PODCAST: Breaking Free of Christian Patriarchy & Why people deconstruct

by | Jul 4, 2024 | Podcasts | 13 comments

Cait West talks about her book Rift and breaking free of Christian patriarchy

What’s it like when your family starts out normal, but grows fundamentalist?

Today on the podcast we’re interviewing Cait West, the author of just a beautiful memoir, Rift

She talks about what it’s like to grow up in a Christian patriarchal family, where her father expected to make all decisions for her, including who she could marry. And where expressing an opinion different from your father’s was unthinkable.

I really enjoyed Cait’s book. And as we’re doing a series of podcasts right now looking at why people deconstruct, I think her story is such an important one to listen to.

Then Keith joins me and we talk about Matt Chandler’s comment that people deconstruct because it’s “sexy”.

Listen in!

Or, as always, you can watch on YouTube:

What’s it like to feel like you have no say over your own life?

And how did we get to the point where we thought this was what Jesus wanted?

So many forms of Christiantiy today look nothing like Christ, and they’re really hurting people. I read Cait’s book last year, before it came out, and it affected me greatly. She writes beautifully, and my heart broke reading her story of how distorted her father made Christianity, but also how unable any of the kids, or the mom, felt to speak up. 

When this sort of behavior is not called out by pastors, it allows abuse to spread and causes so much trauma. This is why we simply must listen to people’s stories!

No, Matt Chandler, Deconstruction isn’t Sexy

After our interview with Cait, my husband Keith joined me on the podcast to talk about Matt Chandler’s comment that people are deconstructing because it’s “sexy”, and that if people deconstruct, it’s just that they never really knew Jesus.

We address the things I wrote about on the blog last week about 8 things to know about deconstruction. If we love Jesus and care about the faith, we need to take people’s pain and doubts seriously. We need to listen, rather than berate and dismiss. And we need to apologize and make things right when the church has done things wrong in the name of Christ. 

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Things Mentioned in the Podcast

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Did you grow up in a home like Cait’s, where you werent’ allowed to think for yourself? Have you known families who have gone further and further down the fundamentalist pipeline? Let us know in the comments below!

Transcript

Sheila: Welcome to The Bare Marriage podcast. I’m Sheila Wray Gregoire from baremarriage.com where we like to talk about healthy, evidence-based, biblical advice for your sex life and your marriage. And I am joined right now by my husband, Keith.

Keith: Hey, everybody.

Sheila: You’re going to go away in a second. We have an interview, and then you’re coming back afterwards, but today we are in the middle of our deconstruction podcast series. So we’ve got a bunch of people’s stories that we’re going to look at all in a row to see where people end up, why they ended up there, what is going on with deconstruction, and so much more. I am so excited to bring Cait West’s story to you today. She wrote an amazing memoir called Rift about her experience growing up in a really controlling family and in the courtship model which really didn’t work for her so that’s coming up in a second. Before we get to that, I do want to say thank you to some very special people who help us do what we do. So first of all to our patrons, who give just a little bit a month and with that they get unfiltered podcasts. Rebecca and Joanna just recorded about twelve of them last week. They got together in Edmonton and did that so they’ll be released over the year. They get access to our Facebook group and so much more. It’s a great place, isn’t it?

Keith: Oh, yeah. It’s a lot of fun discussion.

Sheila: Yeah, and so if you just want some behind the scenes stuff, I often talk about the posts I’m writing or podcast guests before they actually appear here. What do you guys think? Is this a good idea or not? So they’re my sounding board so if you want some more behind the scene stuff, you can join our Patreon. Then there’s also the Good Fruit Faith Initiative of the Bosko Foundation. The Good Fruit Faith Initiative has taken us on, and so when you give money there in the U.S., it is tax deductible. That’s really what’s funding our research, our academic papers, hopefully some translation projects in the next year to get our stuff available in hopefully Central America, and so much more. So if you believe in what we do, this is how you can join us. So those links are in the podcast notes. Now without further ado, I’m going to bring Cait West on the podcast, and then Keith and I are going to talk about some of the things that she said. Well, this is a fun one. I feel like I’m meeting a friend for the first time in real life, but I have on The Bare Marriage Podcast today Cait West, who is the author of a new memoir. Rift, and let’s see if I can get the subtitle right, A Memoir about Breaking Away from Christian Patriarchy, something like that?

Cait: That’s correct.

Sheila: Okay, there we go, but Cait and I go way back on Twitter. I can’t call it X. You know what I mean.

Cait: It will always be Twitter.

Sheila: Yes, and I really–I was excited about your memoir. I got to read an early copy, and then I was excited to interview you. So yeah, this is an important one, and can I just say before we get started, it is such a beautifully written memoir.

Cait: Thank you.

Sheila: It really was beautiful. You’re very poetic, and just so much imagery and I love how you just capture moments to show what was happening as opposed to just explaining, but you actually show it, and it was really well done. I really, really appreciate it. It makes a great summer beach read for everybody.

Cait: Oh, wow. Thank you. That’s so kind. I really wanted to be able to be creative with it and not just have to only write about trauma but also make something beautiful out of all the bad things.

Sheila: Yeah, and it’s really personal too. This is your life, and I know that it was hard to write. But it’s an important book, and so I want to walk our listeners through a lot of your story. So I love–I want to read a paragraph from early in the book. You said, “I look at photographs of me as a rosy-cheeked toddler and wonder what was making her laugh so hard. She’s ecstatic with existence. I try not to hold it against myself. I wonder what happened. When did I become the quiet, submissive child who never dared break the rules? I barely recognized this girl in the highchair who is clearly enthralled with Ritz crackers. She is not yet tame.” That just broke my heart, you know, because I think of little girls, and they’re so excited about life, and then something happened. Can you explain what that something was?

Cait: Yeah, it’s hard for me to even remember that time when I was so free as just a person because some of my earliest memories are of shame and just feeling small and silenced. So it’s hard for me to know when that started. It might have never really had a beginning. It’s just always been there. In my family, my father is very authoritarian, and in writing the book about one of my earliest memories is of him making me feel ashamed of my body because I had put on this swimsuit that I had worn the previous year. I was about five-years-old, and it was a two-piece swimsuit. That was a hand-me-down, just something to wear so I could go swimming. He made me change into a different swimsuit that wasn’t a two-piece, and I had no idea what that meant except that it was wrong somehow. I internalized that as my body was wrong. I felt so much shame already, and looking back, I can see now that was an early version of being sexualized, of being objectified as a little girl. And that stuck with me my whole growing up and being what I considered dehumanization of being told how to look and how to dress or I would be sinning or causing other people to sin even as a young kid.

Sheila: That’s so heart-breaking, and this is why when I get questions from parents saying, “How do I get my three-year-old to cover up?” I’m like, “You don’t.” If you’re afraid that she is going to get molested going where you’re going, then just don’t go there. But when we tell kids these messages, we do sexualize them early. Here you were, and in your story, you progressively lose your voice. And then you even recount how you tried to find your voice even when you’re in healthy relationship as an adult, it’s still a fight because of the impact of what you went through. You give a short version of your story too. You say this, “I was born into a strict, religious family, homeschooled, and ruled by authoritarian discipline and a literal interpretation of the Bible. We eventually stumbled into the Christian patriarchy movement, but I was told it was God’s plan all along.” As we read the book, it’s almost like you’re watching a train wreck happen as things get from bad to worse. So you were always in an authoritarian household, but what was it like before you got really into patriarchy?

