I am excited to share my collaboration today with Amanda Waldron, aka the Faith Deconstruction Coach! Amanda and I both share a mission to help you deconstruct the toxic and harmful teachings of Christian culture without losing your Christian faith.
In this blog article, Amanda shares her own process of deconstruction and some helpful tips on deconstructing your faith with hope and curiosity.
I never planned to deconstruct. Growing up as the 6th generation to participate in the same rural church gives you a sense of place and belonging. It was this church I turned to when I thought I might want to do some long-term missions work. I had just decided to leave a large mega-church at the time and needed a sending church. They agreed to consider it, but there quickly became some discrepancies between the theology of the sending organization and my home church. For my part I fell into some placating and tried to tell each entity what they wanted to hear, thus participating in some of my own manipulation of the situation.
When my childhood church decided they could not send me due to doctrinal misalignment, it broke something open in me. I did not understand why one faith could believe two different things. It launched me into a frantic search to uncover the “one right way to believe.” Spurred on by my black and white thinking at the time, I would dig into one theological topic, only to have it split into two paths. I found myself in a downward spiral of beliefs I didn’t even know existed. Where I had hoped to find certainty, I now had too many possibilities to fathom. It sent me into a very dark phase of my deconstruction.
In the early days of our faith, we often accept what others teach us. This unexamined faith lays the foundation with which we build our lens of the world, who God is, who we are, and who others are. This lens influences our interpretation of events and circumstances. There may be a strong sense of identity and belonging at this stage. The certainty of our early faith sustains us.
Then, for most people, we encounter a faith development stage of doubt and questions. Our faith is tested and the lens with which we view the world is tested. For some, their lens is able to bring in this new information, analyze it, and decide what to keep. but for others, there is just no framework for flexible thinking. This new information does not seem compatible with what we’ve been taught.
We may suddenly feel like God is different–like we’ve lost our ability to know ourselves or the world. This often leads us to a place that is hard to describe. When others talk about deconstruction, I often hear words like alone, lonely, disconnected, and dark. For me it felt like a downward spiral. The more I questioned, the more there was to figure out, until it felt like I was the furthest from my faith that I had ever been, even prompting me to think “Can I believe any of this?”
What is Faith Deconstruction?
Crisis of Faith
Dark Night of the Soul
The overwhelming consensus is that there does not seem to be one word that fully encompasses what THIS is. I’ve chosen to use the word “deconstruction” because it seems to be the one most widely used, but you may call this process something different. Whichever term you use, the way I define what THIS seems to mean is: the process by which we begin to examine the assumed beliefs about our faith.
“Deconstruction is the process by which we begin to examine the assumed beliefs about our faith.” @heyamandawal @doctorcamdenTweet
Because faith can be so intertwined with identity, the process also tends to lead us to questions about who we are and what we truly believe. This process can lead to distress when we begin to reexamine long-held truths. It often changes the way we see ourselves, the world, others, and God.
Deconstruction can occur when something creates tension in our theology (beliefs about God and faith), when our lived experiences don’t match up with what we’ve been taught, when our perspective starts to shift, or when we encounter trauma within our faith experience. This is called cognitive dissonance and usually produces some degree of unease. Cognitive dissonance happens when we have two conflicting beliefs (“God is love and God is mad that I’m asking questions”) or when new information contradicts an existing belief (“I’d always been taught that women shouldn’t preach, but this woman pastor is teaching me a lot. Is that okay?”).
Within a few hours, days, or weeks, we can find ourselves disconnected from the faith of our youth. It doesn’t work anymore. Suddenly, we’re in this wilderness relearning who and what we can trust. It can feel lonely and brutal. Because we as humans want to avoid pain, unresolved cognitive dissonance may present a binary choice: either stay stuck in an unhealthy faith or leave Christianity altogether. But perhaps there are other ways to explore doubt and deconstruction without losing your Christian faith.
