering. When there has been great hurt–and there has–we need to leave room for people to have their journeys.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be listening to people’s deconstruction journeys.

Some aren’t sure what they call themselves anymore, and faith is still a question mark. Others have landed in a different kind of church.

But let’s honor everyone’s stories, and listen.

If we don’t listen to those who have been hurt, we will lose a whole generation.

But also–and please hear me on this–these people matter. People who have been hurt matter.

They were hurt in the name of Jesus.

In the name of many of the churches where we attend.

In the name of the authors that we have read and supported.

They were hurt by the very communities that many of us are part of.

And that means that we need to listen. We need to not assume that because we are okay, everyone else must be okay or else they are in sin or they’re trying to be sexy or they’re just rebellious.

There is so much pain in deconstruction, but there is also freedom and healing.

Let’s walk alongside people and honor their questions. Because that’s what Jesus did. And if we are truly Jesus followers, we don’t need to be scared of questions.

Are you on a deconstruction journey? How would you define it? What prompted it for you? Let’s talk in the comments!

The Deconstruction Series

Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire

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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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68 Comments

  1. Carolyn

    Thank you for sharing; I can’t wait to read these stories! Looking back, I probably started deconstructing my Evangelical upbringing in around 2015/2016 but it all came to a head in 2020 when the response to the pandemic coupled with political division made me feel like I had no choice to leave. I took a year off to fully explore my faith and values and found myself landing in the United Methodist Church in the midst of all of their questions and struggles around sexuality and marriage and ordination. I was also finally in a safe place to explore a long-avoided call to vocational pastoral ministry, education as a woman, I couldn’t explore in my former faith tradition. Now as a pastor and seminarian, I walk with others through their church pain and deconstruction. As painful as that time was in my life, I see how God has equipped me to walk with and serve others in their doubts and questions.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I love how you came full circle! So now you’re able to help others!

      Reply
  2. Amy Bechtel Kimball

    So glad you’re doing this series.

    My husband and I spent the last two years in heavy deconstruction. For me it all started with http://www.thehellverses.com

    I bawled through Shiny Happy People in one sitting, realizing that I grew up in a cult.

    I realized that the Apostles/Nicene Creed stand alone and don’t need the extra belief system the Evangelicals have added on, so I am now an Exvangelical.

    I am no less a Jesus lover, Jesus follower, and proclaimer of the true good news.

    In fact, I spent a year in deep study and research and then published, Transplanted:Finding Rest in Your Walk with Jesus.

    I recently published a post on Deconstruction myself, to dispel the myths and encourage everyone: if you or a loved one are deconstructing, rest knowing that Jesus is holding you tightly (sunecho).

    Thank you for your thorough research and delivery to all of us. ❤️❤️❤️

    Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      I never heard of thehellverses.com before! That’s a pretty amazing website!

      Reply
  3. Rebekah

    This is so helpful. I’m still on my journey, still struggle to be in the Word without hearing the voices of my past. Still fearing what I’ll suffer if I follow through with standing boldly in public against what I’m learning and seeing as abuse. Yet also, I can’t help but see that boldness rise up in me.
    Deconstruction SUCKS! I hold out hope that peace is to come and a steady belief in Jesus alone is still my underlying foundation, no matter what might be said about me.

    Reply
  4. Elizabeth

    Another option under point 5 is that they become Catholic, which is what happened during my deconstruction journey. (Which is on-going.)

    Reply
    • Laura

      Elizabeth,

      I can relate. I was born and raised in the Catholic faith until I was around 8 and both my parents decided they did not want anything to do with organized religion. Yet, they still believed in God. I accepted salvation at a charismatic church when I was almost 18, but after the pastor gave a few sermons indicating he was a male chauvinist, I did not want to have anything to do with organized religion. It made me wonder if God was a male chauvinist. Well, to make a long story short, in recent years I have found that I enjoy having a Catholic Bible because it has all the original books in it before the Protestant Bible was created. I want that additional history or stories that the protestants had removed during the Reformation of Martin Luther.