Cait: So my parents I would have considered us a typical evangelical family, fairly conservative. My older siblings used to go to public school. My mom used to have a job, but over time, the rules that my father made for us became smaller and smaller. So my mom couldn’t work anymore. My siblings had to go to Christian school, and by the time I was old enough to go to school, I went to the Christian school for a few months, and then my father decided to start homeschooling me. So I was the first homeschooled kid, and I was told it was for religious reasons to protect me from the evil in the world, and that just isolated me from a young age. Over time I can see how we got deeper and deeper into these stricter movements. I think James Dobson was probably like an early influence, but it became more extreme with the Christian patriarchy over time.

Sheila: You know, and that’s something that I hear a lot–it’s a thread that runs through a lot of the people that we’ve interviewed who have come out of these fundamentalist circles is it did get worse and worse. It started out not that bad. Yeah, you were in a Christian family, but it wasn’t that bad. Then as you’re pulled back out of the outside world, your life becomes so small, and as I read your memoir just one of the side notes is just your constant search for friendship because you just didn’t have anybody. That’s tragic for a child. That’s lonely.

Cait: Yeah, I mean there was homeschool co-ops that we did once in a while, but the older I got the less of that we did. And then we moved to the mountains in Colorado, and so I hardly saw anybody outside of my family any day of the week. So it was a lot of entertaining myself, teaching myself, making imaginary friends. I did a lot of pen pals–I had a lot of pen pals but not a lot of interaction with kids my age.

Sheila: Yeah, and that’s important for a child so you just missed out on these important milestones and steps in development which is really sad. What I thought was so interesting too is as a child who wants friends when you are in a household which is always railing against the world, you talked about how you adopted some of that too. So you would judge your neighbors as heathens, and you saw the world in very black and white terms as a small child because that’s what you were taught.

Cait: Yeah, and I think looking now at what child development is, I think there are certain ages where children see things very black and white. So I talk about how instead of teaching me the nuances of things, my parents just encouraged that more and made me even more of a black and white thinker. I think that’s just how fundamentalism works. It’s kind of like a young child’s mentality of how the world works, and so yeah, I was extremely judgmental when I was a little kid, but that was what I thought was right.

Sheila: You were following your parents’ footsteps. So then–so you’re already like that. You’re already like that, but then things get even worse. Your dad goes to this–goes away on a retreat, and he comes back and he announces that you’re going to become patriarchs and follow the patriarch movement. Your dad was introduced to the Patriarch Magazine, and you listed several of the titles of articles that were in it. I’ve just got to share these. “The Remnant will Make the Difference,” “The Loving Art of Spanking,” “My Child does Not Belong to the State,” and “Hopelessly Patriarchal.” When he told your mom this, you said that she looked worried. Tell me about that.

Cait: So this retreat was through Vision Forum, which was this ministry that was very patriarchal. It had very strict gender roles, and it was a ministry but also a catalogue and a business that sold products to homeschool families. So my father was so excited to go to this. It was a new organization, and I remember that phone call when he was still there. He had gone with my younger brother, and I just remember my mom’s face and her words that we needed to get ready because things were going to change. It felt really ominous. At the same time, it felt kind of exciting because if you’re being told you’re part of this remnant movement of true believers, you feel like you’re on–you’re in the in group. But something about my mom’s face. I don’t think I had language for it at the time of her struggles with accepting these roles that my father was bringing home. I think she was probably very conflicted because on the one hand she was told submit to her husband no matter what. That’s how a godly family works. At the other time maybe she was seeing the red flags of what my father was doing because one of the first rules was pulling us out of Sunday School as kids. Vision Forum and this organization now that’s all about family integrated churches. They teach this idea that children shouldn’t be segregated by age for Sunday School, and so there is no Sunday School. So the kids have to be with their parents at all times. That just even–that makes your world even smaller because you’re not even allowed to be taught anything by anyone other than your father. So it’s very much like a cultlike mentality. I think perhaps she saw those red flags and was worried, but also didn’t know what else to do besides try to make us–or try to help us survive in that environment.

Sheila: Right, so she didn’t really have a voice.

Cait: Right.

Sheila: And you didn’t have a voice.

Cait: Correct.

Sheila: Yeah, I thought–what I found interesting about this part of your story too is that up until that point, you still had been going to a church. You eventually got out of that because he pulled you all back, but it wasn’t through your church that your dad got indoctrinated. It was through a lot of these homeschool organizations and patriarchal organizations. I am not against homeschooling if you do it well, okay? I homeschooled my kids all the way through. We homeschooled for academic reasons. They both were doing college courses before they left for university. So I’m not against homeschooling. My kids are going to homeschool their kids. What I am against is pulling your kids out and making their life smaller. If you’re going to homeschool, it should be to give your kids more opportunities, not fewer.

Cait: Right.

Sheila: So I just want to make that clear so this is not an anti-homeschooling from my point of view. I just believe in doing it to make things better and to give your kids a wider range of experiences not less. That’s what I think was so damaging. So here your family is. You’re pulling away from this church, and I just want pastors to realize that if pastors are not specifically preaching against this kind of thing, people can be sucked in. This is what we found over and over again in our surveys is that people would tell us that they heard this super conservative messages not necessarily from their church but from other groups that they were involved in, and it hurt them. So unless pastors and church leaders are speaking specifically against this stuff, people are going to get sucked in. That’s what happened to your family and with so many other people that we’ve interviewed too.

Cait: I’ll add to that I went to a church after I left this movement, and I thought it was a safer church for me. And over time, they introduced the patriarchal books like Doug Wilson’s books and Voddie Baucham. I was trying to explain to the leadership that these were really harmful. I grew up with this, and this is really what it’s based on. But I was dismissed as–I wasn’t really believed, and they told me that adults could discern for themselves. I asked the pastor to look into my previous church just so he could see what happens when this teaching gets into the congregation, and he just said he didn’t have time for that. So it’s very dismissive of my voice again because he didn’t think it mattered. But I know it matters because I’ve seen this over decades of how people get drawn in slowly, and it might seem good at first, but it–really bad consequences.

Sheila: Absolutely. I want to point out too Vision Forum–I mean the person at the top of that has fallen because of sexual abuse too. So it’s like this stuff may all look nice and shiny, but it isn’t.

Cait: Exactly.

Sheila: Yeah, because it’s just a breeding camp for abuse when you put one person with no accountability who gets to be over everybody else and tell them how they’re supposed to live that is a recipe for abuse. That’s what we see happening over and over again. As you’re a teenager and you’re struggling to live up to your dad’s rules and so many of those rules have to do with your emotions, that you can’t have any doubt, that you have to be happy with everything that is happening around you, and what you describe yourself feeling sounds a lot like religious scrupulosity and that you suffered from a lot of obsessive compulsions. I find that goes so–I would love to see a study on this because I think that those things go hand-in-hand. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Cait: Yeah, as a child I developed a lot of rituals around my faith and religion and so I had a lot of fear of hell and a lot of fear of God’s punishment in this life as well. So I was afraid to go anywhere in the car or any kind of travel was terrifying to me because I thought there would be an accident if God was unhappy with me. So I remember praying constantly and having to do it in a certain way so that it felt like it was a real prayer that God was listening to, and that it spread into we had communion in our church every week. So I was terrified I was going to get eaten by worms because I was taught there was this person in the Bible that God punished that way, and I was told that if you take communion the wrong way God will punish you with a physical illness. So all these things made me obsessed with these rituals and making sure I was right with God, and I felt very alone in this. I didn’t tell anybody how bad it was, and it wasn’t until years later I was diagnosed with OCD, obsessive compulsive disorder, and learned about scrupulosity which is a certain kind of OCD where you’re obsessed about ethics or in my case a specific religion, and I’ve heard so many stories of people who related to that part of my book because they also felt that way as kids. We just didn’t know to tell anyone because we thought it was how you were supposed to be as a Christian, and it makes kind of sense if you’re being told that God is wrathful and going to throw you into hell, and you have to be a good person, it kind of makes sense for a child to develop that kind of disorder.

