They Fear Your Strength
I shouldn’t be surprised, but yet somehow I was hopeful for a different reaction.
The Christian’s response to anyone leaving church is to hurl phrases dripping with fear and manipulation in an attempt to control them. From the outside looking in, it’s a power move of cowards. Anyone who uses fear and manipulation to control another is acting on their own fear of losing control.
Those of us who are deconstructing have begun to find community on social media. These platforms have helped us find each other and, in lieu of returning to the source of our wounding (church), we’re being supported and loved through our stories of deconstruction and healing. While all of us have experienced some level of vitriol by Christians who challenge our right to share our experiences, it is the church leaders who are now using their platforms to vilify the deconstructing Christian community.
I’m too sexy for church?
Some of what they say borders on outrageous. An example of this is mega church pastor Matt Chandler’s recent sermon where he called deconstruction “sexy.” During that sermon, Chandler said, "You and I are in a day and age where deconstruction and the turning away from and leaving the faith has become some sort of sexy thing to do. I contend that if you ever experience the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, actually – that that's really impossible to deconstruct from.”
Never in the 10+ years of my deconstructing journey have I considered what I was experiencing as sexy. Many people pushed back Chandler’s remarks, such as Hillary Engel’s tweeted response that nothing is sexy about deconstruction.
My response to Chandler’s comments is here in this TikTok video here.
Chandler also infers that the deconstructing Christian must never have been a true Christian, because deconstructing from Jesus is impossible if “you ever experienced the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ.” This not-so-subtle insult is routinely said by Christians who dismiss deconstruction by labeling all of us as never having been a “true” Christian in the first place.
While Chandler’s comments come off as dismissive of Christians deconstructing from their faith, John Cooper from the Christian rock band Skillet took a more sinister and threatening stance when he recently spoke out at a concert, saying, ““There is no such thing as divorcing Jesus Christ from the Bible. That is not a thing.” He added, “I don’t hate those deconstructed Christians. I pray for their repentance. But listen, they have divorced themselves from God, and they want to take as many of you people as they can. And it is time for us and your generation to declare war on this idolatrous deconstruction Christian movement.”
To someone not raised in evangelical Christianity, it may seem outlandish to hear someone in the position of influence and leadership to “declare war” on a movement. Sadly, it is not outlandish to someone who was raised in evangelical Christianity. There is no mistaking here what Cooper was doing — using the extremist language that has existed as part of the church rhetoric for decades.
Christians leaders have “declared war” on women’s rights to control their bodies, wokeness, feminism, social justice issues ahead of the church’s needs, Democrats and even other religious traditions. Extremist pastor Greg Locke recently “declared war” on members of his own congregation, calling them “judgmental," "cowards" and "hypocrites” for criticizing his political rants during his sermons. Locke challenged church members to “leave immediately” because he was “just now calling out this wicked nonsense,” referring to Black Lives Matter, President Biden, abortion, and the rights of LGBTQIA+ humans.
Onward Christian Soldiers
The concept that Christianity is in a war with the “evils of the world” is not something new. “Evils of the world” means all of us who do not conform to the literal interpretation of the Bible and the teachings of evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity. This often becomes a radicalized message from church leaders who invoke visions of bloody battlefields as the march of the Christian “soldier” through the world as they struggle to “be in the world but not of it” all while trying to evangelize that their version of Jesus’ message is kind and loving.
It’s as dichotomous as it seems, leaving many of us to wonder how this radicalized message of “show love to your neighbor by judging them” can be reconciled as a message of hope and love. When I was deeply indoctrinated into this belief system, it simply made sense because it was what I had been taught my entire life. Standing each Sunday to sing songs with verses like, “onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before,” it isn’t hard to see how Christians come to see their faith is at war with the world.
The number of sermons I have heard where the battle for the human soul is equated to a bloody war is too numerous to count. But this indoctrination was not just reserved for Sunday morning worship, it begins in children’s Sunday school and vacation Bible school classrooms. Not too long after I began my deconstruction from Christianity, I picked up one of my grandchildren from his Christian daycare. All children were in assembly, including his 3-year old class. I snuck into the back of the assembly to wait for its conclusion, expecting to hear the traditional songs, like “Jesus loves me” or “This little light of mine.”
Instead, I was shocked and disgusted to see that the pastor had set up images of bloodied soldiers carrying their wounded comrades in war-torn battlefield. One wounded soldier was wrapped in an American flag, as if the flag was aiding in his comfort as he was carried from battle. What made this display so disturbing was in the middle of the pictures was an image of a bloodied Jesus, wearing a crown of thorns and blood dripping down his face. This image is the one often shown to depict a suffering Christ who welcomes his impending death to escape the suffering at the hands of evil.
Seeing this teaching through the eyes of a deconstructing Christian horrified me. My own indoctrination into this fear-based, war-like theology came swirling back. Now, sitting here in the back row of this church, watching their attempts to indoctrinate my grandchild, I became determined more than ever to continue my own deconstruction not only for me, but for my family. Fortunately for my grandchildren, my family – independent of me – began their own deconstructing journeys that included no longer subjecting them to this fear-based religious rhetoric.
We reap what we sow
For the Christian who believes that everything outside of their religious indoctrination is evil and they are at war with that world, they will often reconcile events of the world as part of God’s plan.
In another interview, Skillet lead singer John Cooper explained why he believed God allowed the pandemic to happen.