      Reply
  5. Jessica

    We are currently on a deconstruction journey and struggling hard right now so this article is very timely and helpful. Last summer my husband and I sat at a park and both stated we could no longer live the life we were living. Our marriage, our spiritual life, and just daily everything was nothing that we wanted anymore. My husband is drifting with no idea where to go from here and has reached a place where he says his attitude is toxic. I am researching and relearning as much as I can. He wants to walk away from church and I want to find a new path. Our grown children have left the church because of the things that have taken place and we want to do better by our younger children. Our church is being heavily influenced by new people who practically worship MacArthur and Piper and everything that comes with them. Our church will not love others as themselves or treat anyone as a neighbor unless they are in the right crowd. There are unbiblical and toxic behaviors from leadership. My husband recently wondered if it was really getting that bad that fast or if we were just noticing it more. So for now we are starting with: 1) believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, and 2) love your neighbor as yourself. Where we go from here only time will tell.

    Thank you for the work you do.

    Reply
  6. Heidi

    Maybe at some point you can do a critique of “The Deconstruction of Christianity” by Alisa Childers.

    Reply
  7. Jo R

    Sure, Matt, it’s sexy! In exactly the same way that a fish that’s being gutted alive thinks being gutted alive is sexy. 🙄

    Thanks for acknowledging that some of us may never be able to go to church again, Sheila.

    Reply
    • Nessie

      I still attend church though it took a while to get to that point, but this past Sunday was HARD! The sermon was on some verses that had been heavily abused to make people comply and obey at a previous church. I held it together during the service but after people stepped out, I just sat there and cried. I can easily see how some people just cannot attend a worship service.

      If people would only take a minute to truly think through and empathize with the pain one has suffered to get them to the point of no longer attending church, I think a lot more healing could take place.

      Reply
      • Jo R

        Thank you for your words of comfort. 😢

        Someone on the Facebook page pointing to this post quoted Jesus saying, “You have heard that it was said, … but I say to you,” noting that that sounds an awful lot like deconstruction.

        Not that Jesus Himself needed to deconstruct, but the people who had been burdened by the “religious authorities” sure needed to ditch that excess baggage—so jesus gave them explicit permission to do so, to question what they’d been told for so long by men walking around in their robes and making conspicuous their self-aggrandizing piety to the peons who obviously “only wanted to sin.” 🙄 🤬

        Reply
        • Nessie

          That’s such a great point, that Jesus sort of pointed out the first need for deconstruction!

          Reply
        • Nessie

          And JoR, I’m sorry if my words brought no comfort. I was trying to be real that it can be hard and the hurt still exists. Knowing the heart of my pastor is helping me heal. It takes intentional work from my head and heart to shake the bad associations that now come from God’s words. It shouldn’t be that way. It wasn’t the church setting nearly as much as it was the scriptures shared. I think my tears were a mixture of hurt from the past and relief that I am no longer in such a toxic space. I hope this helps a bit.

          Reply
          • Jo R

            Oh, Nessie, my first sentence was NOT sarcasm. The emoji was just a combination of crying, relief, and a host of other emotions as I try to sort through the wreckage that “learned men of God” have put me and countless others through.

            Hugs to you, dear.

          • Nessie

            I thought it might be something like that but I didn’t want to chance having hurt you and not apologizing or making myself clearer to you or anyone else who may have needed it. Thanks for the hugs. Same goes for you.

            I’m so thankful for the community here who understands just how messy all this is.

  8. Andrea

    I recently discovered black theology and now I am convinced that white theology, like white bread, is not good for you, no nutritious value there. I thought I was done with it all, including Jesus, and then heard an interview on the Faith and Feminism podcast with Kristian A. Smith. This prompted me to listen to the audio version of his book Breaking All the Rules and then to buy a Kindle copy, which now has more highlighted passages than not. His Greatest Commandment theology is so inspiring and I wanted to recommend him as another podcast guest here.