Sheila: Yeah, it absolutely does. We’re told to examine ourselves to see if we’re in the faith which can make people so obsessed with whether or not they’re really saved. We did a podcast a couple of weeks ago on the book Lies Young Women Believe, and how that’s just filled with encouraging religious scrupulosity in teenage girls because you can never be certain about anything.

Cait: Right.

Sheila: You can never let your guard down, and the consequences are so horrible, like Satan’s going to get a foothold in your life, you’re not going to be really saved, you’re going to go to hell. When you’re dealing with a teenage brain too which can see things again in a very black and white–yeah, that’s a hard thing to deal with. So yeah, I’m sorry that no one noticed–that no one saw little Cait then.

Cait: Yeah, I mean now I can see that, and I have a lot of compassion for her. At the time, I felt like I was just a terrible person who couldn’t get it right. No matter what I did, I was reinforced that I was an evil person so now I wish I could go back and give her a hug.

Sheila: Yeah, yeah. Then you had two older siblings, Alison and Kyle. I think you probably changed their names for the book.

Cait: Yeah.

Sheila: Yeah, so Kyle ended up leaving home at 16, did he and join the military.

Cait: Seventeen.

Sheila: Seventeen, joined the military just to get out of the control. Alison at one point looked like she was going to marry someone she loved, but then didn’t have your father’s blessing, ended up not marrying him, and then later on once your family was all into this courtship thing where the dad chooses the husband, she got married. Your impression was that she was not happy at the point where she got married.

Cait: Yeah, I mean it was pretty clear I think that she wasn’t happy. They didn’t have a good marriage from the beginning, and on her wedding day, I remember her crying and looking like she was scared to leave home. That haunts me a little bit because again she didn’t have options. She didn’t have choices, and I know that could have been me as well of getting into an abusive marriage. I talk later in the book–I don’t share a lot about her story because it’s her story, but she was able to get out of that marriage, and she’s doing much better now these days, and has left the movement as well.

Sheila: Yeah, I kind of cheered for Alison. So your two older siblings are not–your sister is doing what your parents think she should even though she’s not happy. Kyle has left the fold, and then once your sister leaves another young woman comes and lives with you. Your dad ends up setting up a marriage for her too. So he’s writing to all these fellow believers all over the United States and ends up in a long distance courtship, and then they get married.

Cait: Yeah, he was very onboard with the courtship principle, and he followed the specific courtship guide called The Pathway to Christian Marriage which is still available online unfortunately. I’m sure people still follow this, and there was this young woman in our church whose father had died. She wanted to live under submission to a father figure, and so she ended up living with my family for the purposes of my father helping her find a husband, and that’s exactly what he did. I remember him sending out those letters every church in our–I believe it was our presbytery, and I was just mortified because I was like I hope he never does that for me. I would be so embarrassed. So just the fact that he would have to find me a husband, that it would be difficult for someone to want to get married to me.

Sheila: Right. You know, this whole idea of courtship that your dad embraced, it was very much that you don’t get a say really. Your dad was going to pick the person, and then you were supposed to be obedient and not let your feelings get in the way because that would be a sin.

Cait: Right.

Sheila: So you were supposed to submit to your authority, and so you end up–your family moves out to Hawaii when you’re 18. You have graduated from homeschool so you don’t have a role right now because you’re not married. You can’t get a job because you’re supposed to be home, and you kind of live in this limbo for a while. I feel that’s sad. I’m picturing a lot of other women in the stay-at-home daughter movement even you know some of the Duggar girls. The oldest one for instance where you’re really not allowed to go out in the world, and your life doesn’t begin until you’re married, and your father says, “While you’re in my house, you’re still a child,” so you’re not allowed to grow up.

Cait: Yeah. Yeah, I didn’t know that there were legal rights that I had when I turned 18 because my father did say, “You’re a child until you get married, and you have to obey me.” So I didn’t know anything different, and when you’re in an abusive relationship, it’s difficult to think outside of that world. Like it’s too scary to even think about other possibilities.

Sheila: I think that’s what a lot of people don’t really get. Well, why didn’t you just leave? Why didn’t you just form a life for yourself? But when your life has been so much about you are only okay if you obey me and if you don’t obey me, then all these terrible things will happen, like that’s what abuse does to you.

Cait: Yeah, and it’s hard because even I was really angry with myself. After I left, that was part of the–the hardest part for me to heal from was my early twenties when I felt so powerless and so helpless. I felt a lot of anger that I didn’t leave sooner because I lost half of my twenties to this movement and to my father, and that’s like time I will never get back. It’s hard to accept that, but also now I understand more about high control religion, and narcissism and authoritarian parenting, it makes sense now why I didn’t know how to leave. I didn’t even have resources. I didn’t have a driver’s license for a while. I never had a car. Like you said, I didn’t have a job so I didn’t have the financial resources to leave. We lived on an island at that point, and so there’s no escaping this world that I was stuck in. It was going to be better off for me if I just conformed and did the best I could inside of that world.

Sheila: Yeah, what would you say to girls in that same situation now?

Cait: Yeah, I do talk to some now. This is an ongoing movement. There are stay-at-home daughters still. Maybe they don’t use that term, but like you mentioned the Duggars. There’s that family still follows these rules, and there are many others who aren’t in the media, and so they’re not very seen by the public. I tell them that they have options, that even if they’re told they can only do this one thing in life, that they ultimately get to decide what they want their life to look like, and that they don’t have to rush into that because it’s terrifying to think you could go from being a stay-at-home daughter to being a single woman out on your own in the world, which often happens. If you break the rules, you’re cast out of your family and your community. It’s hard to survive so you can take your time to figure out what that looks like to make a safe space for yourself, to figure out how to make money, and there are many more resources now than there were when I left. Something like the Vashti Initiative helps people leaving this movement, and so I always say take your time, try to make a sense of safety for yourself so you can feel like you can hear your own voice and not just the voices of other people, and realize you get to decide what your life looks like. It might be really difficult to accomplish that, but it’s not impossible.

Sheila: I think that the word decide is often a scary one because your whole life you’ve been told you’re not allowed to make any decisions. So if you move out, all of a sudden you have to make all of them with no practice.

Cait: Right, and you’re even told you don’t deserve to, like you’re not capable, you’re not a full–you’re not a decision maker if you’re not a man so just believing that you have the ability to make decisions is the first mental block to get over. But I would just tell anyone going through this you matter. Your thoughts matter. Your desires matter. You aren’t–you don’t have to be subservient to other people. You can listen to your own intuition and I just hope people remember that they’re more than someone else’s story.

Sheila: So there you are in your early twenties and you actually do start a courtship with a man named, Will. It didn’t end up working out for various reasons, and you weren’t that upset really it sounds like when it didn’t work out. But you were upset, but it wasn’t heartbreaking, was it?

Cait: I felt heartbroken. I did. I mean looking back now I’m glad that I didn’t get married to him, but at the time, it really did feel like a pivotal moment where I had no choices, and I wasn’t allowed to have this relationship, and I thought I was going to get married to him. So yeah, that was really difficult.

Sheila: And then your dad said to you, “You need to repent. You’ve sinned against God for giving away part of your heart, and you need to repent. You need to make a 180 degree turn now. I’ll be here to help you, but you just have to trust God.” For the first time it sounds like, you actually spoke up and went against him.

