Deconstruction is Another Word for Repentance Part 1

New Transcendentalist
8 min readJul 5, 2021

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In the past 5 years or so a word has entered the vocabulary of many former and current Conservative Christians in the US: Deconstruction.

Deconstruction is a new word for an old idea of taking apart unexamined beliefs (often beliefs which built the structures of our lives) and often doing a 180 degree turn from the harmful, uninformed things which are revealed.

People are finding more justice for the oppressed, love, joy and peace outside of Christianity. The God as understood by Jesus in Matthew 5–7 counsels them to turn from oppression towards justice, whether the new way uses Christian words or not.

This reminds me of Abraham, Sarah and their nephew Lot. They were living in the land of Ur but were called to leave the ways of their parents and live into a call to start a nation that blesses other nations. There was no words, traditions or morality to describe what they were doing, only some form of a call, which they said was divine, but clearly their parents and community did not see it that way. They experienced the ways of their parents and did a 180 degree turn away from them–deconstruction, repentance.

Lot ended up getting tangled up with city of Sodom, the sin of which Ezekiel says is “they were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not aid the poor and needy.” (Ezekiel 16:49). Lot turned away from this.

For many who grew up in certain expressions of Christianity, we saw arrogant, overfed and unconcerned people and we did a 180 degree turn. The Greek word in the New Testament is metanoia, translated in English repentance, or today we might use the word deconstruction.

What it looked like for me, personally, is that I was on staff at three churches who, though well-intentioned, bent over backwards with time, energy and resources to attract well-to-do people. When I brought recent immigrants to church, they avoided them.

I was told to take out loans for a very expensive seminary, where for a full year I got lots of talk around piety and self-confidence but there was a less-than-wikipedia awareness of Christian history from 100 to 1517. There was no discussion on Christianity and social structures, the (mostly unstated) answer was that the poor did not pray a prayer or have enough piety or self-discipline.

As I spent more time with poorer families, I realized most of their problems were not based on whether they had prayed a prayer or not, or had enough piety or self-discipline like I had been told. Many of their problems were because they were not useful to people with money. The ones with money were the ones donating to our churches, often in lieu of paying taxes. The good news was preached to me by a single mom (an atheist, church members warned me) who spent time learning from and about the hungry, thirsty, naked, stranger and prisoner in our town. She may have not said “lord, lord” to Jesus, but she seemed a lot more in line with Matthew 25, Isaiah 1 and Amos 5 than the people in church.

I deconstructed/repented, turned away from a Christianity built for the upper middle class white United States. Many have turned from the wicked ways espoused by Christianity as they knew it and gone to more justice-seeking expressions, with or without God language. Jesus affirms this in Matthew 5–7. The kingdom belongs to the poor in spirit-no asterisks.

I left that seminary for Jerusalem to get a wider perspective and discovered that there were many Jewish people, atheist/agnostic people, Catholics, Palestinian Christians and Muslims, progressive Protestants who took the words of the Bible around love and truth much more seriously than what I came from.

I asked why I never knew this and discovered that in the early 20th century there was a movement known as “fundamentalism” designed to shut out historical-critical study of the Bible, and claimed that people who took sociology or the study of evolution seriously were not aligned with the intention of Hebrew and Christian scriptures. The choices made by fundamentalists (in later decades re-branded as “evangelical” or “non-denominational”) produced the churches and universities I attended. Most of the people making decisions still thought it was their job to protect me from that information.

Deconstruction means I repented from this shallow, anti-intellectual social and historical awareness.

I looked at the history of Christianity and biblical interpretation in the US and saw that the Southern Baptist Convention (who I had worked for) broke off from other Baptists in 1845 to sponsor slaveholding missionaries. They had a list of verses like Ephesians 6:5 which says “slaves be obedient to your masters” to justify the slaveholders in their congregation getting wealthy off of injustice.

They used the name of God for their own vain pursuit of wealth at the expense of people made in the image of God. They did not make it right after the emancipation proclamation. Instead they developed a disdain for “the government” who for the next 100+ years had to force these “Christians” to manufacture shreds of respect toward their neighbors. Instead of taking the gospel seriously, they claimed “states rights” and “individual rights” over and over. States rights to do what? Individual rights for whom? They even used the name of God to justify their “right” to continued forms of exploitation. Their house was not built on the rock, it was built on the sand.

I deconstructed, I repented from this heresy.

I saw that this “plain reading” was then picked up by non-denominational churches who didn’t want the accountability of denominational bodies. The first non-denominational churches were funded by people who told workers to become more efficient, then as they did, they fired half of them to improve their already great return on investment. When workers stood outside their factories to say this isn’t right, they had them killed. When a few fought back they sentenced their non-violent leaders to death, a pastor who stood up for them was sentenced to 15 years in prison. They took their money and hired well-intentioned but uneducated charismatic preachers like Dwight Moody, Billy Sunday and Billy Graham to preach a gospel which blamed poor people for their poverty, and had no element of accountability for the profiteers. (More about that here).

I asked why I was supposed to be anti-LGBTQ and saw that just like there was a list of ‘plainly read’ verses to be pro-slavery, there was a list of verses justifying the historical exclusion of LGBTQ people. Even the ones I thought were so strong could not be held alongside a social, historical, and literary awareness. I should have gone with the more excellent way of 1 Corinthians 13.

I deconstructed/repented from this interpretation method controlled by people looking for justification of their preferred exclusions.

In 20 years of deep dedication to evangelicalism I never heard of Walter Rauschenbusch, Reinhold Niebuhr or James Cone. I heard that Martin Luther King, who had a Masters and PhD in theology, didn’t really care about Christian doctrine and was more a political leader.

I never heard of Dorothee Soelle who delved deeply into why her Christian nation of Germany produced the holocaust. She came out with strong critiques of Christianities that glorify white supremacy, masculine dominance and wealth. Her editors wanted her to tone it down, so she left out the word “Christofascism” from the 2nd edition of her Creative Disobedience.

I’ve deconstructed and repented from this anti-intellectual lack of historical and social awareness.

I was never told that white US Conservative Christians sponsored genocide of Native Americans, lynching of black people in the US and killing of priests like Oscar Romero and Ignacio Martin-Baro for standing up for poor people in Latin America. Conservative Christians were more in love with the wealth and cheap products produced by exploiting and discarding people of color and the earth than they were with people of color and the earth.

I deconstructed and repented from this way of condemning the innocent.

I repented of/deconstructed this arrogant, overfed and unconcerned Christianity. People are using the word deconstruction to reflect a process of dying to their old selves and being born again.

Deconstruction was described in Philippians 3:

If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ — the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. I want to know Christ — yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.

Not that I have already obtained all this…

Unfortunately the name of Christ has been taken in vain for too long. It has become to too many only a symbol of ignorance, hypocrisy and exploitation. So much so that in many places it is no longer helpful to describe what Christ is about.

Hear the words of Isaiah 1:15–17

When you stretch out your hands,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
I will not listen;
your hands are full of blood.
Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
remove the evil of your doings
from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
learn to do good;
seek justice,
rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
plead for the widow.

People are finding more justice for the oppressed, orphans and widows outside of Christianity, and the God as understood by Jesus in Matthew 5–7 counsels them to turn from the wicked ways towards justice, whether it uses Christian words or not.

The Christian tradition will not live on unless Christians repent of their ways of life which exclude others and turn towards justice. Deconstruction is another word for repentance.

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Taylor Storey splits time between where he grew up in Santa Barbara County California and Berlin, Germany: a society which cares for the historically excluded through tuition-free public universities.

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