Recently, I fell down a Christian deconstruction rabbit hole on social media. It was odd because I feel like I have a lot in common with those who are deconstructing their faith, but I don’t feel the need to go to the furthest logical conclusion, as many do. I don’t begrudge them though—they are often moved in that direction because they struggle to find something that many American Christian churches can’t seem to offer. So many of these people are looking for honesty, compassion, and genuine love. They have been told all of their lives that Jesus is the personification of these things. It ends up being doubly painful when they realize that the Jesus they were taught of in their youth disappears when they become adults. Unfortunately, he is replaced by his so-called followers, who seemed to be soaked in unwarranted persecution complexes and vitriol toward anyone who is unlike them. How can we be surprised when people leave the church in search of something nicer? Kinder. More loving. Less painful.
I watched a person talk about her embarassment by the title "Christian" because of all the bad things associated with the phrase. It had pushed her away from labeling herself altogether. She argued that if you have to explain that you’re one of the "nice Christians," it means your religion has a problem. On some level, I agree with her about that. I wish I knew what to do about the problem. Most days it really seems intractable. There is some solace in that position too—believing things will never change, so my responsibility is therefore lessened. After all, there is only so much one person can do against the machine.
When I was younger and more naïve, I had the impression that I should defend God’s reputation. There were people who had taken on the name of Christ, but seemed so unlike him. Therefore, it was important for me to show others that they could be Christian, but not be like those people. The facts are still true, but now I think of how silly it was to presume that God specifically needed my help. Now, I think the most important thing is that I attempt to exemplify who I know Jesus to be, and then let God worry about the attracting. It seems that in our rush to proselytize, we have forgotten (or never learned) two crucial lessons:
First, our commission is to share the gospel of Jesus Christ, not necessarily our religion or our denominations. Unfortunately, we often treat these things as the same when they are actually quite different. Our Christian denominations are social institutions comprised of people who generally agree on how the gospel effects the way we live. That is how we can arrive at different theologies and dogmas, even though we all are reading the same sacred text. But those agreements and understandings are not the gospel.
Second, we forget that—despite the fact that we have grouped ourselves together in this way—our commitments and relationships with Christ are individual. As such, we may all believe in the same God, but arrive to different elements of truth at different times. Not only that, but it is also possible that some things may be necessary for you, but not for someone else. I wonder sometimes how our experience in Christianity and Adventism would be different if we allowed people to explore their relationship with God in a community that responded to that exploration with love and support, instead of criticism and judgment. I think we would all be better off, apologist and deconstructionist alike, if we lived in the realization that we can still be in the same spiritual community together, even if we are not all the same.
Jason Hines is a former attorney with a doctorate in Religion, Politics, and Society from the J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is also an assistant professor at AdventHealth University. He blogs about religious liberty and other issues at TheHinesight.blogspot.com.
Previous Spectrum columns by Jason Hines can be found by clicking here.
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