Cait: Yeah, I remember him saying that, and I was having–I was struggling with disassociating at the time too so I felt like I was leaving my body and just detaching from reality. But I remember feeling like this cannot be true. It can’t be true that God is angry with me for having feelings for this person, and I just felt like I knew deep down my father was lying to me about all of that. If there was a God, then that God wouldn’t hate me for love. So I don’t remember exactly how I worded it in the book, but I tried to tell my father that. Of course, that didn’t go over well, and it was years before I left after that moment, but that was my first putting my foot down and saying I disagree. I kept a lot of my thoughts to myself after that. I was determined to never let my father ruin a relationship again because this was maybe the third relationship he had–I don’t think I talked about all of these in the book, but he tended to disrupt any potential romantic relationships I had. I was just determined to never let him do that again, but it took a lot–it took years for me to actually see that through.

Sheila: But it was after this, that you started going online, finding out there was a whole network of former homeschoolers who grew up in abuse, and you started to realize that your family was emotionally abusive. You tried to talk to your dad about that, and it didn’t go over well.

Cait: No, I think back on that, and it’s very naïve of me to think that my father might listen to this, but what I did was I read this article about emotional abuse. It just felt so mind blowing that I needed to share this information because I thought if he just knows what he’s doing and how it’s hurting me maybe he’ll understand, and then he can change, and we can work this out. That doesn’t tend to work with people who are abusing others because it–there is often intention there. It’s not just an accident that people are abusive at least in my case. So I showed him the article. I had highlighted the specific quotes I wanted him to read, and he was very upset about that, and, of course, very dismissive and defensive. He’s never apologized for what he’s done, but that was my first attempt–not my first attempt, but my–I was trying really hard to make it work, to hold onto this relationship with him. It felt like everything was shattering, and I really wanted us to hold together as a family, but that made me realize that wasn’t a possibility anymore.

Sheila: Because the illusion, like the idea that you were a family was actually an illusion because you weren’t. You were just extensions of him, and if you weren’t willing to be an extension of him, then there really wasn’t anything else that you could be and still have his love which is typical of abusers but really sad. So anyway, I’ll make the next part short. You met a guy that was great. You started dating kind of behind your dad’s back. He tried to get your dad’s approval. Your dad wouldn’t give it for years, and then finally you decided with or without dad we’re going to get married. I’m going to move. I’m going to leave Hawaii. I’m going to go live with this man in Grand Rapids with or without his approval, and your dad did not give his approval and was really angry at you. There was one particular bit in the book that I thought was so touching where you said he’s just railing at you and yelling, and you said maybe he’ll hit me and then finally people will understand. I just know so many people who have had that same thought. You almost hope that he’ll hit you because for some reason we don’t take coercive control seriously. Unless someone is hit, we don’t really think they’re being abused. But actually this kind of emotional coercive control can be just as damaging, and it can be physically damaging too because trauma has physical long-term consequences.

Cait: Yeah, exactly, and I was in so much pain. Like I felt physical pain during this time, and I’ve struggled with chronic illness ever since. But at the time, I remember thinking I just want this pain externalized so that people can see and believe me because it felt like it was impossible to prove that my father who is a church leader would be hurting me in this way. I think there are so many people who go through that with emotional abuse and spiritual abuse. It’s years of pain and trauma, but it’s difficult to make other people believe you because there’s been so much misunderstanding about how abuse works, but even physical abuse, there’s the psychological component to that. So I think it’s important to understand what’s really happening when abuse is occurring. It’s a whole body experience. It might not always be exhibited with physical abuse, but it affects your whole body no matter what.

Sheila: Yeah, and you did end up marrying this guy, and he’s great. You’re still married to him. You’re a team. You go through life together, but that doesn’t mean life was easy because you had no skills. So you were working minimum wage jobs, and you were having panic attacks, and you needed therapy to deal with all this. So the last–since you left, it’s been a constant stress to try to put this behind you.

Cait: Yeah, when I first left, I wanted to pretend like none of it had happened and just move on and start like a new person in the world, but that’s not how PTSD works. I didn’t know I had that at the time, and I really struggled to just maintain “normal life” with working and then going to school and being married. It was a lot to take in, and over time, I realized that it felt like I had been repressing my story and keeping it deep inside without processing what had happened. It wasn’t for years that I could afford therapy and go through all of that so really it’s only been the past few years where I’ve felt like I’m in a more stable place where I could publish this book and feel more at home in my body, having gone through a lot of trauma therapy. So yeah, I think these things do affect you for a long time.

Sheila: Yeah, it’s not like once you leave, everything is not easy because you’ve left the abuser. It’s like that comes with you because that formed who you were.

Cait: In some ways, I felt like it got worse because I felt like I was just holding on to survive before I left, and then after I left, it felt like my body fell apart. I didn’t understand what was happening, but now we understand that’s how trauma works. When you’re in the situation, you’re in survival mode, and when you get to a safe place, that’s when all the emotions and all of the stress comes out and it exhibits in different ways, and that’s why I had panic attacks and nightmares and all these different symptoms after I left more than when I was living in the situation. Because you have to process all of that and heal from it, it’s not going to just go away.

Sheila: Right, so what’s your relationship with your parents now?

Cait: Yeah, so I first talking publicly in 2019, and that’s when I had my final confrontation with my father. We had tried to maintain a kind of surface level relationship, and once I started talking about it publicly, that’s when he was very upset and essentially decided not to have a relationship with me anymore. So we haven’t really talked since then, and in a lot of ways, it’s been very liberating because I don’t feel anxious about every word I say and how he’s going to come back to me with his arguments about it. So having no contact is really a good place for me in this particular relationship.

Sheila: What about your mom?

Cait: Yeah, my mom has always been supportive in her own way, and I think it’s–she’s a complicated person, in this marriage and in this family. She tried to support me as much as she could when I was at home, and when I left, she was–I knew she was cheering for me at the same time that she didn’t have a lot of resources to help me. Now we have a good relationship and do have contact, and she even came to visit me this year which was really nice. So yeah, I mean it’s an ongoing situation. I wrote a book, and that’s a limited part of my life, and then I’m continuing to live this life and hopefully those relationships even get stronger.

Sheila: Near the end of the book you wrote a paragraph that I really, really want our listeners to hear so okay please listen to what I’m about to read. You say this, “When I tell my story, some Christians will say, ‘Well, that wasn’t really Christian. Your church wasn’t really Christian.’ It’s easier to call my story an anomaly than to face the reality that Christians have caused both great good and great harm, but that only perpetuates the problem and the harm. Instead I wish they would say, ‘That was wrong.’ I wish they could acknowledge how they are tied to a broader group of people that they would seek accountability in justice instead of washing their hands clean of the so-called bad apples.” Please hear me on this. Please hear Cait on this because this is what we do when we say well, that wasn’t really Christian so you can’t leave the church over that because that wasn’t really Christian. No, we need to realize that they’re using the same Bible. Yes, they were misusing it, but they were using the same Bible. If we don’t hold them accountable, if we don’t clearly say that is not okay, if pastors don’t preach against this stuff so that people are less likely to get sucked in, we are perpetuating the harm. It’s really easy to wash our hands of it, but I wish more people would have–I don’t know–the humility to say, “Yeah, that was wrong.” What would that look like for you? What would it look like for you for more people in the church to speak out? What would you want them to do?

