Let’s get the most obvious red flag out of the way:
1. People who make lists about red flags in the deconstruction space.
I know how prescriptive this is going to look. It just comes with the territory of making a list. How we experience spiritual community is uniquely individual and if there was a cookie-cutter format for how to do this . . . well, we’d just be back at church. This is a list of concerns for me personally that I’ve been observing for several months in this space. Take what you want, leave what you don’t.
2. People quick to market spirituality.
With the exception of licensed therapists and counselors, Patreons, linking to direct support options like CashApp or Venmo, personal merch, and writing books, there is a lot of peddling that happens in the deconstruction space. It feels a lot like church tithe, frankly; “give me money and you get a cognitive reassurance that you are investing in your wellbeing,” when in reality, it’s for a service or certification that isn’t actually real, it’s a white person appropriating and commodifying BIPOC tradition and spirituality (yoga, sound baths, crystals, energy work, mindfulness and meditation, etc.), or trying to profit off of global crisis. (I recently unfollowed a popular therapist because after last month’s mass shooting events, her marketing for her courses and other products skyrocketed. That doesn’t go unnoticed by me. It’s gross.)
I’m all for creators managing their business however they choose, whether that’s 100% outside of a paywall or if they choose to offer bonus podcast episodes or special Zoom calls through a paid monthly membership avenue. Monetizing your time, creativity, and effort isn’t the problem. However, the evangelical industry and a profit-driven deconstruction space draw from the same market – people who are consistently told they are less-than without X-product – and using the same preying strategies as the church industry to get people to give you money is wildly problematic and unethical.
3. People who blanket-label aspects of [insert religion] as inherently traumatic.
When I first entered the deconstruction space, I saw quite a few posts making sweeping statements such as “the Bible is traumatic” or “if you were taught purity culture, you were traumatized.” It left me pretty confused for a while; “well, I don’t feel traumatized from this – can I just not see it? Am I more traumatized than I think I am? Is my entire experience with Christianity something to be grieved and healed from?” Trauma and how it is experienced in our bodies is extremely unique; while two people may have experienced the same thing, one person’s body may have a trauma response in reaction to it and the other may not. For example, while I grew up with the full brunt of purity culture, I am largely unscathed by it and I don’t grapple with its effects in my day-to-day life. The concept of a literal hell, on the other hand, still garners a physical reaction from me – anytime I see a hell joke (“if you laugh at this, you’re going to hell”), my stomach tightens, I can feel my heart rate increase, and it takes a good 30-seconds of intentional breathing to get back to my normal state.
There are so, sooooo many aspects of Evangelicalism that I have no problem labeling “abusive,” but to mischaracterize everything as inherently traumatic does a disservice to those who are just coming out of evangelicalism and trying to get their footing. Part of grieving is appreciating the good parts of something and if it’s all being bombarded with toxic and traumatic labels, it makes it difficult to see the good clearly and continue healing.
4. People who insist on a certain avenue of growth.
This one is a tough pill to swallow for me, particularly when I’m talking to in-church folks, but if someone isn’t ready to grow in a certain direction, forcing it on them isn’t going to help. In fact, it will most likely be counterproductive.
Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes I feel like if you’ve deconstructed and returned to remnants of Christian orthodoxy, you’re seen as “less deconstructed” than someone who winds up on the agnostic/atheist route. I’m not an agnostic or atheist right now simply because my growth didn’t lead me there, not because I haven’t done my due diligence in learning and unlearning and rewiring my understanding of Christianity or that I only deconstructed within a church-approved paradigm.
Desiring everyone around you to wind up with your same conclusions is a trait of supremacy culture. We don’t have to be unified by uniform ideology anymore. Do no harm and do you. Follow peace and flourish.
5. People who invoke “my truth” as a means to avoid accountability.
Having an autonomous relationship with truth and morality is necessary for a healthy paradigm. Growing up in high-demand religion, all I knew were the “shoulds” and “should-nots.” Everyone was expected to operate under a short-sighted moral code and there was little-to-no autonomy in personal decision making or crafting a worldview. Said in my best Project Runway Heidi Klum voice: “You’re either in or you’re out.”
