Sheila here!

My husband Keith’s manifesto on Wednesday about how the evangelical church has treated women went quite big, and he has one more thing he’d like to say.

This all fits well in what we’re talking about this month about putting the “Christ” back in “Christian marriage!”

I have one more thing I want to say as we wrap up our series on Monday, but I’m going to let Keith have ALMOST the last word. 🙂

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Deconstruction Definition

To those who may not know, deconstruction refers to a movement that is growing in the evangelical church right now to question the beliefs that you were brought up with to try to get to the truth. Which beliefs are true essentials of the faith? And which are merely cultural trappings that may have hurt us?

Think of it as a house inspector pulling a moldy or rotten house apart to get to the still healthy foundation. What is it that we’re actually built on? Is anything that was built on top of the foundation rotten? What is healthy?

Deconstruction is often prompted by major doubts about the church, mostly because of what appears to be very unChristlike behaviour on the part of its proponents.

Some people deconstruct and leave the faith altogether, but many are just trying to find their way to a healthier faith that is more consistent with the Jesus we know.

I have been watching the backlash against deconstruction that is going on in the evangelical church these days with increasing consternation.

At first it was funny. Matt Chandler talking about how people were doing it just because it was “sexy” has resulted in some excellent memes.

But recently, there has been a mad rush to decry it from multiple organizations including The Gospel Coalition (TGC), The Council of Biblical Manhood & Womanhood (CBMW), Desiring God – basically every bastion of the Evangelical Industrial Complex has chimed in. The message is all the same: “Watch out for deconstruction! Avoid this perilous new heresy!”

I read the recent Desiring God post about deconstruction. It is an impassioned plea not to leave the faith when you have doubts, which is admirable. But as an apology for “Why I am not deconstructing”, it fails because it is based upon the same fundamental misunderstanding that anti-deconstructionists all have: they equate deconstruction with wanting to leave Jesus. “The Church isn’t perfect, but don’t leave Jesus,” they say.

As someone who considers himself to be firmly in the deconstruction camp, I can assure you, we are not trying to leave Jesus.

We are just having a hard time with the trappings that you have surrounded Jesus with.

We are trying desperately to cling to Jesus despite the harmful ideas that the evangelical church has been attaching to Jesus and then calling non-negotiable. And if every time we try to remove those trappings and get to the heart of what Jesus intended you say we aren’t really Christian, is it any wonder why sometimes deconstruction does end up with people leaving the faith?

In other words, people who are deconstructing aren’t leaving Jesus; you are pushing them away from Him!

On a personal note, the key issue for me is the way the church has treated women.

I recognize other people have different issues (eg. racism), but I will speak here only to this one subject. There was a time when we could have healthy debate and maybe agree to disagree about women’s ordination and what submission looked like in marriage. But now the evangelical zeitgeist has hardened to an overtly misogynistic and hateful view of women. You can deny it all you want, but that doesn’t make it any less true. And if you disagree with what is taught or if you (gasp) promote the opposite idea, that women deserve equal and fair treatment, then you simply “aren’t Biblical”.

A sentinel event for me, was John MacArthur telling Beth Moore to “go home”. When you see someone act like he did and then get treated as a hero rather than a villain, your moral compass can’t help but ask if you are hanging out with the wrong kind of people.

The equal parts derision and vitriol that have been spewed at Moore since she left the SBC has in my opinion deeply underscored this point.

And for those of you who don’t think the evangelical view of women is fundamentally flawed, let me recap 2021 for you.

It started with the revelation that Ravi Zacaharias, one of our most respected apologists, a man who we thought to be a man of great integrity, was not only an abuser, but a human trafficker. A man who we all thought knew more about Jesus than anyone else had used hundreds of women over his career for his own sexual fulfillment then discarded them like used playthings, warning them not to tell anyone, lest “the message of the gospel be hindered.”

Then the year ended with not just the conviction of Josh Duggar for possession of child pornography, but a florid and shameful demonstration during his trial of how far people who claim to represent Jesus will go to cover up and justify the abuse of women to protect the reputation of men.

In the middle we saw the release of “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill”, which documented in scathing detail the actions of Mark Driscoll, a man who called women penis homes among other misogynistic comments. Yet despite all the evidence of how toxic he is, Jimmy Evans of XO marriage and Dave and Ashley Willis of the Naked Marriage podcast continue to support him and give him a platform at their marriage conferences and on their board. And churches keep hiring them for conferences!

So my question is: after seeing all this is, how do we explain people who are NOT deconstructing?

The difference between those who are deconstructing and those who are not is whether or not you realize that these men did not arise in a vacuum.

People who are deconstructing realize these men are not a few bad apples in an otherwise healthy tree. They see that the tree is rotten. It is self-evident that an organization’s views of women will shape how that organization will treat women.

For anyone with eyes to see, it is clear that the evangelical church desperately needs a healthier view of women.

The obvious answer is to start treating women as equals in every way and giving them a voice, but this is simply not an option to those who refuse to reject “Biblical” manhood and womanhood. Instead, when the evangelical church has been confronted with the fruit of their teaching, when they have been called out on the terrible ways they have treated our sisters in the faith, in every case they have reacted either with callous indifference or doubled down on these clearly flawed and harmful doctrines and just intensified the pain.

The first point in The Gospel Coalition’s critique of deconstruction is to “not throw the baby out with the bath water”. This is a common refrain from anti-deconstructionists. But here’s the thing. If we are talking about the Christian faith, then the “baby” is Christ. It is not the institutional evangelical church. And it is certainly not any particular biblical hermeneutic.

Evangelicals used to believe in tiers.