Cait: It’s so difficult now. I don’t have a straightforward answer. I did try to be that voice inside of the church for many years after I left, and it stopped being a safe place for me at some point. I know that there are many different kinds of churches, and it’s a very complicated issue. So I never want to come across as against religion or against Christianity specifically. For me, organized religion is a tricky place to live. But what I hope is that any church will be committed to be a safe place for people, and in particular, for survivors of abuse and that they would be environments that works to prevent abuse from happening especially spiritual abuse. I think many churches deal with that but they don’t recognize it as abuse. That takes a lot of work. That takes a lot of education, a lot of sticking out of experts who may not be–Christian counselors I think for instance. We need to actually get into bigger research about religious trauma, and I know you’ve been contributing to that with the purity culture research, and I think that kind of thing is really important so that I can say these numbers mean this is harmful. If what you’re teaching is harming people, you need to assess what you’re teaching and be open to that. That’s a really difficult thing to do is to question what you believe. But I think it can lead to a stronger faith even. I’ve seen some people who come out with a stronger faith because they’ve confronted these problems. So even though that hasn’t worked out for me, I do hope that churches can really take this seriously and listen to the survivors who are talking about it because otherwise it’s just going to continue perpetuating the problem. Yeah.

Sheila: People are doing it in Jesus’ name. People are doing it in Jesus’ name, and when we don’t speak out, we’re really saying that little girls like you don’t matter. The little girl who wasn’t allowed to make decisions, who wasn’t allowed to have feelings, who was told that she was bad, we’re saying that you didn’t matter, and that’s so wrong.

Cait: Yeah.

Sheila: And I don’t want anyone else to go through what you went through. I really don’t because you didn’t deserve that, and you didn’t deserve all the money you’ve had to pay in therapy since. You didn’t deserve all the chronic health issues. You never deserved that, and so we need to do something to stop this from happening.

Cait: Yeah, agreed, and I think that’s one way churches could contribute is having a therapy fund. Some churches do that where they help you access mental health support with licensed professionals.

Sheila: Yes, licensed, licensed, licensed. Yes, exactly. Well, thank you, Cait, so much for telling your story. I really appreciate it. Tell people where they can find you.

Cait: Yeah, you can find me on my website caitwest.com. There will be info about the book there and also the events I’m doing this year so hopefully I can come close to you wherever you live, and I also am on social media at @caitwestwrites, and I spell my first name C-A-I-T in case that’s confusing.

Sheila: But it means that when you Google you, you always find the right person. C-A-I-T West, author of the book Rift, and I will put all of that in the podcast notes. Yeah, go find her on Twitter because that’s where I found you, and we’ve been talking for years. It’s been great. It’s so great to see your voice getting out there more.

Cait: Thanks, Sheila.

Sheila: I love it. All right, hon. Her memoir is honestly–it’s beautiful. It’s such a great summer read so I know this podcast is landing happy July Fourth. Happy Independence Day. Do they say Independence Day?

Keith: Yeah, yeah.

Sheila: Or July Fourth?

Keith: Happy Independence Day.

Sheila: Happy Independence Day, okay. So happy Independence Day to all of you south of the border because you are south of the border for us.

Keith: Yeah, we’re recording this on Canada Day.

Sheila: And we’re recording this on Canada Day so happy Canada Day to all those–although it’s already passed. We’re about to head out camping, and for all of you in the rest of the world–

Keith: Yeah, as you do on Canada Day.

Sheila: As you do on Canada Day because hey, we get like two months of good weather. To the rest of you in the rest of the world, I know it is winter down under. Yeah, so hey, but you get your winter break now in Australia, New Zealand, and wherever else you’re listening, this is not just an American podcast so that’s always fun. I always think it’s funny when people assume we’re American.

Keith: Right.

Sheila: It’s like we’re not, eh?

Keith: No.

Sheila: No.

Keith: And I really hate it when they say, “You are American because it’s in North American.” Don’t get me started on that one. It’s a bit Canadian–for you Americans, don’t call Canadians Americans. Just don’t do that.

Sheila: Right, so Keith and I are drinking from our deconstruction mugs today.

Keith: Oh, yes.

Sheila: Yes, so I am drinking from my be a biblical womanhood mug–or be a biblical woman mug so that you can love like Ruth, hope like Anna, lead like Deborah, believe like Elizabeth, teach like Priscilla, convict like Zipporah, give like the widow, protect like Abigail, minister like Tabitha, exhort like Phoebe, stand up like Esther, seek justice like Tamar, set boundaries like Vashti, speak truth like Huldah, etc. etc. so all the wonderful things that women in the Bible did.

Keith: Yeah, and this one says prayer and tent pegs and prophecy and leadership and preaching the gospel to all that will hear it. That’s biblical womanhood.

Sheila: Yes, some other takes on it. You can get all of these things in our merch. We have biblical manhood. We have mugs. We have canvas bags. We have notebooks, and when you buy that, you support the podcast too so the links to that will be in the podcast notes. Okay, babe, so we are in this deconstruction series, and we have just introduced these mugs–these deconstruction mugs–and Cait has just told us a story of deconstruction, but I think a lot of people don’t understand deconstruction.

Keith: Well, there’s a lot of like painting of deconstruction as just like evil and demonic and horrible and don’t deconstruct because then you’re not a Christian and that sort of thing.

Sheila: Exactly, yeah, there really is. I want to spend a couple weeks of this podcast talking about deconstruction, and so today, I wrote a post last week on Eight Things to Know about Deconstruction, and I want to run through those eight things really quickly. The first one is what is deconstruction? I think that’s really important because a lot of people assume that deconstruction just means that you’re abandoning everything or that you’re just throwing stuff away for no reason. But Karen Swallow Prior wrote this really good article–I link to it in my blog post–in Religion News Service a couple years ago where she was talking about how sometimes there’s rot in a building, and you don’t even realize it until you start pulling a couple of things away. You think you’re just going to do a minor remodel of the bathroom, and then you pull up your bathtub, and you realize the whole floor is gone, and if you don’t deal with this, and maybe it’s the support and beams are gone, and soon your house is down to the foundations and the beams. You have to build it up again. That’s really what deconstruction is. It’s when you realize there’s rot, and so we need to get back to the foundation. We need to figure out what’s actually true so that we can then build on top of what we know to be true.

Keith: Whereas the people who are against deconstruction–again I don’t want to paint them all with the same brush–but a lot of things that I’ve seen is that someone peels away a little bit of drywall and sees some rot, and they’re like, “Don’t you dare do that. There’s no rot. There is no rot. Don’t look behind there.” They get mad, and it’s like they’re so afraid that if we look further we’re going to see more. To me, it’s a little bit telling on themselves. Like don’t ask questions, don’t look for things because then you won’t believe us anymore to me suggests that what you’re really teaching is not actually what God wants us to know if you’re afraid of questioning.

Sheila: Yeah, exactly, and that’s really Cait’s story is she wasn’t allowed to think anything. She wasn’t allowed to ever have opinions like she had to keep everything–yeah, she wasn’t allowed to examine anything. We have a clip of Matt Chandler who is a megachurch pastor down in Dallas. I don’t know what is going on with megachurch pastors in Dallas right now, but anyway, there’s been so many scandals in the last few weeks. Several megachurch pastors have–I don’t know what the right word is–they’ve lost their jobs. They’ve had to resign. Tony Evans, Robert Morris, there’s another guy–Mike something or other. It’s been crazy. So I don’t know what’s going on with megachurch pastors. Josh Howerton and Matt Chandler had to step back a little while ago too because of inappropriate texting relationship, and now–but here is what he has to say about deconstruction.

Matt: Deconstruction and the turning away from and leaving the faith has become some sort of sexy thing to do. I contend that if you ever experience the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ actually that that’s really impossible to deconstruct from, but if all you ever understand Christianity to be is a moral code, then I totally get it.