    I have been asking the white Christians around me, including family members, what wealthy white theologians living in the richest country on earth with the strongest military on earth could possibly teach us about an impoverished brown carpenter who lived under foreign occupation and nobody has an answer.

    Reply
    • Angharad

      I don’t think it should matter what nationality, ethnicity, education or income someone has…the question should be, do they point us to Jesus. Believing that a wealthy white person can’t teach me anything about Jesus is just as arrogant as believing that a poor black person can’t teach me anything about Jesus. I’ve been blessed by the wisdom of folk from all different kinds of backgrounds (including some very wealthy, white, upper class people who I assumed could teach me nothing – until I saw how they used their wealth to bless others and how humble they were!)

      I’d love it if the church could ditch all these different theology groupings and instead, just look at how well the teacher’s life reflects Jesus.

      Reply
  9. Amy

    I’ve been a Southern Baptist for about thirty years. But in the last few years I’ve been disturbed about how there is a huge sex abuse scandal in the denomination but they want to focus on that women are not to preach. Then I read Beth Moore’s memoir and was shocked how from the beginning the men in the Southern Baptist denomination tried to undermine her ministry from the very first. I was totally shocked. Its made me rethink many of the things I was taught, and I accepted at face value, never questioning it. Now I am, but when I’ve tried to ask individuals at my church, both men and women, about some of my questions, nobody gives me a clear answer. I’ve been relooking at things I have been taught over the years to see if it is really Biblical. Also, why are they falling on their swords about women preachers, but my safety, as a woman, is not considered important? Just some of the things I am trying to figure out.

    Reply
    • Marina

      I’m in a Baptist in a similar position. It seems almost like the average Baptist lay person neither knows nor cares about what goes on in the upper leadership. I’ve not once heard mention of the abuse investigation at my church. I’d say that a good 90% of the people at my church probably don’t even know that the investigation exists! It’s like the denomination leaders can just do what they want with few questions, so long as they use the correct key words. It’s baffling coming from the denomination that is supposed to pride itself on “No creed but Christ”. But, I guess people can spin almost anything to their advantage. If it wasn’t for family in same church as me, I would probably have jumped ship long ago.

      Reply
      • Nessie

        The Southern Baptist Church I attended for years would not identify themselves as an affiliate of the SBC because they “didn’t want people to refuse to try it out based on erroneous preconceived notions” of what a SBC church might be like. They claimed to be non-denominational. Big. Fat. Lie. It would have been honest if they had just admitted what they were instead of trying to sneak things in under the radar. Looking back, I see that intentional choice as the first of many bits of gaslighting put out by the staff there.

        Reply
        • Marina

          Yeah, I keep hearing of people having the experience of not realizing that they are technically SBC until they either dig through their church’s bylaws or are in a position to see their church’s records.

          Reply
          • Nessie

            Yes. They were very evasive when people asked to see by-laws, financials, etc. I happened to see it on the church’s bank-issued card when I had a purchase to make for them. The bottom stated Southern Baptist.

        • Nethwen

          I have a similar response to churches that claim “we just worship Jesus.” No, you worship Jesus in a particular way, undergirded by particular beliefs.

          “But we don’t want to get caught up in all that. We aren’t thinking about writing out doctrine and policies. We just want people to come together and worship Jesus.”

          It makes me so angry. They may mean well, but they are deceiving themselves and, except for a miracle, it will hurt people.

          Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          It’s amazing how many SBC churches don’t admit their SBC! I remember when J.D. Greear because President of the whole denomination, and he had to stand up in front of his church and explain that the church was, in fact, SBC, because so many were confused!

          Reply
          • Nessie

            It reeks of dishonesty which is very un-Christlike. It tracks with their strong committment to image-management.

    • Lisa Johns

      Dr. Laura Robinson wrote an article titled “Misogyny, the SBC, and Beth Moore” that you might find really interesting. (I’d put a link here for you but I’ll lose my place, sorry!) I think you’ll find it if you google the title.