I don’t believe the concept of “my truth” is inherently harmful; at the very least, it’s an effective practice in understanding that you’re in charge of (and therefore, responsible for) your morality, that your inner voice is enough, and that you no longer have to look for outside validation for your standards and beliefs.
However, just because your personal standard of morality isn’t dependent on other people doesn’t mean the effects of said morality aren’t felt by the people around you or those who follow your platform, nor does having a personal standard absolve you from communal accountability. “Oh, you thinking I caused harm is your subjective opinion that I don’t have to answer to.” Sound familiar?
We have seen the concept of “my truth” create harm over and over and over again in the deconstruction space. When your personal standard of morality makes you think you’re excused from harmful, problematic, and evasive behavior, I simply will not trust anything you have to say about church harm and abuse, deconstruction, and social justice.
6. People who think “deconstruction” and “decolonization” are synonymous.
A month or so ago, I found myself in a Zoom book club hosted by a team member on a popular account in the deconstruction space. I was the only person of color in the room and it quickly became clear that it was not the place for me. For example, someone mentioned that they loved how the Latina author uses the term “dominant culture” instead of “white supremacy” (which, any person of color knows that is a strategic move to help white people stay focused on the message instead of getting fragile over having their race called out) because it’s “less harsh” – which is hilarious because if you can’t handle the term “white supremacy,” it’s kind of a dead giveaway that you’re a direct beneficiary of it. The kicker was when another member said how they liked that the author focused on decolonization, not deconstruction, saying “that’s what we’re doing really, we’re decolonizing, not deconstructing.” I managed to hold my silence the entire time (oh, it got worse . . . I left the chat early and didn’t participate in any other calls), but it was a pretty blunt display of how we do ourselves and specifically marginalized identities and communities a disservice when we equate deconstructing our white religious beliefs with decolonizing our worldview and lifestyle.
Deconstructing is about examining, weeding out, and repairing your belief system. Decolonizing is about abolishing supremacist power dynamics and creating an equitable and accessible society for all people that is not dependent on an arbitrary authority structure of race, gender, sexuality, ability, or economic status. Deconstruction is individual – decolonization is systemic. They are not the same thing.
I’m not the one who’s going to say if you’re deconstructing without decolonizing, you’re doing it wrong (see #4). In fact, while I talk directly about antiracism and decolonization, I do my best to not present it as a 1-2-3 step process. Coming out of an environment where all you had to do was know the “correct” answer to a theological question to be guaranteed eternal life, it’s too tempting to treat decolonization and antiracism as a formula to master rather than a sustainable lifestyle of choosing to divest from supremacy narratives and ways of being. This is how we end up with performative allyship.
But I do think you can only go so far in your deconstruction if you choose to ignore the racial and colonial facets of evangelicalism. It’s overwhelming and self-incriminating at times, but it’s worth it, I promise.
7. People who only reference white-centered deconstruction resources.
Kind of tying into #6, there are a lot of white voices in the deconstruction space. Which I’m indifferent too, honestly. It’s an “it is what it is” thing for me.
That said, if you’re deconstructing from white evangelicalism, why would your primary sources still be white people?
It may take a little more digging, but wherever your deconstruction journey is taking you – atheism, mysticism, a free-form version of spirituality, maintaining elements of Christian orthodoxy, just nothing – integrate voices of color and other marginalized identities (LGBTQ+ folks, the disabled community, etc.) into your growth and healing. Liberation has always come from the margins and being intentional to center those voices in your learning will expand your perspective and add vibrant color to your worldview more than clinging to what feels familiar ever could.
8. People who make you feel like you can’t disagree with them.
There’s a lot of layers to this one – in short, church (and white supremacy) demonizes conflict and we’re taught to go along with whatever an authority figure says (or at least, “there’s nothing to be done about it” because they’re the authority).
But this is social media. Granted, you’re getting sound bytes, not an entire thought process, but within that, if I feel like I can’t disagree with someone, that’s normally my internal buzzer going off signaling I have given too much authority and weight to this person’s voice.
You don’t have to intellectually (or vocally) agree with everything someone says to value their perspective. And if someone makes you feel like you do or else you’re not “with” them, they’re just projecting their own insecurity that they can deal with on their own time.
That’s it. Until I do a Part 2, lol.