The 'Christian Love' Flows for Deconstruction

When authoritarians feel challenged, they tend to react in predictable ways.

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Lately, toxic Christian leaders have discovered deconstruction. That’s a kind of deconversion that leaves a person still basically believing in Christianity, just hopefully not as toxic a version of it. And oh boy, they do not like it. I recently ran across an opinion post about deconstruction. Her post was meant to be a rebuttal to a number of toxic Christian leaders’ hateful and willfully-ignorant responses to deconstruction. The funny thing is, both the original responses and the rebuttal haven’t a snowball’s chance in Hell of changing their stated targets’ minds. But both sides need to write this kind of stuff, and today I’ll show you why both strategies are so necessary to those deploying them.

(Steven Weeks.) Credit: Steven Weeks / Unsplash

(When I talk about evangelicalism in this post, I’m referring to the more authoritarian, power-grabby, and narcissistic end of the Christian pool — the end marked “toxic Christians.” Not all evangelicals are toxic Christians, and quite a few toxic Christians aren’t evangelical.)

Deconstruction: An Overview.

For years now, we’ve talked about deconversion. In that process, Christians realize that their beliefs aren’t based in reality. The process ends with them rejecting Christianity entirely and walking away from it. People who have deconverted often end up with an extimony. That’s a short description of why and how they deconverted (but it’s not crafted or deployed to make sales, as testimonies are). Deconverted people usually call themselves ex-Christians. I’m in this group.

That terminology, those ideas, they sufficed for a long time.

But people can be complex sometimes. Not everyone questioning their beliefs wanted to jettison all of Christianity. They wanted to keep some ideas, but to discard the worst, most harmful, and most obviously-wackadoodle ones.

So those people began using the term deconstruction to describe their mental journey.

Mostly but not always, evangelicals are the ones who make that journey. The term describes the way they systematically examine their beliefs. They keep only what seems to line up with their wishful conceptualization of their god. And mostly, they end up as way more liberal Christians. The ones who began this journey as evangelicals often call themselves exvangelicals.

At some point, probably around when Trumpism began to infest authoritarian white evangelical churches, exvangelicals began to proliferate. They may even outnumber ex-Christians by now.

This past year, toxic Christian leaders have finally come around to viewing deconstruction as a very serious threat to their power. (And it is.) They’ve been responding to that threat in the only way they know: with ‘Christian love,’ which as usual looks like cruelty, false accusations, and endless hateful screeching.

Deconstruction Arguments from Christians.

It’s almost funny to see Christian leaders trying so hard to act mincingly pious around deconstruction. They hate it to their marrow and bones. After all, there is no way they can respond to it in any meaningful way. Not one Christian has ever come up with even a single shred of evidence to support a single one of their claims — supernatural or social.

But they must at least make a pretense of smarmy, oily sweetness toward their new tribal enemies as they hammer at deconstruction with the tools they do have (and have perfected over the years):

  • Social pressure
  • Logical fallacies
  • More false claims
  • Outright insults and condescension
  • Smearing those who’ve deconstructed

In a lot of ways, toxic Christians’ response to deconstruction itself mirrors how they treat doubt as a whole.

What That Response Looks Like in the Wild.

When we look at the way toxic Christian leaders talk about deconstruction, we see immediately that their main responses contain all of these manipulation attempts and more:

Almost no toxic Christians seem capable of engaging with deconstruction in a real or compassionate way.

And I can easily understand why.

Why Toxic Christian Leaders Refuse to Understand Deconstruction.

Deconstruction challenges a whole bunch of toxic Christian beliefs. None of these beliefs are true in reality, but toxic Christians accept them as standard-issue party lines:

  • Their flavor of Christianity is the most correct-est of all flavors.
  • It is also 100% sufficient for every human on the planet.
  • And it’s 100% logically and rationally cohesive and coherent, with oodles of evidence supporting its many claims.
  • There are no valid reasons to leave their tribe, ever, no matter what.
  • So there is a completely-sufficient comeback to literally any objection anyone could ever make to any aspect of their flavor of Christianity.
  • Anybody who rejects their blahblah does so, therefore, due to some other failure. The message is always perfect.

As a result of the abovementioned and more, if someone leaves their tribe it is due to misunderstandings, personal failures, or stubborn intransigence.

A Rebuttal to the Tribe’s Strategy.

Recently, I spotted this post on Baptist News Global. As the name indicates, they’re evangelical. But they tend to be way better folks than we normally encounter in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) crowd. They haven’t yet figured out why they can’t have evangelicalism without abuse and scandals.

(Hint: even in its nicer forms it’s authoritarian at its core, and clearly no gods are making any Christian leaders behave.)

This Baptist News post comes to us from Amy Hayes, an M.Div. student. Her post calls out various evangelical leaders who consistently mistreat, malign, insult, and smear those who’ve undergone deconstruction. It’s a good summary of how those leaders present deconstruction to their flocks.

And then, she tries to make the case that deconstruction represents a sort of enlightenment — one that evangelicals just haven’t reached yet, and one that is entirely out of the reach of ex-Christians:

What if deconstruction indicates a developing, not a deteriorating, faith?

This is precisely what James Fowler argued in his Stages of Faith, proposing that there are six stages to a person’s faith development. These range from a primal or undifferentiated faith all the way to a universalized or enlightened faith.

And I must admit, my head hit my desk there.

Not only does this claim not work in reality, but it smears ex-Christians just as evangelical leaders smear exvangelicals. And it’ll fail hard against her stated targets, who are, again, evangelical leaders.