      Reply
  10. Jen

    I started deconstructing when my husband confessed to sex addiction. The lie of my “marriage” and all the lies about gender broke apart. I’m dealing now with forgiveness/repentance, justice, and what it really means to follow Jesus.

    I go to church sometimes when the lead pastor is preaching. For now, he seems safe enough for me to be open to his teaching. I’m not letting go of Jesus. I was with Him before my husband and before the Evangelical church (I was raised Lutheran), and I know He won’t leave me. He sends help. Bare Marriage is one of the helpers Jesus sent my way. Others are my therapist, The Bible Project, and numerous books and podcasters.

    I can’t help but think of the verse about leading people astray. When I see it, I think, “oh man, that’s millstone territory.” It’s a very serious thing to misrepresent God.

    Thanks for talking about this topic. I’m looking forward to hearing people’s thoughts and experiences.

    Reply
  11. Rebecca

    I’m not an exvangelical, but I’m a currently deconstructing ex-traditionalist Catholic, and I identify with most of what I read on this site. We had a lot of the same problems, just dressed up with Latin and brocade vestments.

    Reply
  12. Ann

    I only recently came to the conclusion that deconstructing is what I’m doing. About a year and a half ago, I found you, then Natalie Hoffman, then a few others. I realized what I was taught about marriage and sex was just plain wrong. I have recognized harsh truths about my marriage that … well, I’m still processing. But that is what has triggered this. As I tell a couple of my friends, I’m not in the least bit religious, but I have my faith. My faith in Jesus and God isn’t going anywhere, but that’s all I know at this point. I haven’t set foot inside a church in years, and don’t know if/when I will again. But Jesus is there. God is there. He has gotten me through too much for me to ever turn my back on Him.

    Reply
  13. Susan

    Looking forward to these stories. I haven’t really thought of myself as in the process of deconstruction but last year my husband and I started visiting other denominations because we felt our Southern Baptist Church was becoming too political. We’re now members of a United Methodist Church. It’s such a a hard thing to experience but it was so necessary to change.

    Reply
  14. JC

    I can pinpoint the moment I started deconstructing (though I certainly wasn’t calling it that). It was in the middle of the GSR survey, and I will never know exactly what it was, but something about how the questions were worded leading up to the question of if I’d ever been sexually abused/assaulted made it click in my brain after like… 17 years, that *that* is what had happened to me on and off for years as a child. I couldn’t put words to it for all that time and it suddenly clicked and I realized I was a victim. I started reading your blog slowly as well as J. Parker’s Hot, Holy, Humorous blog, and tearing apart what I was taught about marriage and sex (which was anemic, at best and mildly harmful), and ripped into what I was taught about sin and guilt, which led to married roles, and now roles in the church.

    Some of this stuff, like modesty and what not, I low key knew was a modern church construct, and the whole “I cannot pray but sin” thing is a concept taken further than meant, but with marriage and gender roles… I feel lied to! Straight up lied to! Did no one in my life even look at this honestly?!

    My whole life I’ve gone to evangelical Baptist churches of one flavor or another. The more I look at mainline evangelicalism and the various flavors of Baptist, the more I realize how much dogma is passed off as doctrine and that I honestly don’t fit in anymore.

    It’s hard! I’m still going to the same church as before, but it’s hard now because I hear the little errors (like that Bathsheba had an affair) and I know how that’s coloring their theology. I hear comments about submission or the husband being the spiritual leader and I want to scream, “that verse doesn’t exist!” I see the struggle, the “submission” and the shame and it kills me. I don’t know how to bring about that revelation that what they think is biblical is actually just dogma.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I know, it’s so hard! It’s so frustrating when others are parroting things that actively hurt people, and they won’t examine it.

