Deconstructing takes Time
[Although this part of my story focuses on why I left the Charismatic Movement, it is in no way intended to disparage the beliefs of my charismatic brothers and sisters. These are my experiences to the best of my recollection; they are an early example of my thinking process where deconstruction is concerned and as such are important to understanding my story. I am sharing these recollections as honestly as I can but they don’t necessarily represent my views or feelings now.]
I’d heard lots of tongues-speaking, but never anything like this. (See my previous post.) When I heard my friend speak in tongues it sent chills up and down my spine. It was different.
It sounded ugly and guttural, not like the pretty syllables I used and heard others use.
What was worse is that my friend told me she had no control over what she was saying, which went contrary to everything I’d been taught (“The spirit of the prophet is subject to the prophet.” I Corinthians 14:32)
Whatever this was, it frightened me and I felt it wasn’t from God.
To this day I have no idea what happened. All I know is that the experience, coupled with some other unsettling experiences, shook me so badly that I was no longer certain that what I was doing was of God.
It was my first experience of what I now understand to be deconstruction–a process that takes time.
FROM CERTAINTY TO UNCERTAINTY
From my earliest involvement in the Charismatic Movement, I felt certain that my experience was valid, what I believed was correct, and what I was doing was right.
Now I wasn’t so sure.
I had moved from a position of certainty to uncertainty.
How did I know that when I spoke in tongues I was really giving praise to God? How did I know that the various healings, etc. that I saw were truly divine or even if they were real?
The doubt and uncertainty began to grow and ultimately led to me breaking with the Charismatic Movement. But it wasn’t a cut and dried process. In fact, the process of my leaving took more than two years.
It’s been such a long time, I don’t remember the precise sequence of changes, but here are some of the things I went through as best as I can remember them.
I STOPPED SPEAKING IN TONGUES
The first change that came in my deconstruction from being a charismatic Christian is that I stopped speaking in tongues. I’m not sure how soon this happened after the experience I referred to above, but I think it was fairly soon.
I was so filled with doubt about what I was doing that I was afraid to keep doing it.
It was hard at first because speaking in tongues had become such a big part of my spiritual practice. I felt empty and hollow, like I was missing out. And I told myself that I might not stop permanently, but I needed to sort things out.
Still, there were times when I desperately wanted to speak in tongues. It seemed to comfort me when I was stressed. But I was resolved not to do it until I had done some serious thinking and praying.
I wanted to get back to certainty.
I STARTED SEARCHING
It’s difficult for me to describe this process, mostly because it happened so long ago. I don’t remember much about it.
What little I do remember is that I started going back through all the scriptures that addressed the Holy Spirit, tongues, spiritual gifts, etc., mostly trying to shore up what was now a crumbling foundation.
This continued through my high school graduation and into my freshman year at LeTourneau College in Longview, Texas. The move to Texas was long planned. I fell in love with Texas on my family’s first trip there, when I was nine. I knew that’s where I was going to go. (But that’s a different story!) I went to LeTourneau because I wanted to go into ministry and it was the only Christian college I knew of. And, of course, it was conveniently located in Texas.
Ironically, even though I was deconstructing my charismatic beliefs, when I started at LeTourneau I decided to attend First Assembly of God church in Longview.
I was away from home for the first time and it was familiar.
Plus, as I mentioned, deconstruction takes time. I was rethinking what I believed but that doesn’t mean I just walked away.
I was at LeTourneau for two years. During my freshman year I still considered myself a charismatic Christian, although I no longer spoke in tongues and was rethinking my charismatic theology. By my sophomore year I had mentally left the Charismatic Movement. I was still attending First Assembly, but now I was a non-charismatic attending a Pentecostal church.
Why did I keep going there?
The people of First Assembly of God were wonderful and had virtually adopted me when I started going there. I wasn’t just part of a church. I felt like I was part of their family. I never lacked for a ride to or from church. More often than not I was invited to someone’s home for Sunday dinner. And the pastor, knowing that I was planning to enter ministry, took me under his wing and gave me opportunities to teach, preach, and even let me help him with a baptism.
Those folks loved me.
And I loved them.
And as I continued rethinking what I believed as a charismatic/Pentecostal Christian, I began to experience a growing emotional conflict.
On the one hand, especially during my sophomore year, I knew that I was going to have to make a break with pentecostalism. I had become an observer, not a participant. My deconstruction was complete and I needed to move on.
On the other hand, how could I do something that would be so hurtful to these people who had been so good to me? If I just quit and started going to another church it would be painful for them and me.
Also, I’d have to explain why I no longer believed the charismatic/pentecostal teachings about the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit, and speaking in tongues. I’d also begun to move away from other teachings they held (such as, it is possible for Christians to lose their salvation).
I wasn’t up for that kind of discussion. Partially it’s because I naturally tend to avoid conflict. But it was also because I was still struggling to get my footing. So much had changed in my thinking over the previous two years. I didn’t want someone trying to convince me that I was wrong.
I needed a clean break.
And so I transferred from LeTourneau College to Dallas Bible College (DBC). I had seen a catalog from DBC early in my second year at LeTourneau, and they had a 3-year bachelor of theology program that required two years at a liberal arts college first. I had the two years, so this was perfect.
And so in the fall of 1975 I began a new adventure in Dallas. My deconstruction from the Charismatic Movement was complete and I had started on a new project.
I was now building a fortress of certainty.
Even though this series is about my faith deconstruction/reconstruction, I’ve spent a lot of time telling the story of my experience in the Charismatic Movement because it foreshadows a much larger and more challenging deconstruction. But it also offers some insight into what leads people (or what led me, at least) to deconstruct in the first place.
In my case:
- My deconstruction from the Charismatic Movment began with events that unsettled me and caused me to question what I believed.
- Because of that questioning I moved from a position of certainty to uncertainty.
- My uncertainty led me to reexamine my beliefs over a period of two years.
- My conclusions brought me to a point of change, where I knew I had to make a break.
- There was a great deal of emotional struggle in the process.
- I was different by the end of my deconstruction. I had changed.
These are basically the same things I went through in my big deconstruction, but multiplied about 1000 times. It was an at-times suffocating struggle that took at least a decade and a half. (Maybe longer. I wasn’t checking the calendar.)
But before we get to that, I need to set the scene, that is, I need to recount what led up to my deconstruction. I call it “Building my fortress of certainty.”
That’s for next time.
Next post: Why I Value My Charismatic Experience
All posts in this series: A Deconstruction Observed