Deconstruct? There is a coach for that.
(RNS) — When Crystal Cheatham, a black woman who grew up in a fundamentalist Seventh-day Adventist church, came out as a lesbian, her church didn’t accept it. This rejection has led to a rejection of hers – an avoidance of what she calls the “toxic theology” of her past. But Cheatham was not interested in giving up Christianity altogether. She thought it was possible to distinguish corruption from fundamental truths.
Separating the wheat from the chaff, to borrow a biblical metaphor.
Cheatham said she had given up “the idea that there is only one right way to be a Christian”.
She began meeting like-minded peers — progressive believers interested in questioning their fundamentalist past without necessarily giving up Christianity. She created “Our Bible App,” a platform used by more than 40,000 people each year that features progressive theologians, daily readings, and app-specific podcasts. She also leads workshops and classes with other progressive religious leaders, many of whom come from marginalized communities, such as Deborah Jian Lee, who wrote the book “Rescuing Jesus: How People of Color, Women and Queer Christians are Reclaiming Evangelicalism. “.
“People want to understand the history of Christian supremacy and how it intimately surrounds itself with white supremacy,” Cheatham said.
Cheatham’s work is part of a growing list of resources aimed at helping people “decolonize” and “deconstruct” the Christianity they have been taught. From the culture of purity to teachings on same-sex marriage, from racism to nationalism, many Christians – evangelicals, in particular – are challenging both the overt teachings and cultural assumptions of their religious heritage. And many of them seek help, or at least companionship, along the way.
Lina Abujamra, founder of Living With Power Ministries and author of “Fractured Faith: Finding Your Way Back to God in an Age of Deconstruction,” explained how questioning faith has taken a deeper turn in our day.
“People doubted their salvation when I was growing up – like, am I really saved?” Abujamra, a pediatrician and Moody radio host, said. “But they never doubted the system. Now it’s a bit bigger – almost like the Wizard of Oz. People ask, is it all made up? »
Deconstruction of the faith — or decolonization, a term more specifically focused on acknowledging the influence of white supremacy — isn’t exactly new but has turned into something of a movement over the past four or five years. . The impetus came as the “culture wars” once again took center stage in American politics. As white evangelicalism as a whole has doubled down on its conservative stances, from immigration policy to the Black Lives Matter movement to stances on LGBTQ theology, many Christians have begun to question the stances of churches in which they grew up. Simultaneously, several sex abuse scandals within the Christian church have thrown many of them for a loop when it comes to their faith.
Abujamra said the heart of the deconstruction movement is the search for truth, and she understands why some of the “corrupt leaders of the conservative and evangelical church” have spurred it on.
“It’s almost like a pandemic,” she said. “Once someone says their symptoms out loud, others say, ‘Oh, I have that too. “”
Amanda Waldron was a licensed therapist who spent a stint in seminary before pivoting to focus on helping others as they deconstruct. In June 2021, she launched her coaching business, Hey Amanda, where she helps Christians struggling with their faith through “deconstruction and reconstruction.”
“My role is less of a ‘teacher of theological concepts’ than of ‘learning how to ask questions about theological concepts’ – and the tools to explore doubts and questions,” said Waldron, who offers group coaching and a individual mentoring.
Waldron’s approach to coaching is rooted in his training in therapy and is very much like a counseling session. It’s not up to her to guide someone to a certain place, she says, but to help distinguish where a person needs to go through the coaching journey.
Many of her clients are still reeling from personal experiences of hurt in church — related to the culture of purity, racism, sexual abuse, their sexual orientation — and Waldron hopes she can be a place sure for these people to start treating and rebuilding on their own terms.
“I was very apprehensive about coaching on this,” Waldron said. “I was worried about negatively impacting someone else’s faith – or my own.”
But for Waldron, who has gone through his own period of spiritual doubt, allowing space for deconstruction also catalyzes important conversations the church needs to have, “around power, the culture of purity, misogyny, race and abuse”.
“This could be a course correction for the American church,” she said.
Many self-identified “deconstruction coaches” have started practices over the past few years and have had success. But not everyone is invested in keeping their customers Christian.
“It’s a sifting and sorting,” said Angela Herrington, certified life coach and seminary-trained pastor. “A process of reconciliation where we become truly honest about whether these beliefs actually reflect the God we claim to know.”
“I don’t think it’s our role … to make sure people don’t lose faith,” said Herrington, who is often hesitant to call himself a Christian in his work.
“I have a relationship with God,” she said. “I don’t necessarily identify as (a Christian) because I don’t know how useful that is, with so many different meanings – putting that first is more problematic than helpful.”
Herrington appeals to those who are more open to religious self-discovery. “My goal is just to keep space for them, so they can go where it’s convenient for them,” Herrington said. Trying to bring people back to Christianity in particular would be like telling them what to believe – the very thing that their previous faith experiences were all about.
Katie Blake, psychology professor and deconstruction coach, doesn’t try to bring people back to their Christian faith. Like Herrington, she represents the vast network of coaches who are more liberal with where they guide their clients.
“I don’t typically use the term ‘reconstruction’ in my work,” said Blake, who went through her own deconstruction journey after growing up in the church and marrying a minister.
“I find that term can imply what is an OK outcome and what is not an OK outcome in someone else’s faith journey. That’s not for me to decide,” a- she declared.
The deconstruction movement is a fractured movement, alive with inherent tensions. For many, deconstruction led to deconversion. For others, to a faith outside traditional institutions. For some, deconstruction is a one-man business. For many others, deconstruction must necessarily lead to a radical reform of the Church.
“People find all kinds of paths and we encourage them,” Cheatham said. “One of the toxic traits of evangelism is the belief that there is only one right way to do it, and we cannot go back to the rut of saying one way is to do it. do it right.”