Sheila: Okay, now Keith–

Keith: Yeah.

Sheila: Listening to Cait’s story, would you say that was sexy?

Keith: Oh my gosh, no.

Sheila: That she just deconstructed because it was the sexy thing to do?

Keith: Oh, yeah, no, exactly. This is exactly what I said earlier. They’re not actually interested in understanding why people are deconstructing. They’re interested in directing people’s eyes away from the rot because he equates it–he equates deconstruction with leaving the faith as opposed to trying to see what’s actually happening underneath the surface.

Sheila: I think this brings us to point number two which is most people who deconstruct do so out of tremendous pain, tremendous pain. This was Sarah McCammon’s story last week on the podcast. It’s Cait West’s story. We have some more podcasts coming up of other people, and it was certainly our story because Bare Marriage–our whole project is actually a deconstruction project. We’re not taking people away from Jesus. We’re saying hey, we need to peel back a lot of this toxic stuff that has hurt people. We’ve proven it’s hurt people. We did studies on it, and we found like these teachings actually hurt people. They cause high rates of sexual pain. They enable abuse. They just cause worse marriages, worse sex lives, that’s a lot of pain. When people deconstruct, it’s often because they feel very betrayed by the church, by what they’ve been taught, by the abuse in their families. I mean that was certainly Cait West’s story. The control, and yet instead of saying that, Matt Chandler was just blaming people. Well, you never really knew God.

Keith: And again it’s this idea that if you’ve experienced Jesus, you will never deconstruct away from Jesus. But if you’ve been told about this wonderful Jesus by somebody who then proves to be untrustworthy, that should shock and jar you, and if it doesn’t, that’s odd. And yet, people like Matt Chandler don’t give any credibility to that whatsoever. “Well, they never believed in the first place.” It’s like, no, I don’t think so. Actually what my experience has been–I think you get this in another point later on–is it’s the people who are all in, who believed the most deeply are the ones who deconstruct the most often because they really, really bought it hook, line, and sinker. Then they were taught things that they really absorbed and internalized and then realized it didn’t match up with what Jesus taught. This whole idea–you still get told because you do not believe that women need to unilaterally submit to their husbands’ authority in all cases, because you don’t believe that, you are a lying Jezebel who’s trying to deceive people away from the true God. You get told that all the time. So if you’re raised in a culture where you’re taught this is what the view of women is and then you meet the real Jesus who cares about women, who values women, you’re going to deconstruct. Hopefully you’re going to deconstruct. You’re not leaving the faith. You’re finding the faith. But people who want you to stay under their control, who want you to stay under their power system, their power structure, don’t want you thinking freely. Don’t want you asking questions because it doesn’t work for them. They talk about it like it’s your fault, like something is wrong with you, but it’s really just them trying to preserve the way things are because it works out well for them.

Sheila: Yeah, and this is what we hear in both Sarah McCammon’s story last week and Cait West this week is they seriously believed. They were all in to this belief system, and this is what we found in our surveys for She Deserves Better is that the women who have done the most deconstructing, who used to believe something and then don’t believe it now, were the people who were all in because if you’re 100% in, you’re more likely to be hurt when it goes badly than if you were only 80% in. It is the most fervent believers. You’re the people who volunteered the most in church. You’re people who showed up all the time because they were the ones who most saw the hypocrisy. Like in Matt Chandler’s denomination in the Southern Baptist Church, they feel that it is worse to have a woman preaching the gospel than it is to have someone who–than it is to have someone who covered up for child sexual abuse.

Keith: See, and that’s a perfect example because what they–what you’re saying is they have taken churches and disfellowshipped them because of their stance on women preaching. But they have claimed they are unable to do so for churches where men have sexually abused others. So they are showing with their actions that one is–they’re willing to get over what obstacles need to be gotten over to get it done, to get churches disfellowshipped that let women preach, but they’re not for abusers. So they’re showing–

Sheila: (inaudible; crosstalk) women pastors, but yeah.

Keith: Women pastors, but they’re showing with their actions what they believe. This is what Jesus said, right? Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also, right? They’re showing with their actions what they believe, but then you confront them on it, and they say, “Oh, no, no, no, no, that’s not true. That’s not true.” But they don’t actually address the fact that their actions show it is true so they show they’re lying.

Sheila: Yeah, they keep saying we’re going to deal with abuse. We’re going to get the defender database going. We’re going to do all these things, but they don’t. They don’t because it’s just not a high enough priority.

Keith: Yeah, and people who are seeing this, they’re saying, “Hey, why is it that we’ve got a church that says women do not deserve to have this role? Women shouldn’t be allowed to–women must do these things. Women must be under men’s authority, and we have a massive abuse of women crisis.” People connect those dots, and they just go, “No, no, no, no, no. Those dots aren’t connected. Those dots aren’t connected.” For a while that will work, but eventually people will say, “Oh, I see. You’re part of the rot. You’re not part of the foundation.” Then that goes too, and unfortunately a lot of people have succeeded in convincing people that certain things are part of the Christian faith so much that when they eventually reject it because it’s evil, like racism, sexism, all those kind of things, when they reject that as evil, they’ve been so convinced that’s part of the Christian faith by these false teachers, that they reject the Christian faith. That is not the fault of that person. That is the fault of that bad teacher.

Sheila: Yeah, and if Matt Chandler wants to stop people from deconstructing, then he could start talking against this stuff. He could start talking against the things that are causing people to flee the church, but he’s not. He’s just blaming people. What we found too is that’s largely a–that’s largely a factor of survivorship bias, and I want to explain what I mean by that.

Keith: What do you mean by that?

Sheila: Okay, so let’s say that we found that when you grow up in purity culture for instance, you are more likely to experience sexual pain. You’re more likely to have arousal problems when you’re married. You’re more likely to have worse marriages, all of these things. We didn’t find it in 100% of people. We just said hey, if you go through this, you are more likely to have these problems. Sort of like if you drive without a seatbelt, you are more likely to die in a car accident. It doesn’t mean you will, but it’s just you’re raising your chances. So the people who experience these negative effects, well, they’re like, “Oh my gosh, this is terrible,” and then they have to try to process why they’re experiencing these negative things, what’s going on in my life, and they’re likely to deconstruct. The people who don’t experience the negative things are less likely to deconstruct. So you’re left with a church that largely has what we call survivorship bias. So they weren’t hurt by this stuff, and so when people say, “Hey, wait a second. This hurts me,” well, most of the other people it hurt have already left. So in the church are all of these people who say it didn’t hurt me. Now to be fair, a lot of these people it did hurt them, they just don’t realize it. They haven’t been able to put words to it yet. They don’t realize that that’s a lot of the root of a lot of their issues. But there is this survivorship bias, and I think this selection is going on. It makes it really easy for people to sit in church and judge everyone out there who has left, and it’s like well, you just never believed in the first place. It’s like no, they did, but they felt betrayed. It’s not just about the women’s issue. It’s betrayed by the toxic teachings. It’s betrayed by politics coming into the church which is something that I think happens in the American church more than the church universal. I don’t think Americans understand that in Canada, in the average church, we have people who vote for all of our political parties, and that’s kind of normal. I would assume that’s pretty true for I think Australia and the UK and stuff too. So politics has really come into the church. There’s all kinds of things, of reasons that people feel betrayed. When women are told to go back to abusive husbands, when child abuse isn’t dealt with, when the church just doesn’t love, when it doesn’t love, when it doesn’t care about the poor around them, it causes people who do love to say, “This doesn’t look like Jesus to me.” So people often deconstruct not because they’re trying to get away from Jesus, but because they want to find Jesus, and they’re not finding him in these pews.

