posted this initially in response to a post by Dr. Craig A. Boyd, one of the professors who challenged me and my way of thinking in college. His post was about why people are leaving Religion/Religious Institutions/Communities of Faith.
In 2003, I graduated from the institution you alluded to in your Facebook post, and was not entirely sure how to describe my faith at the end of that college experience. I remember feeling that my faith had been deconstructed (did I think to use that term then? I don’t remember). I was frustrated that it hadn’t been put back together. Articles came out in the School Newspaper at the end of my senior year about other students who were saying similar things. Sadness was expressed over these editorials… Clucking sounds were made…. Criticism was leveled at you and your colleagues.
For myself, after leaving college, I remember saying I felt like I was in a faith free fall, and I felt angry and scared about that. I felt that I did not know how to pray…. My time in scripture–the “Devotions,” of my earlier years had gotten significantly dicier now that I could more robustly think about and consider what I was reading. Don’t worry, I blamed the CCM majors for obliterating my sense of worship, so you were off the hook for that one
Still, I strangely always really loved the classes that I blamed for deconstructing my faith. 😉 I was only able to take one class with you during my 4 years at that school, but it left an indelible mark and I think of it nearly every day. It was a required religion credit for Freshmen. I remember you being the first person to point out to me that there are two creation stories and one doesn’t square with the other. I remember you taking questions from those who, like me, were raised in the standard late 90s American Evangelicalism with Christian Music stations, Christian Rock Concerts, Christian T-shirts, and Bumper Stickers (but they are witnessing tools!) and more “Christian” inanimate objects than you could shake a stick at. I remember members of my class trying to take on the faith leader at the mosque we visited as part of the course and seeing him elegantly put them in their places with scripture he knew much better than us Freshman–no matter how zealous we thought ourselves to be. I remember, getting a kick out of all of it, and finding that there was something immensely freeing about being flipped on my head. In short, I remember learning a lot.
An embarrassing confession: I was part of a prayer group praying to participate in spiritual warfare against demonic forces and “false doctrine” that we were allegedly being taught there…. I mean…. We might have named you by name a time or two, I can’t remember…. Strangely, I didn’t find this to be at odds with how deeply my mind and heart were enriched by your classes, and the classes and chapels led by your religion department colleagues. I guess it was a confusing time?
All of the ways I was enriched and affirmed were clear to me and yet I felt in the first years after college that my faith had crumbled. Then a few years went by, and a few more, and a few more… My faith and my understanding of it became stretched. The narratives I had been given about people I was told to hold in suspicion were repeatedly challenged. My gay friends…. were also sometimes Christians? And… They were happy and in committed healthy relationships?! My friends who were people of color shared with me that instances of racism happened to them every day…. They weren’t rare exceptions to some “post racial” ideal world?! Friends I made who followed other faith traditions seemed to be as at peace and in tune with the creator, and as enriched with their relationship with that entity as I was…. How could these things be so?!
As my perspectives shifted and the narratives I had grown up with were increasingly challenged, I found that the faith that I thought had been obliterated was actually….. Stretching pretty, darned well. I found that I had templates for challenging my own preconceived thoughts–templates I had learned from you and your colleagues in the religion department. I had a more well-rounded view of scripture and Biblical Scholarship. And maybe most importantly, I still had the curiosity and the interest to want to keep learning and digging into what it meant to be a person of faith despite the stories that were changing and the things that were shifting.
That faith I thought had been obliterated with holes poked into it had actually been woven into a net that was able to catch me as my faith matured, and as my understanding of people, and society, and morality evolved.
Fast forward to now…. and my faith feels tattered again. It seems as though I am not alone in that as today you posted on Facebook some of your own story–which overlaps the genesis of my initial perceived faith-unraveling. You expressed some of the reasons you left the institution you spoke of in your post and I spoke up above, and some of the reasons you have left “bodies of faith” writ large. In your words:
“I left because of. . .
– the insidious “spirituality” that justified a kind of perverse license to do anything immoral “in the name of Jesus.”
-the so-called “leaders,” who demanded absolute submission from all who were “under their authority.”
-those who hallucinated heresies and were hell-bent on exposing them.
-those for whom fear completely dominated every facet of their lives.
-the racism of so-called ministers who have the gall to call well-respected African-American women scholars “uppity” while simultaneously denying their own racism.
-those who think that anyone who dares to disagree with the “Republican Platform” (and now, Mr. Trump’s views on anything) are “deceived by Satan.”
The rampant Dunning-Kruger Effect, thinly claiming to be “spirituality” and which often had nothing to do with the genuine nature and teachings of Christ, led me “elsewhere.” I probably should have left earlier.”
I find that again you are teaching me, or that perhaps we are students in a similar class these days. I can’t pinpoint how to even name what faith I may still hold onto…. But I certainly didn’t lose it because of you or your colleagues in the religion department you headed. In fact, that same net that I found woven together during my time at college, continues to stretch. It may have stretched beyond a faith that can be named or categorized neatly in a way that stacks up in the face of the forces at war in American Christendom today…. But it has stretched to allow me to continue to fall into my own and others’ humanity…. Into compassion… into inclusion… into continuing to demand intellectual honesty of myself and others.
I am grateful to you, Craig, for being someone I held partially responsible for “tearing my faith,” so long ago. I’m not sure whether or not I can call myself a “Christian,” but my soul is intact…. My spirit feels more whole than it did in those early days when I thought I knew something about the Bible or God or prayer. If I had remained in the Evangelical tradition I was raised in…. I am certain I could not say the same.
I heard ironic grief in what you posted today…. I heard the irony that you were accused for so long of destroying the faith of those you mentored when you were really weaving and casting nets the whole time. I hear the grief of so much of what passes as the Christian faith in this country has eroded into Christian nationalism and white supremacy.
I share that grief. I find myself still “deconstructing” almost daily from those things that I thought I had to believe. I find myself wanting to “come apart and be separate” from so much of the American Church itself. I find myself bewildered and grieved by Trumpism, frightened by Christian nationalism and the way it imperils our country, and consistently worried for the most marginalized in our society who somehow are not protected by those who profess Christ, but are targeted by them.
I thought you were part of tearing my faith down, but instead you were weaving and casting a net for me and those who learned alongside me. I am proud to stand with you, holding that net, hoping that it’s generous stretch will catch us all up into a faith that expands and includes and lifts up