• Ava Hoffman

seeking better

CW // evangelical Christianity, eugenics, deconstruction

TW // church abuse, church trauma





I walked into the sanctuary of an evangelical Christian church a few Sundays ago. The stage was bathed in soft blues and purples, huge triangular representations of trees dominating the scenery. Two screens commanded opposite walls, and 99% of the faces in this place were like mine – white. As I sat down on the auditorium style plush seat, I couldn’t help but note the stadium seating. This was not a sanctuary; it was a theater arena.


As the worship music began, hundreds of people rose, and as the music swelled, they stood stock still. I looked around, hunting for movement. Swaying. Someone lost in the glory of their Savior. I had a great vantage point, and yet…no bobbing, no praising, no bending or leaning. I buried my instinct to move with the music, and I, too, stood stock still.


We sat down as the teaching pastor came on stage. He introduced himself, gave the perfunctory prayer, and told us where to open our Bibles and gave us the title of his sermon. We weren’t but ten minutes into his teaching when I stopped cold.


I have a shorthand when I take notes. This little symbol at the start of a line (🚩) indicates that what follows gave me pause. That I identified something I had a question about or knew to be flat-out wrong from the get-go. I have two-and-a-half pages where every.single.line is prefaced with a little flag.


Instead of looking for Jesus in the Scripture, we were looking for personal significance. Instead of pursuing holiness, we were worried about compromising our morality. Rather than take responsibility for only engaging with people who looked like us, we blamed Jesus for not making our hearts new.


We ignored the single, the divorced, the widowed. We disregarded the disabled community and spouted eugenics from the stage. We proclaimed that God does not pursue us, and He demands we both suffer continually and strive to earn His love.


I went ballistic. I thought I might need to leave.


About this time, thank the literal God of Heaven, that man shut his mouth and exited stage left.


As another worship session commenced, I turned to TR. “These people are dead. There is no life in this church.” He nodded and tried to shush me. “TR, what is wrong with these people?!” We continued to sing, and I swore I was standing among wax figures.


We began the final song. It’s a poignant worship anthem called Man of Sorrows. It details the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ and the meaning it has for the life of a sinner who believes. The bridge is a victory cry, and no matter how many times I sing those lyrics, my soul cannot be contained.


I couldn’t stand still. My body dances in the presence of my Jesus. I felt uncomfortable lifting my hands in this buttoned-up environment, though. The second time we sang the bridge, I distinctly remember thinking “screw it” as my arms flew up in glorification of the God-Man that paid my debt, spilling His blood, releasing me from bondage, and calling me free.


The service finished, and I turned to TR. “I belong in our reformed church.”

 

My uncomfortability and angst and disgust with a church I used to be comfortable in gave me pause. I marveled at how much I have grown. At the sheer number of things I have unlearned. I stood in awe of the truths I have absorbed and the beliefs I have relearned.


I realized I will never happily choose evangelical beliefs or churches again.


What I now know to be true is incompatible with the teachings in those places. What I hold dear to my heart, most evangelical spaces scoff at. The rewritten and restructured tenets of my faith vastly differ with the so-called Biblical mission statements of evangelistic institutions.

I grew up Baptist. I chose an evangelical Baptist megachurch during my college years. I was part of a Southern Baptist Convention church plant.

How did I wind up here?


Deconstruction.


It’s a word that strikes fear into the hearts of reserved and evangelical Christians. It is whispered in the back halls of pastoral offices and discussed behind closed doors. If church authorities discover a member engaging in such a dangerous process, the rumors begin.


Those who deconstruct are called “unbelievers, doubters, or troublemakers.” They are accused of rejecting the faith or never having any to begin with. The evangelical church says those dissecting their beliefs are choosing the easy way out, replacing uncomfortable Christian doctrines with culturally and personally palatable ones.