Sidebar: The Rebuttal That Doesn’t Work.

In Amy Hayes’ new version of deconstruction, the only people who succeed are those who emerge from the other side of evangelicalism to exvangelicalism. They find firmer faith, just in another configuration of Christianity.

Hooray Team Jesus!

And of course, those who discard the whole religion remain stuck in “The Wilderness” stage forever. Poor dears! They just couldn’t find their way to a faith she describes as “new and lifegiving.”

In reality, those who’ve discarded Christianity entirely are not stuck in “The Wilderness.”

It was nothing but liberation to realize I didn’t believe in anything about Christianity anymore. Deconversion still describes the most affirming and “lifegiving” experience I’ve ever had, as painful as it was at the time. I could breathe again.

Living in reality feels vastly better and has helped my life more than living under even one false claim about gods. Opening the door to even one false claim simply leaves many folks vulnerable to more false claims — which is, of course, how many of us landed in toxic Christianity in the first place.

And I know I’m not the only ex-Christian who feels that way.

It’s kinda insulting to hear someone go on and on about how enlightened and courageous and evolved she is — while throwing ex-Christians under the bus and declaring that only exvangelicals win the game.

I’m hoping she didn’t mean it that way, but dang, it sure hit that way. She talks about the motivated reasoning of toxic Christian leaders, but as a seminary student she might just be suffering some of her own.

Why This Rebuttal Will Fail Against Toxic Christians.

Going back to the list I outlined above about party-line evangelical beliefs, Amy Hayes’ rebuttal will fail right out of the gate with toxic Christians in evangelicalism.

All of us have a sort of forcefield around us that protects us from information we won’t like, especially info that challenges our own beliefs or opinions. This forcefield is called antiprocess. It can be beaten, of course, but most people don’t even know they have it in the first place. The more wackadoodle someone’s beliefs, the stronger this protective field is.

Antiprocess intercepts challenging information — often, before we’re even consciously aware that it’s coming too close. And it nullifies this unpleasant information. Antiprocess operates through a number of methods, including but not limited to these:

The moment toxic Christians realize she’s trying to make the case that AKshully, y’all, she totally Jesus-es way harder than they do, she’ll lose ’em. There’s no way for them to accept that deconstruction results in firmer, stronger, better Christians than party-line evangelical teachings.

But Attacks on Deconstruction Fail for Toxic Christian Leaders Too.

That said, attacks on deconstruction don’t seem to be stopping even big-name Christians from leaving the fold. Clearly, millions of evangelicals are taking deconstruction seriously despite all the attacks made on it by their Dear Leaders.

So consider this, because you can bet a lot of the current owners of butts in pews (BIPs) are considering it:

Every one of those evangelicals who emerges from “The Wilderness” as an exvangelical represents yet another point of contradiction to toxic evangelical leaders’ claims about deconstruction and exvangelicalism alike.

Oh, I’m sure there are still a lot of evangelicals who absolutely believe that ex-Christians jus’ wanted ta seeee-yiiiiin. But eventually, they meet a lot of ex-Christians who talk about having been extremely fervent and faithful — and those erroneous beliefs seem like they shift with reality eventually. It’s very rare now for an evangelical, especially a younger one, not to know a lot of ex-Christians and exvangelicals.

I’ve seen similar shifts in evangelicals’ attitudes toward mixed-faith marriages. So I suspect it’s already happening with deconstruction.

Who These Folks Are Each Really Talking To.

In a lot of ways, I think Amy Hayes is actually addressing her post to evangelicals who are starting to feel doubts about their beliefs — not, in fact, to the leaders sneering so hard at deconstruction. She’s definitely not going to convince that latter group that exvangelicals represent some new X-Men-style leap forward in Christian evolution. However, doubting evangelicals may need a little encouragement — and appreciate hers.

Meanwhile, toxic Christian leaders are addressing their sneering to doubting evangelicals as well. After all, they’re not going to convince any ex-Christian or exvangelical to give evangelicalism a second consideration that way. Nor are they going to convince anyone who’s done the hard work of deconversion or deconstruction that they’re inferior or pitiful.

Really, “Christian love” just confirms that we’ve made the right decision.

However, these toxic Christians send a very firm message to the doubters who haven’t yet set foot on the road of deconversion/deconstruction.

The Message Toxic Christian Leaders Send About Deconstruction.

Out of every inconsistent thing toxic Christian leaders do, they do manage to consistently send this message to their flocks:

If you keep this up, you’ll be included in this group of people we mistreat. We’ll call you faithless and inferior, sneer at you, smear you, insult you, speak over you, and retaliate against you in any way we can. The only way to find safety at all is to remain in the sheepfold.

That last bit is a lie, of course. There’s no safety anywhere for anyone in a toxic Christian group — except for wielding great power over others. But the rest is definitely true.

As I saw with deconversion 10 years ago, though, eventually toxic Christian leaders will be overwhelmed by the sheer proliferation of targets to mistreat. The tribe can only concentrate on so many people at once.

But it’s interesting to me to see this dance between tribal enemies. Toxic Christians don’t hate anyone as much as they hate their own apostates. Every one of their claims about morality and love fall completely apart when it comes to how they actually behave around those who’ve left their ranks.

And strangely, Jesus doesn’t seem interested in straightening out all these hypocrites in his Church.

NEXT UP: I guess Tim Keller needs attention again, because he’s gone and said something ridiculously dumb again. But his Original Christianity blathering might be part of evangelicals’ next big retention strategy, so I want to check it out. See you next time!

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...