      Reply
  15. Eliška Labaj

    Thank you so much for this post, and for listening to survivors!
    Personally, I check so many of those boxes – a church kid dedicated to faith from a young age, volunteering in church since I was 13… and my deconstruction definitely happened (and is still happening) because I have loved and still love Jesus.
    I have always been someone who doubts and than feel as a loser, and a bad Christian, I grew to accept and even like this about myself in my twenties.
    Slowly, I changed my mind on a plethora of topics (the biggest one being LGBTQA issues, eventually becoming affirming – and realizing I am queer myself). Right now, I don’t know where I land. I am a new mum, and learning about child development and evidence-based parenting practices make me rethink even more parts of theology I have not questioned before.
    I am very much looking forward to these podcast episodes. Thank you for all your work!

    Reply
  16. Heather

    My husband and I have been slowly deconstructing for the past 10 yrs. The beauty of what we are experiencing is that our church is also going through this process. The church has been “removed” by the Denomination, lost about 1/2 of our congregation, because we no longer follow a “literal” reading of scripture. We have both women pastors and elders on our Pastoral/Leadership Teams and are privileged to learn from them. Our churches theme is “love beyond belief” which focuses on loving God and loving our neighbours. It’s messy but beautiful.

    Reply
  17. Marina

    That “the most dedicated tend to be the ones who deconstruct” data point makes a lot of sense, now that you make me think about it. The most faithful would be the ones with the most contact with these teachings, with fewer “alternative” influences to shield them from the consequences of those teachings.
    I wonder if this is the reason for the somewhat running joke that I’ve mentioned before of Lewis and Tolkien (and theology in general) lovers tending to end up either high church Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox? Neither author would be considered Evangelical themselves (as much as some people gloss over that), nor would probably a good portion of the older theologians.

    Reply
    • JG

      Marina, I happen to be none of the denominations you mentioned, but I love both Lewis and Tolkien. I revisit their books quite often or listen to podcasts about Narnia or Middle Earth. I believe their books cross denominational lines that many other authors will never be able to cross. There is so much missing in the modern church that I can understand why people have moved to high church Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox.

      Reply
      • Angharad

        I’m also a huge fan of Lewis and Tolkien and not any of those denominations either. Actually, I think Lewis would have fitted in well to the UK evangelical church in his day. Sadly ‘evangelical’ means something very different now, and I’ve noticed an increasing number of churches dropping the word from their name, not because they have ceased to be evangelical (old meaning) but because they don’t want to be associated with the ‘new’ meaning of evangelical!

        Reply
  18. Becky Van Volkinburg

    Thank you so much for this. As a person who was really propelled into this journey after 25 years of full time ministry, I am very much looking forward to hearing others stories. The pain is deep and has left me reeling. I never would’ve thought I’d be here, but here I am.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you. I never would have thought it either.

      Reply
      • Rebecca

        I never thought I would be here, either, and yet here I am. My deconstruction actually started with your book, GSR. For the first time in decades shame started to lift and finally it wasn’t all my fault. Endless thank you’s and blessings to you. I believe in many ways God used you to save my life from the pit I couldn’t get out of, no matter how much “faith” and “self sacrifice” I could muster. Finally, I just crashed in every way. I have long way to go and don’t know how to even enter a church (My body involuntarily shook from anxiety the last time I tried.) I still love God – Father, Son, and Spirit, and have found healing and peace in Triniarianism. Baxter Kruger’s teachings are a great place to start.

        Again, thank you. Thank you for listening to Spirit and having the courage to stand up for all of us that been shattered by these horrific teachings. You’re so right: they are not of Jesus in the slightest.

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          Oh, I’m glad you’re healing, but I know it’s painful!

          Reply
  19. Steven

    Ever since I decided to learn about marriage and found this website years ago I have been on a journey of discovering what God wants for marriage. I am 34 and have been single all my life. When I finally find my future wife I’m glad I will have a strong foundation in Jesus and the truth of Christian marriage.

    Reply
    • Rebecka

      This is an intriguing road to go down. I have been hesitant to say I deconstructed the last three years just like I hesitate to tell people I’m Christian because the terms have, unfortunately, garnered negative connotations. I think the most well known people to deconstruct have been Joshua Harris and his wife who are both no longer Christians or serving in ministry. Joshua even tried selling some sort of program on deconstruction but quickly decided against it I think after receiving poor feedback.