Keith: A lot of people anyway. They certainly see a discrepancy between what’s being taught and what’s being lived out. So people are talking about love and grace and goodness, but then they’re living fear, control, don’t question, do what I say, submit to the right authority, all that kind of stuff. That’s the thing too is they say you just don’t want to submit to authority at all. People who are deconstructing are just rebellious anarchists. That’s not true. When people start calling people names instead of addressing the issues, you know they’re not–it’s not a good faith dialogue. They’re not trying to understand.

Sheila: Yeah, but again if people are hurt and feeling betrayed, why is the church’s reaction–people like Matt Chandler’s reaction–judgment instead of, “Oh my goodness, let me listen to your story.” Why is it well you just never–you just never really knew Jesus in the first place?

Keith: Because they don’t want to know that there’s rot behind the walls because then they would have to move. They like it just where they are.

Sheila: And here’s something else that I think people need to understand. People that deconstruct don’t all end up in the same place, and that’s part of the reason that we’re doing this series is because I want to show you different people’s stories, and people have ended up in different places. Next week we’re going to be talking to Ryan George, who deconstructed from his IFB, which is even more fundamentalist than the SBC, his IFB background, but he’s totally landed in a place–in a church that loves and knows Jesus. I’m not saying that everybody needs to do that. This is so difficult to talk about because I want to honor people’s journeys, and I know that some people church has been so harmful that they just can’t–like it’s actually triggering and traumatic to go back into a church building because there has been so much pain. So not everyone who deconstructs ends up in the same place. Deconstruction doesn’t necessarily mean that you leave the faith or that you leave Jesus. It doesn’t. It can, and a lot of people have, and I think it’s really important that we listen to their reasons because if we love people–you know, Jesus left the 99 to go after the one. He didn’t just yell at the one for wandering away. I’m not saying–

Keith: Or saying that the one was never really mine anyway.

Sheila: Right, exactly, and I’m not saying that we should chase people who are leaving the faith and smother them or anything like that. I think we need to honor them and love them, but listen. Listen to their experiences. This is why they felt like they had to walk away. What are we going to do about that? We need to honor–like treat them as real people, not just as caricatures. But not everyone who deconstructs is going to leave Jesus. Some may end up leaving their denomination, looking for another denomination. Rebecca and I joke about this in the Patreon a lot is when people deconstruct, when you realize that your church is toxic, so you leave First Baptist because you just can’t handle First Baptist anymore, and you just–it’s just not a healthy church. So you go to Second Baptist, and then lo and behold, three years later, you just can’t handle Second Baptist anymore, and so you go to Third Baptist. So if you are leaving a toxic church, may I suggest that you try something really different?

Keith: Well, yeah, and that’s one of the things too about deconstruction is that a lot of it is based upon certain small sections of the Christian family saying, “We have all the truth, and anybody outside our small group whether it’s IFB or whatever, we have the truth, and outside of us, you’re getting progressively less likely to actually be a Christian.” They have this mentality that we’re the only ones with the truth, and then people see people from other denominations with very rich, deep faith journeys that they love, and they want to model because they believe in this, because they let women preach, they’re not truly Christians. That’s–I’ve seen with my own eyes–you’re telling me if I leave you, I’m leaving the faith. But I’ll be more like this person who looks very much like Jesus unlike you. That happens.

Sheila: C. S. Lewis was Anglican. There’s lots of people who have been in different traditions. So yeah, when you are someone who has gone through church hurt, I think often we think that because we were hurt in a Baptist church or a fundamentalist church or a Lutheran–whatever church it is–that therefore all churches are bad, and all churches are going to hurt me, and the truth is that not all churches are the same. They really aren’t. I know I’m picking on Baptists a lot. There’s actually some very healthy Baptist churches. Baptist is a strange word because it encompasses so many things. Yeah, so not all Baptist denominations are the same or churches are the same. They’re all very different.

Keith: And no church–there’s no church that doesn’t have problems, but the difference is whether you confess and admit to it and you look maybe imperfect, and we need to do better. We did what was wrong. We need to make it better as opposed to we didn’t do anything wrong. You’re just a problem. Go away, and we’ll blame you for the fact that we hurt you.

Sheila: We were talking with someone last week whose daughter is deconstructing. She’s at university now, a young adult, and there’s just a lot of judgement towards this daughter about the fact that she doesn’t like their church, doesn’t like their pastor. She doesn’t like a lot of things, and she’s rejecting a lot of the beliefs, and so the opinion of the parent is this child is leaving the faith. But when we listened to it, we’re like no, I think she’s actually finding faith. I think she’s just being curious and wanting to find something real. So I just want–please hear me on this if you’re the parent–if you are the parent and your child is on a journey, honor that journey, and let them walk that journey. Don’t be so scared that they’re going to leave the faith that you end up invalidating what they’re going through because when you invalidate their feelings of, “I’m hurt. I feel betrayed. I can’t believe this anymore,” they now can’t come to you. You’re no longer a safe person to them. So I know it can be scary when your kids are going in a different direction and seem to not like the church that you raised them in, but please honor their journey because not everyone who starts on a deconstruction journey ends up leaving Jesus. They just may end up in a different church, or they might end up with a really rich faith, and they may not be in the church for a couple years. Maybe they won’t go back until they have kids of their own, and then they want Sunday School, or they want community, or I don’t know. People’s journeys look different, and there’s a lot of stuff going on right now. I think it’s so important that instead of telling kids if you believe that you’re not really a Christian or not accepting them anymore, like just ask them what they’re thinking, what they’re feeling, and listen. You don’t always need to give your opinion.

Keith: And if you’re going to a church where you’re being told that if your kids question things or don’t do things exactly the way they’re supposed to according to your denomination, that you should separate yourself from them and guilt them and make them feel bad and make them feel like your love is somehow conditional upon them performing, you need to deconstruct. You need to get out of that church because what kind of father or mother, what kind of parent, says, “You’re not doing what I want you to do, and therefore, I am going to make life difficult for you and push you away from me.” If you think that’s what God is like to us, I’m so sad for you. What kind of a faith is that? You would be better if you deconstructed along with your kids than chiding your kids for deconstructing.

Sheila: Yeah, exactly. Okay so when people deconstruct, they don’t all end up in the same place. Many people who reconstruct so they pull everything down to find the rot, and then they end up building something else and many people do that. That is what we hope will happen. That is what we are here for at Bare Marriage is because we know that there are so many people who are questioning faith and questioning so much, and we want you to know that there is a safe place for you to land, that you can build a faith that doesn’t look toxic. So that is a lot of what we do here is we are a deconstruction project to a large extent because Great Sex Rescue deconstructing all the teachings about sex and marriage. She Deserves Better deconstructing what you were taught as a teenager. We’re saying let’s do this right. Let’s find Jesus again. I think that’s a journey that is worth honoring, and I’m glad that so many of you are here on that journey with us. So that’s kind of what I wanted to talk about–about deconstruction is we need to listen to these stories. We need to hear why people are deconstructing their faith, and some of them are going to end up in scary places for many of us who are still in the faith. It’s hard to hear about people who may have let the faith go or don’t really know what they believe in anymore, and we’re so tempted to, “No, no, no, you have to believe this, and you have to believe this.” It’s like honor people’s journeys. Listen to them. Let’s listen. Let’s figure out why they feel they need to deconstruct in the first place. Let’s honor those stories, and remember that deconstruction is a good thing. It is largely what the Bereans were doing in Acts. It’s Acts 17 I think when Paul was preaching, and the Bereans would go back and they would study everything he said with what they knew of Scripture, and they would measure. They didn’t just believe. That’s what deconstruction is. It’s just saying okay this is what I’ve been taught, but let me make sure that it is actually foundational. That it is actually worth building something on. Thank you for joining us on our deconstruction journey, and we’re going to listen to a whole bunch of people’s journeys. I really appreciate Cait’s so yeah, get a hold of Rift. It’s a great read for the summer. Again even if it’s not where you are, we need to listen. We need to listen and learn because that’s how the church is going to be made better, not by just chastising people who leave. Yeah, so thank you for joining us. Thank you for supporting us at Bare Marriage. Do check out our merch. The link is in the podcast notes to our store. We also have courses. We have our Great Sex Rescue toolkit so if you want to explain to your pastor, small group leader, friend, mother, sister, brother, whoever about why some of these teachings are toxic, we have a great toolkit that will help you do that, and so much more. So check out all those things in the podcast notes. Have a wonderful Independence Day for those of you in the United States, and we will see you again next week on The Bare Marriage podcast. Bye-bye.

