“You and I are living in a day and age where deconstruction — and the turning away from, or 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 understand Christianity to be is a moral code, then I totally get it.”
The clip from that sermon has made its way around the internet in recent days, and while there are many people who are criticizing Pastor Matt and his words, I’d like to call into question the bigger picture here. I’d agree, Mr. Chandler. It’s almost impossible to deconstruct from Jesus, especially for those who have truly experienced the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ. That’s why so many of us still try to hang on in the margins — because even though the institution of the Church has closed its doors to us, we know that there is goodness and hope within the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
I will contend to you that the reason so many of us are deconstructing is because we have seen the Church close its doors and act as gatekeepers to the very grace and mercy that you preach about. We have seen families torn apart, lives ruined, and lives lost because of the refusal of churches like yours that continually tell us that we’re “too sinful” to exist within the walls of your community. That our identity is akin to shouting outside the city gates, “unclean!”
That Jesus went out and spent time with those that the Church wanted to shut out. That Jesus dined with tax collectors and preached salvation to the prostitutes. He listened to the condemned. He embraced the people on the margins, and challenged the Church to do the same.
Because as we sit in the rubble of our faith, condemned by leaders like Matt Chandler, we refuse to let go of the Truth of a God who still loves us and calls us to Himself. Deconstruction is realizing that at the core of everything is Jesus, and the rules and added piousness that they add as requirements is akin to the way the Jewish leaders had expounded on the Ten Commandments to the point where thousands of laws had been written, complicating the faith to the point where it was no longer communicating hope, but rather a burden.
Want to talk about allowing people to experience the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ? Then I challenge you to ask yourself how your church is doing that to the divorced. To the single mom who is struggling to make ends meet. To the immigrant. To the person who loudly proclaims that “Black Lives Matter.” To the gay or queer person in your midst. The trans person. These are people who have been looking to the church and saying, “we’ve heard about this Jesus — will you allow us in so we can experience Him too?” Only to be turned away as a threat to your community.
Deconstruction asks the question of how we can help tell the biggest story of God in our world. I’d wonder if you see it as a threat only because it challenges the limits that you and your theology has put on a God that refuses to be contained in a box.
“A response to what,” you might ask?
A response to trauma. A response to knowing that there is hope and healing to be had in the Gospel, but also learning to separate that from the rejection and marginalization that comes with religion.
Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to listen to a podcast called, “The Rise And Fall of Mars Hill,” by Christianity Today, which outlines the ways that Mars Hill, a once popular mega-church pastored by Mark Driscoll, rose to prominence and fell to the pride and arrogance of its leadership. While I won’t take the time to go into detail about the podcast here, I’d highly recommend taking the time to listen to it. For many like myself, the trauma is all-too relatable.
As I sit and ponder my own faith and deconstruction journey, I have to stop and grieve the reality of it all.
The reality that I will never be able to experience my faith in the ways that I had spent so much of my life engrossed in. Ways that I aspired to lead others to. I grieve the fact that the stories shared on the podcast of abuse and trauma are not limited to Mars Hill.
Stories of a senior pastor, who while working as his associate pastor, decided to post about our family and his “concerns” about what I was doing to his public bulletin board group — dedicated to fishing. When we found what he had done and confronted him, our family was the one blamed because of our “inability to forgive for the betterment of the congregation.” We left the church, and he remained pastor there for several more years.
Stories of a pastor who got so angry at typos and missing Oxford commas when I was the church’s graphic designer that I would be scared to come into work on Monday. It would be there that I developed an ulcer and a problem with acid reflux. Yet, the church elders routinely excused his angry outbursts and biting criticisms — as well as his sons’ — by stating that it was simply “the way God made him,” and “that’s just his personality.” I was let go after it was found that I couldn’t support the church’s leadership and ministry, and it would be one of the last times I would step foot in a church for over a decade. Meanwhile, he still resides as the founding pastor of the church.
Then there are countless stories of pastors that I’ve met with since coming out; some of whom I’ve ministered alongside in the past. Pastors who told me straight to my face that who I am is an abomination; something to be repented of. Pastors who try to explain away why I wouldn’t be welcome to seek Jesus in their community unless I was a faceless stranger who just blended into the background. Back on the margins. Back in the shadows.
No, deconstruction isn’t sexy. It’s necessary. It’s a necessity because at my core, I still believe in Jesus. I still believe in a God who loves me. I still believe in the Bible. But I can no longer believe that without also acknowledging the ways that the Church continues to hurt and traumatize those who don’t fit within its walls.
He continues to defy explanation. It’s the reality we celebrate at Christmas. That God — creator of the universe — would allow himself to become a vulnerable baby, born to a teenage girl who would be accused of scandal. A woman who herself would become marginalized simply because she said “yes.” And yet, in that marginalization, is Christ born to us this day.