      I think deconstruction simply means looking back to see how we got to where we are. There are varying reasons people do that but I think often it’s because something in our lives broke. We can’t keep doing the same broken things because the pain is too much. For me, i definitely was “on fire” for Christ in my youth group and through my early twenties but as I landed into non-Christian groups I gradually fell away from my broken church belief system. I just stopped thinking about it for a decade and then due to life’s circumstances in my mid-30s my church past was in my face. I love Christ, I wish I could love his church and maybe someday I will again. I can’t say everything about my Baptist upbringing was awful but I think I’m just tired, maybe scared to try again. It’s all so complicated.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you’re here, Steven!

      Reply
      • Steven

        Thank you!

        Reply
  20. Angharad

    It makes me so sad that the church’s first reaction to someone questioning their faith is so often judgemental or critical. Jesus is the one who doesn’t break the bruised reed or quench the smouldering wick, so what right to we have to jump up and down on those who are struggling?

    Every time I meet someone who tells me they have abandoned their faith, or that they still believe but don’t want anything to do with church, I just feel a deep sense of sadness for their hurt and for all they have missed out on, combined with anger that their experience of church has been so far from what God intended it to be. As church, we should be repenting for our actions, not judging those who have been hurt by those actions!

    Reply
    • Nethwen

      I would upvote this comment if I could. Well said, Angharad.

      Reply
  21. Nethwen

    I think I started a form of deconstruction when I was a teenager and learned that the church in the 1800s taught that women shouldn’t wear make-up and had to wear skirts for *reasons* supported by scripture. Well, that was clearly a cultural belief that some churches used scripture to support. That got me to wondering what other things the church taught as biblical but are actually cultural.

    I think we stopped going to church in my teens and I didn’t return until my late 20s, but I never abandoned a deep desire to serve Jesus. I always read my Bible and prayed and tried live like I thought God wanted. In some ways, I think not going to church shielded me from the worst of what was happening in the 90s/early 2000s. When I returned to church, it was with the goal of making friends who had similar values. Rarely is church a place where I experience worship of God; it’s more the tax I pay to form relationships with people. In those relationships, outside of church, comes the “gathering of believers.” That said, I recently left a church tradition because my objections to their doctrine and practice became too strong for me to continue supporting it by my presence, even though I know many of the people in that tradition truly love God and want to serve him.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      “The tax I pay to form relationships.” wow. That’s so well put!

      Very sad, but very accurate, I think, for many. It should not be this way. I hope the next generation totally changes the things that my generation and the Boomers messed up!

      Reply
      • Erin

        I started deconstructing in earnest when my brother came out as trans five years ago. My parents were very strict, and our IFB church taught us that if we raised kids right, they couldn’t go astray because God had promised. Then it happened, and I started questioning everything.

        I was a very dedicated believer, so the whole process was crushing, and still is. The most painful part isn’t losing the religion; it’s losing who I thought I was and having to rethink my entire life. My marriage has been deeply affected as I question, and mostly scrap, the harmful advice my circle fed me. I can hardly bear to go to any church any more, and it’s embarrassing how much I can get triggered by a Bible verse or a simple hymn.

        Now I’m almost Catholic, but haven’t taken the plunge yet. I feel like I should be done with the whole deconstruction process by now, but it takes a long time and a lot of pain to get through it.

        Reply
        • Nessie

          Hi Erin-
          May I encourage you not to pressure yourself to put a timeline on your deconstruction? Obviously it would be great to be done with it already!! But in the unpacking and relearning is a lot of grieving too. As you unlearn so much junk, perhaps try to give yourself grace because I think all of us that have been damaged by all the abuse and twisting of God’s word could use a heavy dose of grace. Easier said than done, I know, haha. I’m 4 years in to deconstructing and I see it taking many more years honestly. Perhaps you may find that comforting, knowing that you are not alone in your timeline.

