The deconstruction and reconstruction journey is a process starting in our everyday lives, taking us down into the darkness of confusion and back up again into the light deeply changed and stronger for it. In this series, I interview women who have begun this journey and celebrate our deconstruction stories’ unique beauty.
Today Becca Hawkins shares her story, growing up in a conservative Evangelical home, transitioning in graduate school, and taking apart her understanding of salvation, scripture, and God’s relationship with her gender identity.
You can read more of her writing at www.whenfaithandculturecollide.blogspot.com.
My earliest memories of God are framed by an image of a woman wearing a blue shawl. It was probably supposed to be Mary—I remember my mom telling me as much—but I thought of the image in terms of God. That was quickly changed when my parents and teachers insisted that God was male.
This memory parallels my journey of self-understanding. I thought of myself as female from as early as I can remember, but my parents and teachers insisted otherwise.
Like many others I grew up with, my dad also framed things in patriarchal ways
My experiences, such as my gender dysphoria, greatly influenced my spirituality. I suppose I could say the earliest I began deconstructing was when I was old enough to sense who I was, would not be accepted by the theological framework my parents and surrounding community had. My gender identity was always a secret, except once I asked my mom if she thought I was really a girl. When she said no, I buried it back down inside myself.
Growing up, my dad emphasized a God of grace, coming from a Conservative Baptist Evangelical understanding. If you asked him what denomination he was part of, he would insist he was a “Free Bapterian.” His way of saying he was a homogenous evangelical, but his theology was very Baptist, and we attended only Baptist churches.
Like most Evangelicals, he would also insist that believing in Jesus was the only way to God. His opinion was based on one interpretation of John 14:6. He was a creationist and would scoff at claims that something happened on earth “millions of years ago.” He also said things I now see as anti-Semitic, like, “Jesus came to challenge the legalism of the Jews and prepare them for grace.” Something he, no doubt, was influenced to think by his teachers.
Most of all, the biggest part of my deconstruction was intensely personal . . .
Like many others I grew up with, my dad also framed things in patriarchal ways, privileging what a “son” might inherit over what a daughter would receive. It was thinking like this from my dad and from church leaders that influenced my spirituality early on.
Beyond that, my early spiritual deconstruction began in middle school, when I struggled with going through the wrong puberty. In the late ’90s, on AOL message boards, I talked to non-Christians for the first time. I remember having a conversation with a self-identified witch. She said she used to be a Christian. I had been taught that anyone who said they no longer believed in the Christian faith never really believed in the first place or didn’t understand what “true” Christianity was. So I challenged her in a very cocky tone, “How did you once believe that Christians were saved? I’ll be surprised if you get it right.” She then told me exactly what I believed: that people are saved by grace, not by works. It rocked me.
Soon I met the first atheist I ever knew when I switched from attending a Christian elementary and middle school to a public high school. I showed him some apologetics books my dad’s company had published, and he quickly dismantled all their arguments. As I met more people who challenged my preconceptions, my deconstruction developed more and more.
It was also getting harder and harder to keep hiding who I was.
Now I see my transness as an integral part of myself. Transition isn’t “denying” how I was made—it’s embracing it.
When I got to college, I became involved with the Navigators campus ministry. My leader told me about Regent College in Vancouver, BC, a Christian grad school in Canada where I could study theology and the biblical languages. I got my Master’s of Theological Studies in Biblical Languages, with a Biblical Hebrew concentration. Even though I began another program at Regent College, I eventually could no longer stand it, came out as trans, and transitioned.
Immediately, I felt so much less incongruity over my personhood. I felt aligned, and it was terrific.
So I went back to the US and am now tutoring people privately in biblical languages.
Most of all, the biggest part of my deconstruction was intensely personal: It was changing how I viewed Psalm 139. I was not too fond of that psalm growing up. But it was also my whip for self-flagellation. I had thought that feeling like I was a girl was somehow a “violation” of that psalm, as though it were a commandment and not a song of praise—and as though my transness itself were not “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Now I see my transness as an integral part of myself. Transition isn’t “denying” how I was made—it’s embracing it. And I couldn’t care less what any Evangelical reading this thinks about that.
Because of the struggle to be accepted for my identity by students at the seminary and the hurt from some church members who ostracized me, I left evangelicalism. This was right as Trump became the Republican nominee for president. I cemented my rejection of evangelicalism after Trump was elected. I haven’t set foot in any church since, save a couple of Easter services at the start of the pandemic in 2020, but nothing beyond that.