“Unresolved cognitive dissonance may present a binary choice: either stay stuck in an unhealthy faith or leave Christianity altogether. But perhaps there are other ways to explore doubt and deconstruction without losing your Christian faith.” @heyamandawal @doctorcamdenTweet
Deconstructing with Hope and Curiosity
I stayed in the darkness of my deconstruction for many months. At points, I would try to put it on the back burner, only to have it show back up at inopportune times. I felt very sensitive about where my faith was at, so it often made it hard to know who to trust. There were certain authors and artists I avoided at the time because I was unsure of their influence. Eventually, I sought out a mental health counselor and decided to attend a systematic theology class at my local seminary. Each place encouraged me to ask questions and make room for doubt.
I stayed in the darkness of my deconstruction for many months. At points, I would try to put it on the back burner, only to have it show back up at inopportune times. I felt very sensitive about where my faith was at, s
Here were some of the helpful takeaways that shifted my deconstruction:
1. Examine Your Faith
Deconstruction often reduces our house of faith to the very foundation. This can be an invitation to explore what is still there. Are you able to hold onto a positive attribute of God? Is there a theology that still makes sense? Hold tight to that and go from there.
Examining beliefs also gives us a chance to discard teachings that were wrongly interpreted or cultural teachings that distorted who God is or who we are. Currently, there’s been a huge questioning and lamenting of purity culture teachings from the late 90s/early 00s. Many are wrestling with and reconciling what they were taught about their bodies and their responsibility for sexuality in the church. For many of us, the examination has identified really toxic teachings and caused us to reconcile with concepts such as modesty, pleasure, and responsibility. This can be the hard, good work of deconstruction.
2. Understand Your Lens
Become familiar with how your worldview was shaped. How did you come to faith? Who taught you about God? Our faith can very much be shaped by the people we grew up with, our lived experience, and our own family. No one sees the world 100% correct. We may be prone to certain thinking styles that make it hard to go from certainty to complexity. For more information on what thinking style might be making your deconstruction harder than it needs to be, check out this free resource.
3. Ask Questions
In the early stages of our faith, we took a lot for granted. In deconstruction, we have the chance to think more critically about what we were taught and why. Three of my favorite questions are:
- How did I come to believe it?
- Who benefits from me believing it?
- Is there another way to think about this?
A Simple Prayer
A lack of certainty can increase our anxiety and distress. No longer do we have the old beliefs that might have brought us comfort. While deconstruction can be necessary for the maturing of our faith, it can still feel really hard. I take comfort in this simple prayer from Mark:
Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all thinks are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”Mark 9:23-24
In the midst of my own BIG deconstruction, when I did not necessarily feel faithful to my beliefs, I took heart that God might still be faithful to my early faith confession, even if I was doubting in that season.
If your faith is shifting and you’re not sure what you believe, but hope to remain within the Christian faith, let’s connect. You can follow me on Instagram @heyamandawaldron or at heyamandawaldron.com. I’ll be launching a group coaching program this fall that will dive deep into skills and resources for navigating deconstruction and reconstruction from a hopeful and curious perspective. To join the waitlist, go here.
Note from Dr. Camden: I will be offering individual Coaching services this fall for purity culture, egalitarianism, and faith deconstruction! Check out my Coaching page to sign up for the waiting list.
Amanda is a Faith De/Reconstruction Coach at Hey Amanda! where she mentors thoughtful Christians in the midst of doubt and deconstruction who want to toss toxic teachings, retain the authentic parts of their faith, and discover a deeper way to believe in Jesus. Having gone through her own deconstruction experience, she now hopes to provide the support and resources she wishes she had. You can find her at heyamandawaldron.com or on Instagram @heyamandawaldron. Amanda is also trained as a Clinical Social Worker and owns her own therapy private practice in Grand Rapids, MI. Outside of these supportive roles, Amanda likes to spend her time fostering kittens, enjoying outdoor fitness, and reading five books at a time.
Resources for Your Faith Deconstruction
- Deconstruction: Your Journey in Faith by Stacy Byington Wynn
- Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What to Do About It by Brian D. McLaren
- After Doubt: How to Question Your Faith without Losing It by A.J. Swoboda
- Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith by Sarah Bessey
- I also like the sacred pathways quiz. This can help people get out of a “should” mindset and give them some insight on how they may naturally connect with God.