          Reply
          • Sheila Wray Gregoire

            The grieving is so hard!

          • Tanya

            In those regards Charles Swindoll has made some serious strides in the grace realm and what it is. “The Grace Awakening” is one I’m reading now and you may benefit from that too!

    • Angharad

      “the church in the 1800s taught that women shouldn’t wear make-up and had to wear skirts for *reasons* supported by scripture. ”

      I remember reading an article about the ‘demon drink’ that should be avoided by all true Christians. It had the kind of language usually associated with temperance leaflets of the late Victoria era – but it was written in the mid 1700s, and was warning of the evils of drinking…tea! It was a good reminder to be careful about deciding what Scripture ‘obviously’ prohibits, because sometimes it’s more about our own prejudices than what the Bible actually says!

      Reply
      • Lisa Johns

        Tea?!! That made me laugh out loud!

        Reply
  22. Susan Tailby

    Thank you for this article. I really love Jesus and the Bible, but have experienced deep hurt, alienation, isolation at church and church being a deeply unsafe place. At the same time, due to a traumatic background, I really needed church to be a safe place with safe place and safe people. I made the decision to stay online post-Lockdowns as it felt safer. It’s been really hard to explain to other Christians why I don’t go to church in-person. However, through thinking things through and a lot of questioning (and the example of churches I’ve attended online), as well as your own journey and that of Beth Moore, I’m now ready to return in-person. However, I’m going to go and see and treat it all quite gently as in-person church feels very scary. Very struck by a comment you made about the people a person has around them, and in seeking to be emotionally healthy we get alongside like minded and like emotioned people. I’ve found church in the past to be quite predatory at points, but it doesn’t mean that it always has to be that way. Deconstruction is definitely not sexy! It’s painful, messy, isolating and a place of deep learning.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hope you find a church that feels safe to you! I wish you all the best on this journey.

      Reply
  23. Laura

    I think I have always deconstructed my faith since I first became a Christian 30 years ago. Though I had been raised in the Catholic Church from birth until age 8, I did not have much understanding about Jesus, but I always believed in God and had conversations with Him in my head. But, in order for me to make to Heaven, my friend told me I needed Jesus. So, I accepted Him as my Savior at the end of my junior year in high school.

    Sexist teachings at the church where I accepted salvation caused me to walk away from organized religion. I did attend different churches, but just wasn’t interested and focused on my personal relationship with God. I returned to church before I married my ex 25 years ago and still endured some of the sexist teachings. In order to endure being at church, I just focused on the positive teachings of Jesus and thankfully did not hear as much sexist teachings.

    I believe it was the end of 2020 that I realized I was deconstructing my faith, but my belief and relationship with Jesus still remains. Toxic teachings on gender, marriage, and sex, doctrines on end times and hell, and the infiltration of American politics in the church have really caused me to be more cautious when attending church. I feel like I cannot be my true self around other Christians because they might think I’m rebelling or backsliding, but I’m not. I just think differently and I am thankful that my new husband is the same. No wonder we are an awesome match.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I’m so glad you found him, Laura!

      Reply
  24. Hugh Houston

    I pray that I will always be a truth seeker and examine everything everybody says. We all have biases. I pray for humility and that God will help me see where I am wrong. May we see through lies told by church leaders but also not be taken in by lies upheld by society in the 21st century. May we actually go back and see what Jesus and his followers taught and lived and learn from them.