"Well, the first answer is that we're not good people. We're all fallen and we are all in desperate need of salvation through Jesus," Cooper said. "So, we're not actually good people, we all do bad stuff. We all cheat, we've all lied, we're all greedy and as much as the most loving person in the whole world that you'll ever find, that person is actually still very far off from what mankind was supposed to be, and certainly far off from who God is and the way that God truly loves in a perfect way."
In all of these examples, it’s easy to see that the message is short and compelling — we are saved through our belief in Jesus Christ, the rest of the world is pure evil, and the calamities we are experiencing in this world are due to our evil nature. The indoctrination into this belief system must begin early, so that as the child’s mind begins to develop, they are not tempted to challenge or question these indoctrinated beliefs. Challenging those beliefs, as deconstructing Christians do, is equal to a betrayal that casts you into the world where the war between evil and good rages on.
The chained elephant doesn’t remember its strength
But why does this extremist side of Christianity go to such great lengths to imprint on its members that there is a physical war between them and the rest of us?
Why would a pastor get on stage in front of young children and show them images of bloodied soldiers alongside a bloodied image of a white-looking Jesus?
Why would a lead singer of a Christian rock band declare war on deconstructing Christians?
Why would a pastor preach that deconstructing Christians never knew Jesus?
They fear you’ll remember your strength
What I’m about to share may be disturbing to some of you, but the sad life of animals forced to live in captivity provides insight into the mindset of church leaders who use fear and manipulation to control their church members.
The chained elephant that is held in captivity and forced to perform in ways that are completely unnatural to their nature does not willingly surrender its freedom. Once captured, an elephant must be beaten and whipped into submission to convince the elephant that the human inflicting the pain is his master. These humans routinely withhold medical care, food and water so that the elephant learns that complete submission to the master’s authority will ease her pain. The elephant that has been repeatedly beaten to the point of exhaustion forgets she carries within her DNA the might of her ancestors that once roamed the world as one of its most majestic of beasts, capable of protecting its space in the world.
She has forgotten her strength.
Now, beaten, exhausted, hungry and alone, with only her tormentor as the source of her pain yet also her relief from that pain, the elephant has no choice but to rely on the human for her existence. When the training is complete, the human need only remind the elephant that she has no control over her life by simply placing a chain on her leg.
The chain needn’t be anchored to anything. The chain is enough to keep the elephant in line and in full submission to the human.
Why does the human inflict such horrific pain on this majestic beast? Because the human knows that if the elephant ever understood her strength, the human would lose control, and the elephant could free itself.
Some will be offended that I compare the manipulative tactics of church leaders turned tormentors. I would counter that you should be equally offended that a church leader would get on a stage and declare war on a group of people for merely leaving their religious heritage and exploring spirituality outside of religion.
As outrageous as it may seem to compare religious indoctrination to the torture of a chained elephant, it is exactly that type of indoctrination that convinces the human that life outside the construct of their religious heritage is not only impossible — it is the path to evil and certain death.
Indoctrination by fear clearly attempts to seek control of an individual by being the expert in identifying the source of evil and the rescuer from it. Admittedly, I used this tactic on my young children to steer them clear from the roads or to teach them the dangers of people they did not know. I’m unashamed of those tactics that ensure my children’s physical safety would not fall prey to true, life-threatening dangers.
But an indoctrination that seeks to control another so that they remain loyal to a belief system is manipulative, and it prioritizes the perpetuation of an institution over the well-being of the individual.
John Cooper, Matt Chandler, Greg Locke and the thousands of others who will continue to preach this fear-based rhetoric and judge the deconstructing Christians have not actually spoken to anyone who is deconstructing their faith. Of course they haven’t — they have no desire to engage with someone who is breaking the chains of their indoctrination. They see in our faces the determination to not be subjected to their fear-based ideologies, nor will we be forced into silent submission.
We are remembering our strength and reclaiming our spirituality. Their power exists inside their indoctrinated tactics of manipulation and control, and they are ill-equipped to engage with we who no longer submit to their authority.
That church member sitting in the pews, however, are still shackled to that fear-based indoctrination. The hate that these church leaders spew at those in the pew are intended to remind them that they — the church leaders — are their tormentor and rescuer, and their souls depend on their bonds to their version of Christianity.
Take one more look at John Cooper’s words.
“But listen, they have divorced themselves from God, and they want to take as many of you people as they can. And it is time for us and your generation to declare war on this idolatrous deconstruction Christian movement.”
Did you catch it? We, the deconstructing Christians, are being accused of a sinister plot to “take as many of you people as they can.”
The captive are relegated to a collective “you people,” because in this world of religious indoctrination, the institution cannot survive without “you people.” If fear is the way to control “you people,” then so be it. John Cooper reminded everyone in attendance that being in community with the deconstructing Christian is no longer an option — because now church leaders have declared war on them.
Men like Cooper see that within deconstruction comes knowledge and power, and if “you people” are in community with us, you too may remember…
and break your own chains.
Cooper shouldn’t worry. The deconstructing Christian doesn’t evangelize. We’re not out here trying to convert anyone to join us.
We’re just living free from guilt and shame, and most importantly free from the chains that held us captive to a toxic theology that inhibited our spiritual growth. More are joining us everyday, as people (weary of this fear-based theology that demands a blind allegiance lest you suffer the consequences) continue to leave church.
Come to think of it, Cooper should worry.