I’ve come to a place where my belief in God is uncertain, but I believe uncertainty is a hallmark of faith. It’s the conviction I was gradually heading toward my entire life. It’s also freeing to no longer feel obligated to think that my friends who don’t believe in Jesus are going to hell.
I had several Christian communities pre deconstruction: my immediate and extended Christian family members, the three church communities our family attended when I was growing up, the community at the Christian elementary and middle school I attended, my family’s evangelical publishing business, the Navigators campus ministry at college, the seminary I went to, and the church I attended while going to seminary.
I received mixed reactions from all of these communities when I came out and transitioned, which alone was seen already as a departure from evangelicalism by some. Even though I don’t see it that way at the moment. My Christian preschool teacher heard about my transition from my mom and then expressed her bewilderment over why I wasn’t affected by Deuteronomy 22:5 (A woman shall not wear a man’s apparel, nor shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whoever does such things is abhorrent to the Lord your God.) For those who don’t know, this passage never defines “man” and “woman,” and she did not take into account how the biblical writers’ understood “maleness” and “femaleness.” It was not the same as how science has come to understand the complexities, including nonbinary gender identities.
My family has been hard. My mother struggled with my transition at first. She eventually came to accept me as her daughter, though, which has been fantastic
But many, although not all, of my friends from seminary, were supportive. Some rejected me outright, while others were semi-supportive but ultimately not in the end.
My church community, while in seminary, embraced me. As far as I know, the pastors still do, and most members of the community continue to accept me. Some have rescinded their support, and others claim to support me and then spread transphobic panic about trans women in bathrooms.
I feel very “unhoused” now, spiritually. I have a community of trans people who love and support me, but I feel off on my own as far as spirituality goes.
My family has been hard. My mother struggled with my transition at first. She eventually came to accept me as her daughter, though, which has been fantastic. But my departure from evangelicalism has been more challenging for her to swallow.
My dad still doesn’t fully accept me, but he’s come a long way. He will call me his daughter now, and at first, he could not. When I first came out, I didn’t want to be around him because he was angry. I still remember him holding a clipboard interrogating me shortly after I said I would transition, asking “why” I didn’t think I was a man. The short answer is that I’m not a man. I could not be who he wanted me to be. That’s not who I am.
I love that being outside of evangelicalism gives me the intellectual freedom to reconsider these questions I’ve never really felt the permission to think about in the past.
He eventually told his employees at the family business, and most of them expressed sadness at my transition, saying, “I’m so sorry.” As though I had died. But a few of them reached out to me with love and acceptance.
My aunt (dad’s sister) and uncle (her husband) accepted me for a while and haven’t spoken to me in some time, so I don’t know what they now think. My cousin and her husband have not maintained contact with me either, but I have seen them both since. My cousin t seemed to care enough to address me as Becca, which meant a lot to me.
At first, my grandmother didn’t accept me, but then, she finally did the year before she died. I’ll always be grateful for that. There have been some bright spots, and I have many reasons to be optimistic about the future with my immediate family.
I’m deconstructing how I view the way the biblical writers think of “salvation.” For example, I don’t believe when Paul writes about being “saved,” he means being “saved from hell so that one can go to heaven.” I think his mental furniture does not include everything we assume it does.
I think God cares far more about justice, kindness, grace, and mercy than she does about who is “in the club” and who is not.
Evangelicalism gives us many assumptions, and it’s something I’m still pondering and thinking through. I love that being outside of evangelicalism gives me the intellectual freedom to reconsider these questions I’ve never really felt the permission to think about in the past.
I suppose it’s made the idea of God’s grace far larger than evangelicalism would even allow itself to consider. I don’t think of God as loving people because she “has” to, or that she would send people to hell for not thinking Jesus is the Messiah. I no longer believe God “sends people to hell.” My reasoning is there are three separate words often translated as “hell” in the New Testament, and I don’t think any of the writers meant it literally. They are figurative for some form of future judgment.
When Jesus says, “No one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6), I no longer think he is setting up some “for-all-time” rule about who comes to God and who does not. This is also assuming his words even go back to the historical Jesus. If it does go back that far, I think it can be interpreted as saying, his teachings, which are not unique to him, are the only pathway to God. It needn’t be what evangelicals assume it to be.
I remember evangelicals pressuring me quite a bit about relationships, but now I finally feel the freedom to take my time.