    Reply
  25. Tanya

    Oh geeze! Where to start? I have A LOT of background in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church. I grew up in it, went to Pensacola Christian College and have an Associates in Missions. I left college with my then hoping to be a navy chaplain, with a Masters in Biblical Exposition, husband. We had one son at that time (2011). Worked and interned at multiple churches and lead all kinds of things in the church. It took a bit after college, but we got in with Armed Forces Baptist Missions and became missionaries. See, my husband had started showing signs of a very terminal illness that would slowly deteriorate his mind and could no longer be a chaplain. Deputation stories can be for another time. 🤣 Well, we made it onto our field (still stateside because of the hospitals we would need) and became members of the church we were starting a work out of. Small things didn’t line up over time and my sick husband, who began showing signs of dementia in 2016, saw those inconsistencies and wanted to leave the church. I saw what he meant…. sort of. These people were the only ones helping me in my time of need through all the hospital visits and they were my support, or were they? They did not really ever show up for me/us. I heard stories from another widow about all the things the church helped her with and couldn’t help but be disappointed in how they were helping me. I endured that for years along with the severe caregiver abuse that only an aggressive dementia patient can give. When he died, we held the funeral at the church. My oldest son (now 11) and I had several anxiety everything we walked into that building because of it being the last place we saw him. It was also the source of LOTS of contention from my husband because he just didn’t understand life or how to be nice about anything. We’ll, the church couldn’t understand why at the end of the illness why we weren’t there every time the doors were open anymore and why after he died we weren’t back to “normal” habits. We would get a lot of “where have you been?” And “why have you been missing so much?” Rather than what I would’ve loved to hear “HEY! I’m so glad you guys could make it today! Can I sit with you?” Something along those lines instead of the constant backhand and slap, figuratively of course. Things just didn’t add up any more. Every time I went the only thing I heard was this verse on repeat “Matthew 23:27 : Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness”

    What a verse to have on replay every time you thought about the church! In my after turmoil of struggling and being overwhelmed, the church gave me a widow fund, but it did not show up for me AT ALL! I would mention needing help and people nodded politely, I may not have been direct enough. Then I met a new guy, he loved God, and we fell in love. This complete stranger sat with me as I had to go to the hospital with COVID. He showed up to help mow the lawn and shovel the driveway. He went grocery shopping and made meals. He was our rock and our true support. He moved in before we were married (financial reasons, support reasons) we did have a date set and the venue payed for already, but that wasn’t enough for the church. It had to be now because we were living together. I get it, I really do. But then they put me on church discipline that really became more like an excommunication. Fun times. I have deconstructed long held beliefs and grown SO much in my faith and understanding. I want to search for a church, but it’s not my priority any more 😭

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, Tanya! I’m so sorry. And I’m so sorry for the loss of your husband and the horrible way that he died. That’s so heartbreaking!

      Reply
    • Taylor

      Wow … just wow … that’s a war story. “Heartbreaking” doesn’t even begin to touch it. You have been through it. And you kept going. But that’s alot of battle scars. I’m just really struck by your courage.

      Reply
  26. Robert Osborn

    As a former pastor, I deconstructed, not realizing that’s what I was doing till I was completely deconstructed from my faith. I started that journey in the fall of 2011, when I prayed from a heart desperation, “God, I want to know your truth. I’m not looking for denominational doctrines and theology, but Your truth. Nothing more, and nothing less.” And what a journey it has been. I finally “ Kissed the Pulpit Goodbye” in 2018.
    Yes, I deconstructed my faith and beliefs. All the foundations of my religious upbringing has been destroyed. But I was still unsatisfied and empty. Then I reconstructed my own faith and beliefs. I am now happy and content in my own faith.
    As Paul said, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” I have done that.
    Now as a hospice Chaplain, I’m not constrained by denominational doctrines to really minister to people. I know I can help people find peace before their body returns to dust.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, I’m so glad you’ve landed in a place that’s meaningful where you can be authentic!

      Reply
  27. Tory

    I’m late to the comments, but a few years ago there was a huge study done on young adults who grew up in the church, but who left the church upon reaching adulthood. (So it’s possible that many of them deconstructed.) When they were polled about the reasons they left the church, two common themes emerged: 1) perceived hypocrisy— like people who went to church on Sundays and claimed to follow Christ, but in their spare time lived very differently, their actions and their words didn’t align— and 2) a perceived lack of compassion— so this would include the church excluding gays or the transgender or being judgmental of women who had out of wedlock babies.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that’s definitely it. And also how they treat women–that’s always at the top of the list too.

      Reply

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