When Life Gives You Deconstruction: The Church and Loving Thy Neighbor

Something that always rubbed me the wrong way while I was involved with church was this idea that the church should only serve its community in order to “convert” non-believers or get people into the seats on Sunday morning. This always felt so gross and manipulative. Jesus freely gave to those in need and told us to do the same with no strings attached. He didn’t pitch them the next teaching series at Temple.

I am not great at volunteering my time, in general. I do so on occasion, but I usually donate money. We all play our parts, right? There are a few occasions I can remember wanting to organize some kind of event to serve our local community. I don’t remember what I wanted to do, exactly, but I do remember talking to the pastor about it.

He said something like, “Ok, great. What’s the end goal? Are we going to give them some literature or invite them to a specific service?”

I was surprised because I hadn’t even thought about that. I said, “Well, no. I thought we could just have this event and serve our community in this way.”

He pretty much said that the church wouldn’t sponsor an event without some kind of call to action. We had to talk to them about God, have some kind of alter call, offer to pray with them, or invite them to a service. I was so disappointed. It felt gross, honestly.

Why couldn’t we just serve and love our neighbors without proselytizing to them? Aren’t we supposed to show God’s love by our actions and not by how hard we try to sell them on it? Also, why are we assuming that people who are in need don’t already have a relationship with God? Do we inherently think that if you’re poor or have fallen on hard times, then you clearly don’t know Jesus because otherwise you wouldn’t be struggling?

These are some of the questions I had and still have. This is all so problematic. The more I learn about inherent bias, colonialism, and racism, the more problematic this all starts to look to me. I’ve always felt that if we are good at loving people, which is what we are commanded to do, then the fruit of our love will bring people to know Jesus better. Sales tactics, manipulation, coercion, and control do not produce good fruit. They never have – and today’s evangelical church is living proof of that.

I remember that we had a series that lasted several weeks just on how to invite people to church. We were encouraged (guilted? shamed?) and coached (indoctrinated?) on how to get people to come to church with us. As if the only way people will be able to experience God is within the walls of a church. And to be really clear, I didn’t go to a fundamentalist church like a Southern Baptist or Mormon/LDS church. I went to a non-denominational evangelical church. They play modern worship music and wear jeans and football jerseys on Sundays.

Wolves in sheep’s clothing? Some would say so. I think that until the Church takes full responsibility for the harm it’s done, this will remain true. The fruit will continue to be rotten. Until the Church owns its gross misrepresentation of God and Her true nature, it will continue to push people away from church. And maybe that’s exactly what needs to happen. Burn it all down and rebuild something anchored in love for Her people.

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: The Church vs. the Other

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: The Church vs. the Other
Photo by Ricardo Esquivel on Pexels.com

*TW: Spiritual Abuse

This past weekend, I attended an online Sunday service, of sorts. It was put on by someone in the faith community whom I trust very much and it took place with a small group in his home. He’s familiar with the deconstructing process and has had to do quite a bit of deconstructing on his own. I’ve been able to follow his journey on social media, so I felt really safe observing.

The conversation was very open during this service. Anyone could chime in with thoughts or questions. It was very open and lovely. There was no “lesson” or agenda, really. They read from John 10 and then shared what it made them think of or how it made them feel. Part of the discussion led to a conversation around “otherness” and how the church has excluded certain groups of people from God’s love, even though Jesus says quite the opposite about how we come into Her love.

This reminded me of many instances where I was looked at as “other” within my church during my time there. One that really stuck out was when a group of friends and I got together and decided to start a little Bible study at someone’s house. These were not friends I currently went to church with but these were people I did a lot of my day-to-day life with. It was a nice way to spend time together while learning about God and Her nature.

At the time, I was considered a part of “informal” leadership at my church because I was on the worship team. Something to note, I could never be considered a formal leader within that church because I am a woman. Apparently women are not allowed to lead men. I was only made aware of this “small” detail because the conversation came up amongst a small group of us at some church event. I was honestly shocked, and super pissed, because I had never been told this explicitly before and thought my church was rather progressive (ha!).

While at church one morning, I had mentioned this really great group of people I was gathering with once a week to worship with and study God’s word with. To my surprise, my worship leader warned me about small group gatherings outside the umbrella of a church with an established theology. He said that I could get into “trouble” of sorts because without a church overseeing what was being taught, we could be at risk for false teachings. In the church, “false teachings” are a great scare tactic to keep people from trusting their own discernment and keep the church in control. It was the mose bizarre thing I had every heard. The original church started in the homes of fellow believers; small communities of people who opened their homes to one another in love.