The evangelical church says. Which has me asking, “What is actual deconstruction?”


deconstruction. to break something down into its pieces. to detox from unhelpful and unhealthy views; untwist. to smash unchecked views. a process weighing beliefs and why they are held. to wake up; critical thinking.


This is a powerful verb. It is compelling, forceful, and potent. This action-packed word steps back and pays attention to what is said and done; it reintroduces discernment. It grabs ahold of entitled views, demanding an accounting, a reasoning, a why, and proof of it. It’s a dynamic undertaking insisting that Truth be at the center.


Deconstruction is a beautiful reflection of what happens when critical thinking is prominent in a person’s life. It is an exercise in humility. It seeks truth, assuming nothing. It breaks a topic into pieces, assessing each objectively and comparing it to multiple perspectives. It stops lies in their path, and it untwists misused theology.


No wonder evangelical big-whigs piss their pants at the mere mention of this word!


In my season of forced stillness, in a desperate place where all the evangelical sex ethics teaching fell apart in the face of my marriage, I embarked on what was nothing more than a faint footpath.

 

I started with asking, “Where is God in all this church stuff?” The more I observed and analyzed, the more I realized He was buried under man-made religiosity. He was covered in lists, rules, regulations, and lost in allegiances to American philosophies and oaths to certain spiritual teachers.


Everything I believed was so tangled. I couldn’t tell what was up and what was down. The darkest parts of my recovery story were rooted in ferociously mixed-up ideology. I was spinning in circles, futilely looking for some answer to ground me, hold me steady, and clear my vision. I was desperate for better.


I was writing one day, and the broken rage in my soul crashed onto the page in a magnificently chaotic mess. In the fury of tears, curses, and silent screams from my soul, I accidently wandered into the eye of my own personal hell. The eye is calm. Despite the destructive tempest, this center is composed and imperturbable. Unhurried and untroubled. The towering violent thunderstorms were evident and ever-present, yet for a moment, I could rest.


God is not hiding. I have constant access to Him.

I pulled out my Bible and went to 1 Corinthians. It’s a book largely about church.


I set out on an evangelical detox…ridding my belief system of venom, reducing my intake of processed interpretations, and curtailing the number of salty opinions endorsed as fact. I was rediscovering Truth, determined to correct my distortions about Christianity, the Church, and everything they’d ever taught me. I rejected how Scripture and my faith has been misused and twisted and chose to pursue God’s words in their whole sense.


The church in ancient Corinth was identical to the evangelical churches of America. These places are characterized by status driven, materially obsessive, self-serving people. The “shepherding” is opportunistic, spiritually vague, and socially prejudiced. The members are taught to seek relevance, fear men, and remain culturally isolated.


As I poured over each word Paul had written, I began to see the real story was so much better than the one that had been invented and fed to me. I was being cleansed of incomplete and inaccurate views of God, and I was beginning to return to Biblical Christianity.


I was desperate to experience the church as God intended. I found myself deeply yearning for the ancient days where the Gospel was fresh, people lived sacrificially for one another, and worship was a spontaneous eruption of reverent celebration. I longed for the body of Christ that was a force to be reckoned with.


I was pursuing deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, and a concern for the health of the Church. Superficial answers would no longer suffice. I walked away from “biblical” churches in search of a biblical church that understands redemption and focuses on fundamental Gospel truths.

Enter my inner-city reformed New Testament-esque church.


This was the House of God I’d missed on my uninspired foray back into evangelical Christianity. These were the colorful faces and diverse stories I had missed! As a Christian who has always been a Christian, there is something about worshipping God next to a recovering addict, a homeless man, a single mom from the projects across the street, and the well-to-do suburban family that makes my heart explode. This is what the church is meant to look like.


The devotion to Scripture. The centrality of prayer to corporate life. Messages rooted in theological clarity. Verbal “amens” and “uh-huhs” and sporadic applause uttered in response to being overcome by a living God. This is the church!