Some things were first tier and you really couldn’t be a Christian if you didn’t believe them (eg. the Trinity). Other things were second tier. They were important enough that denominations felt that if you were going to be a member, you had to agree with their stance (eg. method of baptism). Then there were a whole host of third tier items where even people in the same denomination might disagree. Anything other than first tier issues is not essential to faith.

Unfortunately, most of the people whom I have seen confront deconstruction with the “baby and bath water” argument are clearly being disingenuous. They are not concerned about not throwing out the baby (i.e. Christ) as much as they are clearly interested in keeping their particular part of the bath water. Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think they are being intentionally deceptive most of the time. I think the majority of them have simply lost the ability to tell the difference.

For instance, I find it quite ironic that the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW)  has now started to post articles critiquing deconstruction. CMBW is an organization which is based upon a third tier “doctrinal distinctive”: the issue of women in leadership in the church and home (well, in their case, keeping women OUT of leadership in the church and home). This organization has been instrumental in moving this issue to the first tier, insisting that if you don’t believe their stance, you clearly don’t believe the Bible. And now they are writing anti-deconstruction arguments. The whole thing is so absolutely “meta”!

Personally I think the “bath water” of patriarchy and misogyny needs to be chucked if the church is going to stay healthy and thrive in the future.

Unfortunately, the powers that be in evangelicalism have invested all their energy in making sure that that particular section of the bath water stays part of the deal. As a result, the places within the evangelical community that fully accept women as equals are few and far between.

People who are saying, “I want Jesus, but I don’t want misogyny”, are hard-pressed to find an area within evangelicalism they can call home. When they can’t find a place in the evangelical body where those two aren’t linked, they leave. Then the very ones who fused patriarchy to Jesus despise them for their lack of faith. But decrying someone for leaving after you handed them their coat and showed them the door says more about you than it does about them.

Another point the TGC article makes is that people deconstruct because they have received poor teaching. (Don’t worry, this is it; I’m not going to tackle all four points). It says that instead of deconstructing, we should combat bad teaching with good teaching. I agree. But that’s precisely the problem. The evangelical establishment is refusing to give good teaching. Worse, they “call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20). just look at their reaction to Sheila’s survey of 20,000 women for The Great Sex Rescue showing definitively that their view of women and sex hurts marriages and makes sex worse for couples. They have ignored the evidence and shot the messenger!

What if you're NOT the problem with your sex life?

What if the messages that you've been taught have messed things up--and what if there's a way to escape these toxic teachings?

It's time for a Great Sex Rescue.

The evidence is now overwhelming that a hierarchical view of the genders causes harm of every sort to women up to and including physical and sexual abuse.

Given that our Saviour said “a good tree cannot bear bad fruit”, this teaching should have been gone a long time ago. Instead, they cling to it and preach “patriarchy protects women and those instances of abuse are exceptions”.

I disagree, but if it were true, then my question is this: “Where were the guardians of the true version of this teaching when Beth Moore was being verbally assaulted on her way out the SBC door?” “Where were they when Owen Strachan was tweeting out sympathy for Ravi Zacahrias while that scandal was unfolding?”

If God has a perfect plan where men are in charge for the good of women, where is the self-policing? Where is this famous protection that patriarchy provides? No, we all see these arguments for what they really are: men trying to hold on to power by whatever means possible and getting angry at those who are divesting them of that power.

Let me finish on a note of encouragement.

When I observe the monolithic juggernaut that is the evangelical establishment just getting around to critiquing deconstruction, I have to admit I laugh a little, given that many of us are now eager to get on to the next phase: “reconstruction”. Signs of life are everywhere. Hearts and minds are changing.

Sheila has completely redirected the conversation about marriage and sex. And next week, Sheila and I start the launch of “The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex” which we hope will move us closer to a healthier understanding of Christian male sexuality. Others are stripping away the other “trappings” that have been inappropriately attached to Jesus. We still don’t know what the future will hold, but it looks bright to me and full of hope.

It looks like after fighting for so long, maybe we can all take a breath and be reassured by the words of St Paul that these “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Cor 4:17)

Sheila here:

As I think about what Keith has written, my hope is that those questioning the church’s treatment of women (or others who are deconstructing for other important reasons) will no longer be pushed out of the church. Instead, I hope that our voices and numbers will become so big that we can reclaim the church. I hope people will keep speaking up. I believe that most in the evangelical church actually do want to serve Jesus and do not believe that the things we have taught about gender are essentials at all. 

As our voices become louder, I pray that we won’t have to leave, but instead those that teach toxic things will be more and more marginalized, and the church will be reclaimed. And I do believe that is happening! Thank you all for your support as we do what is really deconstruction work. 

And I’m excited to move to RECONSTRUCTION with the launch of The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex: Let’s build a healthy view of biblical sexuality in marriage, from the ground up!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Deconstructing Evangelicalism Because of its Treatment of Women

What do you think about deconstruction? Do you see hope for the future? Let’s talk in the comments.

Keith Gregoire

Keith Gregoire

Blog and Podcast Contributor, Co-Author with Sheila of two upcoming marriage books

Keith is the rock that supports Sheila, who runs this blog! Sheila and Keith married when Keith was attending Queen's University medical school in Kingston, Ontario. He later completed his residency in pediatrics at the Hospital for Sick Children, and has since directed the pediatric undergraduate program at Queen's University, and been Chief of Pediatrics at a community hospital in Belleville, Ontario. He and Sheila speak at marriage conferences around the world, and together they've also done medical missions in Kenya. Next up: They're authoring The Guy's Guide to Great Sex together! Plus, of course, he's an avid birdwatcher.

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