Keith: Bye.

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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13 Comments

  1. Lisa Johns

    Just a note: we use “Independence Day” or “July 4th” interchangeably. 🙂

    Hearing Cait’s story breaks my heart. I was one of the parents who really bought into a lot of the patriarchy movement ideals, and I taught my children about the courtship/no-dating thing, and we betrothed my daughter to a COMPLETELY unsuitable guy at a COMPLETELY unsuitable young age (I am happy to report that she did not marry him), and I have a lot of regrets. I was also dealing with my own emotional harm from a highly controlled upbringing, and between the two areas, I put a lot of hurt onto my children. I have been working on my own issues for several years now, but deconstructing and reconstructing relationships is really hard. There’s a lot to deal with.

    I have also been in my own church deconstruction story, and that began on June 9, 2022, the day you aired the interview with Alyssa Wakefield. (I hope she is doing well; I have not heard anything more about her story, and I hope she has found a thriving place.) I started out by kind of laughing at myself because, “We all believed we had to do this or that in those days,” and I ended up weeping because, for the first time, I really confronted the pain that the things I believed had put on my children. At the same time I had to confront the fact that my church — my “safe place” — had perpetuated this harm by teachings from the pulpit and through small groups (we did the Ezzo books — “OBEY, OBEY, OBEY!” — and it was really bad), and as I found out, people aren’t really willing to listen when you speak out against pet theories. For these and other reasons, I currently don’t bother to get up early on Sundays any more — which incidentally gives me a true Sabbath! — and I don’t know whether I will ever find a church where I can feel comfortable again.

    Anyway, thank you for doing what you do. You have been a real blessing to me and so many others. Happy U.S. Independence Day!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow, I’ll let Alyssa know that the podcast affected you so much! I’m so glad you found me, and I know how painful all of this must be. I’m glad you’re finding some rest now.

      Reply
  2. Jo R

    How can we blame someone for deconstructing while simultaneously saying, “Those teachings you believed weren’t really Christian”?

    If the teachings weren’t of Jesus, then people definitely MUST deconstruct from them.

    Reply
    • Erica

      Hear, hear!

      Reply
  3. Nathan

    I think that my first church was very patriarchal, but I was only a kid, and I went with another family, so I may not have been fully exposed to that. My current church is only slightly patriarchal.

    My biggest exposure to the whole concept of deconstruction is the false idea that, once you become a Christian, you’re ALWAYS supposed to be happy and positive, and that any time you experience a negative emotion, you’re giving Satan a victory. In my experience, this demand is mainly aimed at girls at women. Men can be angry, sad, etc. but women must always be happy, cheerful, smiling, polite, etc.

    To people who preach that, I’ll remind them that Jesus Himself said “In this world, you will have trouble”.

    While Satan and his demons are real, and are trying to get us to stray, they aren’t behind every tree, rock and bush, always doing everything everywhere. They aren’t responsible for every negative emotion and action. The world is quite capable of generating these things all by itself.

    Finally, I’ll remind that group the the church is, itself, not God. Just because your father, your pastor, or your church says it’s so doesn’t make it so. And disagreeing with them is NOT the same as disagreeing with God.

    Reply
    • Jo R

      ‘To people who preach that, I’ll remind them that Jesus Himself said “In this world, you will have trouble”.’

      So, does “the world” include “the church,” i.e., should we expect “friendly fire”? 🤔 🙄

      Or am I just being an ontological stupid woman to think “the world” and “the church” should have no people in common?

      Reply
    • JG

      Yes. Exactly. God gave us a brain. He expects us to use it and think about what pastors and others say. It isn’t rebelling to question what they teach.

      Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      So good, Nathan! And, yes, I grew up with the demon behind every rock too.

      Reply
  4. Laura

    I read Cait’s book and it was so heartbreaking that she cannot seem to have a good relationship with her father because he is so stuck in patriarchy. I’m so glad she’s married to a great man.

    As for pastors getting upset when Christians deconstruct, they just don’t want to lose members because that means losing money. While they won’t admit to that, it’s basically the truth because church, especially megachurches, are all about the evangelical industry complex. I’ve found that I don’t hear about Jesus enough in church sermons. I want more Jesus. While it’s great to hear Old testament and Paul’s letters, people need to focus more on Jesus and less on being concerned about following the right rules (many of which are just manmade and heaped on people).

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      This is so true, Laura. This is my litmus test for a good church: It is focusing on the gospels? That’s one reason I love the Anglican liturgy we’ve returned to!

      Reply
  5. Angharad

    I was homeschooled, and while my parents did it for good reasons and I had plenty of connection with people from other churches and those with no church background at all, but I also encountered many of the more ‘extremist’ home-schoolers. We would attend home-school gatherings a few times a year, and while the parents were listening to seminars on how to home-school, we kids were allowed to socialise together. Some of the kids from the more extreme homes spent their time trying to convince us that we were not living ‘godly’ enough, and they preached things like total submission to parents, arranged marriages etc. We were all impressionable teens, and this kind of stuff did so much damage. I remember telling my parents about a few things the other kids had said – things like “it’s important to be home-schooled so that you don’t have any friends in ‘the world'” and “I don’t know what to think about that topic – my parents haven’t told me” and “it’s unnecessary to know what makes a good marriage partner because you just marry whoever your father tells you to” plus a load of ‘modesty messaging’ – because they worried me, and my parents just laughed. They didn’t believe that any parent could be that extreme, so they thought I had misunderstood/exaggerated. (Dad realised I hadn’t been exaggerating when one of the other dads approached him to arrange a marriage between his son and me!!!)

    So if anyone is home-schooling their kids, PLEASE be aware that there are some real weirdos out there, and if your kids come out with extreme comments they’ve picked up from their friends, don’t assume it’s all an exaggeration. Even though I wasn’t being taught this stuff by my parents or my church, it still did a lot of damage because it was coming from my peers who were ‘good’ homeschool kids being raised by ‘godly’ parents.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I can totally attest to this being true in the homeschooling group we were in too!

      Reply
    • Lisa Johns

      Creepy stuff.

      I taught in Christian schools that provided the legal “umbrellas” for many of the home-school families. I remember looking out the window at this woman walking across the parking lot one day and thinking how weird it was that so many of the home-schooling moms had this uniform — t-shirt, denim skirt, sneakers, and some weird frumpy hair-style. It’s ironic that many of us kept our children out of public schools because we were so afraid of *peer pressure*, and then we ended up in these little cults all over the place, where we dressed alike and talked alike and all had the same opinions about courtship and childrearing, and questions were seen as someone not having a good enough faith. Yikes.

      Reply

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