Humble leadership willing to be held accountable. An obvious esteem for women. Undeniable love for Christ spilling over into radical love for others. Collective prayers and liturgies, intentional blessings, and the sweet purposed observance of Communion. This is how God designed the church.


Swaying in response to music, moved by the Spirit. Lifting hands and voices to the Creator of us all. Assuming nothing save for each person in that building desperately needs Jesus.


Friends, this is the church!

 

It was that very culture that enabled me to sort through my beliefs. It was this environment that provided a safe space for me to lay every scrap of what I believe down. In this most vital piece of both my sex ethics journey and my faith journey, here was a church modeling what God set forth in the entirety of His written Word.


Instead of dismissing my doubts and questions, they encouraged me to ask. Rather than ignoring my church trauma and hurt, church leaders cried with me, apologizing on behalf of my abusers and offenders. In place of pointing to themselves as the answer and savior, this church body pointed me to Jesus as my Savior and Healer.


More and more, Christians are realizing that deconstruction is needed and Biblical. Questions are a way of growing that openly investigates the nuances of belief, even to the point of changing ones’ convictions. Critical thinking examines what we believe and why we believe it. Assessing our viewpoints conforms to a Biblical mandate and a Biblical pattern.


Believers in ancient Berea were told about Jesus. They “examined the Scriptures to see whether these things were so.” They are deemed “noble-minded” for fact checking what they were told. Jesus-followers are instructed to “be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are.” And again, the people of God are advised to “not believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you.”


Those excerpts from God’s Holy Word truly are the pillars of what we call deconstruction. Examine Scriptures. Be able to explain why you believe and live how you do. Critically evaluate what is being taught.

I discovered the freedom to pick up one piece of my belief at a time. I sorted each one: Trash – anything not in the Bible; anything contradicting what I know of God’s character Unsure – things I am not well-educated or informed on; may be of God but I can’t point to it Biblically Keep – lines up with God’s word, character, vision, and instructions to humanity and His Church


There’s a story in John 12 about a woman who steps on every taboo and knocks over every tradition in existence to get to Jesus. She tosses aside cultural norms, interrupts a private dinner, and does not ask permission to enter. She runs straight to Jesus, ignoring the religious zealots and self-righteous followers. What she does is unheard of, and the disciples of Jesus rebuke her.


But Jesus is pleased with her actions. Her desire to be with Him was refreshing. This woman broke every barrier keeping her from Jesus, and this was delightfully pleasing to Him. In fact, He rebuked the religious authorities for rebuking her!


This woman knew Who to fix her eyes on, and she remained steadfast to Him alone. That is deconstruction. My keep pile is an attempt to follow her example.
 

Deconstruction isn’t worth much if the final result is rubble. No one tears down a building without a plan for new development. In the same way, debris is only part of the process. The end goal is something with a strong foundation, solid supports, and a structural integrity you can stand behind.


Nothing is built [well] in a day, and my reconstruction is far from done.

I can tell you this, though, friend.


Walking through this process has been the key to unlocking the health of my sex ethic. Growth and transformation do not just happen, and this continual process of asking questions, evaluating statements, and comparing it the infallible word of God have led to flourishing.


I was desperate and broken and lost in the evangelical teachings. My marriage suffered. My mental health suffered. The trauma and the spiritual abuse permeated every aspect of my life. I was not okay, and it was not okay.


Friend, if spiritual health is something you seek; if healing from church hurt/abuse/trauma is something you desire; if you just miss Jesus and are looking for more; consider starting this process of deconstruction.

We are not dissenters. We are not dangerous. We are not making or causing trouble. We are not choosing the easy way out, and we are not rejecting our faith.


We are seeking better.


Seek better, friend. Take hold of Scriptural examples and patterns. Embrace genuine curiosity and pursue a deeper understanding. You are not destined to just exist as a cog in the megachurch or church planting wheel.


You are a beloved child of God. Your pain is seen. Your hurt will be avenged one day. And there is healing to be found on this earth❤

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