They assume even those who think in their head “Jesus is Lord,” before they die, will go “to the Father.” but no one else. Otherwise, what do passages like Matthew 7:21-23, showing Jesus saying not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” will enter the kingdom of heaven?
I think God cares far more about justice, kindness, grace, and mercy than she does about who is “in the club” and who is not.
It’s changed significantly. Deconstruction didn’t happen at a particular moment for me, as I think is the case for some of us. Questions in my head caused my view on what the Bible is and for, to gradually changed over time.
I used to think I had to believe the Bible was “inerrant in the original autographs.” Since I have learned, we don’t have the original autographs, and anyway, I don’t think there is a biblical text that “demands inerrancy” as a primary view.
While 2 Timothy 3:16-17 is often erroneously cited as demanding a view of inerrancy, I’m not sure how God-breathed” language requires this interpretation. After all, this language is likely a reference to Genesis 2, when God “breathes” life into the human being in the second creation myth story.
That did not make human beings inerrant. I see it Instead as “useful” for teaching. It can be used similarly to other collections of texts that are useful for spiritual growth.
I have an early childhood memory of the 1993 film adaptation of the play of the same name, Shadowlands, which tells C.S. Lewis losing his wife, Helen Joy Gresham, to cancer. One of my dad’s favorite lines in that film remains one of my own, even after deconstruction. It’s when C.S. Lewis (Jack, played by Anthony Hopkins) is telling a clergyman why he prays for his wife: “It doesn’t change God. It changes me.”
Although, one thing that has changed is that I now think God’s mind can be changed. For example, I see it in Exodus 32 when Moses successfully convinces God not to destroy the Israelites. Perhaps there were things God intended to bring about that did not happen because God’s mind can change.
I haven’t seriously dated anyone yet, and am currently contemplating if I am asexual. Coming out as trans made dating prospects different, but before pursuing a relationship, I need to get to a more comfortable place in my transition and personal development. I remember evangelicals pressuring me quite a bit about relationships, but now I finally feel the freedom to take my time. And that has been quite freeing.
N.T. Wright’s books, such as What Saint Paul Really Said, has been beneficial for reframing my thoughts on Paul. Wright, unfortunately, is also very homophobic and transphobic. I also don’t think he goes far enough in challenging traditional readings of Paul. Pamela Eisenbaum’s Paul Was Not a Christian and Paula Frederiksen’s When Christians Were Jews have been even more helpful with those topics.
The best parts of deconstruction are all the avenues that have opened of intellectual freedom, which allow me to explore the world and myself.
I’ve found tremendous value in the Jewish Publication Society’s JPS Torah Commentary series for reconstructing my reading of the five books of Torah, and it has provided insights that Christian commentaries often do not.
As far as trans issues are concerned, Janet Mock’s autobiography Redefining Realness and Julia Serano’s trans manifesto Whipping Girl have been central stepping stones of healing for me in my journey. Trans Christian author Austen Hartke’s book Transforming is deeply affirming and theologically informed. I strongly recommend it to those interested in exploring trans issues from a theologically affirming perspective (there are way too many books out there with non-affirming, damaging perspectives).
The best parts of deconstruction are all the avenues that have opened of intellectual freedom, which allow me to explore the world and myself. As well as the emotionally intelligent direction I’ve been slowly going toward as I pick up the pieces of my mental health, which have been shattered by the oppressive aspects of evangelicalism.
The only other thing I can think to say here is that I am still a Christian. Even though I can’t explain my exact beliefs . . .
The worst parts have been the isolation and feelings of abandonment that often confront me when I’m lying awake late at night. Missing the friends I used to have and hurt that they couldn’t stay friends with me as I am. Ultimately, though, I’ve been learning that you can’t stay friends with everyone.
I am much happier outside of evangelicalism, even with the worst parts of deconstruction, than I ever was inside. I made new friends who filled the void the old ones left, and they enriched my life so much. I’m so thankful for them. Some of them have even literally saved my life.
The only other thing I can think to say here is that I am still a Christian. Even though I can’t explain my exact beliefs, I am still sorting them out. I’m certainly no longer an evangelical. I don’t know what lies in store for me in the future. I am excited to find out!
Read more of Becca’s writing at www.whenfaithandculturecollide.blogspot.com.
Are you interested in sharing your own story? Reach out at Lurie@LurieKimmerle.com