Something I’ve learned about the church over the years is that it is afraid of free-thinkers and those who do not follow the formula. Something I’ve learned about God’s nature is that She does not perscribe to nor require a formula for Her love.

Needless to say, I never brought up the home group at church again. I thought the concern and warning were hot garbage. Also, I hate being told what to do. Fuck off with that. No one ever mentioned it to me again, and I certainly wasn’t brought into any intervention with church leadership. But, if you’re familiar with my story, then you know that my time would come soon enough.

When Life Gives You Deconstruction: Music

Photo by Breakingpic on Pexels.com

I’ve been sitting on this for a while because I’ve been doing my own processing and healing. While in the middle of writing this blog, there were several public outcries from the evangelical community denouncing the process of deconstruction. Trusted leaders, pastors, and musicians have called deconstruction evil, witchcraft, and ungodly. I’m in a place where I can often ignore or shrug off these ridiculous claims, but sometimes it hits a nerve.

I am a lover of music. I love all different kinds of music. Not only do I love music, I am also a musician. Music is very powerful and can evoke powerful emotions. It can convey what is not being said and bring people to a special place.

While in the church, worship time was my favorite. I was often on stage, singing with the worship team. This appealed to me for several reasons. For one, I love to sing. I love to take a song and make it a little bit mine. Secondly, I love being on stage. As scary as it can be, I like having eyes on me. I like performing. I like being heard. I really feel at home on the stage. When people would come up to me after church and compliment me on my voice, it filled my cup.

In the church, however, you are reminded quite regularly that you are there to serve and it isn’t about you or whatever need of yours it is fulfilling. While I believe servant leadership is a beautiful thing, the struggle between joy and sense of duty that came with leading worship eventually led to guilt and shame around enjoying what you were doing. It was made to feel selfish. I felt this and I saw it all around me. It made me sad that people couldn’t just enjoy the high of performing without being pulled down by the guilt of being self-indulgent in your talent and hobby. This was seen as holy.

There are many exvangelicals who will talk about the manipulation tactics used during worship services – evoking strong emotions by song choice, “spontaneous” worship time, talking over a musical intro/outro, long build ups in songs, dimmed lights or concert lighting. These are all things that happen during worship. These are not points I feel too strongly about, personally, but I believe that anyone who feels they were misled or manipulated by these tactics have valid opinions. Not everyone carries the same opinions or experiences from the church and I would never dismiss the harm done by the use of these tactics.

I’m also an avid listener of music. It’s rare that you walk into my home without some kind of music playing – especially if I’m alone. I admire talented musicians and lyricists. I sing loudly to the music I love. I dance around my house while cooking or cleaning.

Some weeks ago, my partner asked if I had heard the newest Skillet album. He knows that I really like Skillet’s music, so this is a totally normal question, but I wasn’t prepared for how triggering it would be. At the time, I was a bit hesitant to listen to anything remotely close to Christian music because so many of my beliefs have evolved recently. I’m still working through this. I want to be cognizant of the musicians I support because I don’t want to perpetuate the abuse I’ve experienced.

While writing this blog, a very problematic video came out where John Cooper, the lead singer of Skillet, declared a “war on deconstruction.” This isn’t entirely surprising, but still hurtful. As a fan, I realized that their music is no longer safe, uplifting, or encouraging for me. He is spreading a dangerous and unloving message at his concerts while his legions of fans cheer him on. The irony here is that he is fiercely defending an institution that does not fully accept him for who he is with all his rock ‘n roll and tattoos. The only reason he is welcomed by any part of the evangelical community is because of deconstruction. Deconstruction paved a way for him to be a successful musician on the edge of evangelicalism and secular popularity. Since then, I’ve done some research and realized that John Cooper has a history of spreading misinformation and dangerous ideologies. Disappointing, to say the least.

Navigating the obstacle course of the music I once loved can be an exhausting feat. There are still musicians who I adore and will sometimes listen to. For now, though, I stick with my alternative, rock, pop, new grass, and hip-hop of the secular variety. It’s more open, loving, and godly than I was taught to believe.