One of the most common questions I get asked is, “how do I talk to my friends and family about my faith deconstruction?”
The term deconstruction can mean different things to people. In general what my social media audience or coaching client is asking me is, how do I talk about my changing beliefs?
They are often referring to specific beliefs that are changing, such as:
- “What do I tell my family about my faith deconstruction?”
- “How do I share with them how purity culture affected me when they think it was great?”
- “How do I explain my different views about the Evangelical Church when they are still very much in it?”
You might have a friend or family member who is asking about your beliefs, why you aren’t at the same church, or why you shared a post about purity culture on social media. Or perhaps you overheard a friend or family member make a disparaging—or untrue—comment about faith deconstruction or egalitarianism. I have been through these experiences as well.
There is no “one size fits all approach” to these situations. What I can offer you are some things to consider as you make the decision to have these conversations or not. There are some questions to ask yourself to help you prepare to talk about your faith deconstruction. And I suggest five different ways to respond, based on the relationship you have with the other person and how much you’re willing to share.
First of all, you get to decide whether to respond to questions from others or engage in these conversations at all. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your faith or beliefs. You also get to choose how much to share, if anything.
You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your faith or beliefs. You get to choose how much to share, if anything. @doctorcamdenTweet
Here are some things to consider as you decide to talk about your deconstruction or not:
- The closeness and safety in the relationship. If you feel very close to your parents, for example, you may be more inclined to want to share with them. Or perhaps your aunt feels like a safe person to discuss spirituality with. An old family friend who argues on your social media post, however, might not be a close or safe person. Consider the level of intimacy (closeness) and level of trust and emotional safety before you proceed.
- Your emotional health and readiness. Have you processed your faith changes already and arrived at some peace in your deconstruction? Are you speaking from your wounds, or your scars? You may want to wait to speak up until after you’ve worked through your beliefs with a therapist, coach, or safe community.
- The context. Where and how is this conversation taking place? It is on a public social media page? Is it in the middle of a large family gathering for your nephew’s birthday? Or is it a private, one-on-one conversation with a friend from your former church? Consider the time and place before you decide how and what to share.
Before having any kind of hard conversation, I encourage all my clients to evaluate their motivations and their conversation partner’s motivations.
Here are the two questions to ask yourself before talking about your faith deconstruction:
- What is this person’s motivation in this conversation? Consider this scenario: you get an email from a college friend saying she is curious about some of the posts and resources you’ve shared on social media. She’s starting to question her own beliefs and she wonders what your faith journey has felt like. Now consider this second scenario: at a family dinner, your father-in-law questions why you’ve “become so liberal”, since he knows your boundaries around the pandemic were different than his. He assumes you supported a different presidential candidate in the last election than he did, and he wants you to know why he doesn’t agree with this political party. These two people have very different motivations for wanting to start a conversation with you about your faith. Consider the other person’s intentions and goals—what are they hoping to get out of the conversation?
- What is my motivation in this conversation? It’s equally important to consider your own motivations. If, in the first scenario, your goal is to change your college friend’s mind and “convert” her to your beliefs, that is probably not the best reason to have the discussion. Likewise, if you intend to argue with your father-in-law and convince him of the “evils” of his preferred party, this is also not a respectful place from which to connect. Your motivation should only be something you can control. It cannot be about changing, controlling, or convincing the other person. You have control over yourself—sharing authentically, connecting from a genuine place, and listening open-mindedly. And if you can’t give up the goal of changing the other person’s mind, you may need to step back from the conversation.
The Spirit of the Conversation
If you do decide to respond to the friend or family member who is questioning your beliefs, do so with a spirit of openness, nonjudgment, and validation.
Validation is the skill of calling a thought, feeling , or perspective valid. You are not saying you agree with or like the other person’s opinion, but you are acknowledging that there are legitimate reasons for why someone feels or thinks the way they do.
Using dialectical thinking here—”both/and” instead of “either/or”—will help you maintain self-respect and respect for your loved one’s perspective.
- You can validate both yourself and the other person.
- You can show respect for their point of view, feelings, and beliefs and your own.
- You can stand up for your beliefs or assertively change the subject if you need to and maintain civility.
- You can disagree and see the validity in someone else’s beliefs.
So, what do you say when someone wants to talk about your faith deconstruction, the effects of purity culture, or your changing beliefs? Again, this will differ based on the closeness and safety in the relationship; your readiness to share; and the context.
Here are 5 ways to talk about your faith deconstruction:
- Minimal response and change the subject. “Hmm, that’s interesting. What are your travel plans for the summer?” This is especially appropriate if the context or other person’s motivations are not a match for a respectful conversation.
- Reflect their statement and ask a question. “I hear you’re saying that Love and Respect had a positive impact on your marriage. What did you find helpful about it?” Use a response like this if you’ve reached a place in your faith reconstruction where you are open to hearing their perspective.
- Validate their feelings and offer your own. “I’m glad to hear that you don’t feel like purity culture harmed you. I had a different experience of it.” You might find it appropriate to add, “May I share my feelings about it with you?” if you want to connect with them more.
- Set a boundary when it is not safe to discuss. “Dad, I know we have different opinions when it comes to women’s roles in the church. I don’t feel comfortable discussing this anymore. Let’s find something else to talk about.” When experience has taught you that the other person is not open to dialogue, it may be necessary to set a firmer boundary.
- Come back to it later. “I was thinking about what you said earlier about how people who deconstruct just want to sin. That statement really hurt me, and I’d like to explain why and share some of my experience. Would you be open to that?” This shows respect for the other person’s readiness to listen and validate you. A statement like this is especially helpful when you were caught off guard earlier and didn’t know what to say but feel the need to address it later.
Faith deconstruction and changing our beliefs can be an isolating and disorienting experience. The questions and comments from well-meaning friends and family can often feel judgmental and intrusive.
Only you can decide if, and when, you are ready to respond to their questions and engage in conversation. You don’t owe anyone an explanation; your faith is between you and God. But it helps to have a few responses prepared and to think through your and your loved one’s motivations before deciding to talk about your changing beliefs.