An evolving faith can survive because it can adapt to change. Because it embraces those seasons of building up and tearing down, of planting and uprooting. Of death and resurrection. -Rachel Held Evans
It has been seven years since I first started examining my faith. Small inconsistencies between the beliefs I was fed as a child and what I was reading in Scripture first alerted me to the need to look again, but pretty soon I was like a madwoman digging through an old box of personal treasures frantically taking everything out trying to figure out if there was anything at all worth keeping. And why were these things sacred anyway?
In part because of these questions, I went to an evangelical seminary where I discovered that there were many different faithful, intelligent answers to my questions about beliefs that I had once been told were written in stone. My faith was one big mess on the floor, and I have been staring at it for two years now feeling completely frozen and at a loss for the next step.
Rachel Held Evans, in her introductory talk at the Evolving Faith conference in 2018, explained that an evolving faith is an adaptive faith. It is a faith trying to survive questions and doubts, make sense of new information and new relationships. It isn’t a faith that is better or more mature than the previous version. It is simply a faith trying not to die.
No longer can I deny that the faith that I started out with is inconsistent, illogical, and incompatible with love… the one belief about God that seems to have withstood it all. My faith is not dead; it is just completely undefined. I do not know what I believe. I only know what I DON’T believe. I feel unable to claim any belief because I am scared of what that will mean.
In my conservative evangelical upbringing, the most dangerous people were not the ones that did not believe. The most dangerous people were the ones that believed the wrong things. Atheists or non-believers were generally viewed as people to feel sorry for. They were lost and needed someone to lead them to the truth. They were a neutral sort of people deserving of prayers and patience. The people to be wary of, to avoid, and to actively fight against were those who “claimed to be Christians” but who held the wrong theology. They were wolves in sheep’s clothing, capitulating to popular culture in their sinful rebellion, and willfully leading others astray. These were the ones that faithful believers should not have any association with.
I believe that to begin embracing new, more progressive theology will mean that I become dangerous to the community that I’ve always belonged to. That I become the type of person that evangelical parents warn their children about. The type of person whose beliefs mean that conservative Christians boycott anything associated with them. The type of person whose children are pitied. It will mean that I become a wolf.
If I begin rebuilding my faith, I will be aligning myself with deadly beliefs in the minds of many. For most conservative Christians, liberal Christianity is not real Christianity at all. In fact, liberal Christian ideas are essentially a form of abuse because they destroy the faiths of believers and set their souls on a path straight to hell… and isn’t that so much worse than an abuser who destroys the body alone? For a time, I was the victim of liberal Christianity, but am I ready to align with my “perpetrator”? Am I ready to become one myself?
Deconstruction is hard, but reconstruction is terrifying. Reconstruction comes at an even higher price and an even greater loss for those who grew up in conservative Christian circles. As long as I am a deconstructing Christian, my old community can feel sorry for me and pray for me and my doubts and questions. But if I reconstruct rather than return, it is time to abandon me, warn others about me, and pray against me for the spiritual harm that I am capable of inflicting on others. Not only do I become a persona non grata; I become a wolf capable of devouring the faithful sheep. I don’t know if I can do this. I don’t know if I can’t.