Why Evangelical women are questioning the church and their faith

After centuries submitting to the church’s patriarchy, ‘deconstruction’ has empowered Texas women to question the tenets of their faith—and it could change the face of Evangelicalism for good.
Josh Christensen

Katy resident Bethany Dufilho and her husband, Paul, began having reservations about their church after witnessing the evangelical support of Donald Trump during the 2016 election. “I just knew that the way [Trump] was acting and the words he was using was antithetical to what I had grown up learning about Jesus and the gospel,” says Dufilho, a writer for Houston Moms.

It wasn’t until 2018 that the Dufilho family left their local Southern Baptist megachurch, albeit with some hesitation, even telling friends they’d likely return. But after roughly six months away, they decided to never go back. “There’s a broader world out there,” she says. Now, she and her family of five attend a small United Methodist Church and Dufilho’s Instagram bio describes her as an “Ex-vangelical in the TX suburbs.”

 "I had a really small box of what a good Christian wife and mother should be." 

Dufilho is one of many Evangelical women across the U.S. who consider themselves ex-evangelical. These women are gathering in Facebook groups, congregating around hashtags, and sliding into DMs as a way of questioning the church, their faith, or their God. 

Deconstruction, the process of interrogating what you believe and why, is happening across America with women leading the way. “It’s reverse engineering,” says Mary Jo Sharp, assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University. “Peeling back the layers of commitment and traditions to see what you actually believe and if you agree with those beliefs.”


Questioning one’s faith obviously isn’t new, says Beth Allison Barr, associate professor of history at Baylor University. What is new are the methods: Rallying around the term “deconstruction” offers Christians a community that lets them examine core doctrines like whether the Bible is without fault or not, if the world was created in six literal days, and the conviction that homosexuality is sinful, all without fear and without feeling alone. It’s also compelled many to “leave loudly” by sharing experiences online, Barr says. 

“Evangelicals, especially in conservative evangelicalism, grew up thinking that there were aspects of their faith that were critical to the gospel,” Barr says. “We find these people who grew up in these really rigid environments and they find that there’s no room for questions. They also find that there’s no room for them to think differently.”

Some people deconstruct only specific parts of their faith. Others may tear apart their entire ideology. Notably, deconstruction has no established end goal, even if some who quarrel with the basic tenets of the faith may change churches, denominations or leave the faith entirely. 

“There is a real moment in history to pause and say ‘What am I a part of as a woman.’” 

Chrissy Stroop, a senior correspondent at Religion Dispatches who’s been writing about deconstruction since 2016, says those who don’t understand deconstruction assume it’s an emerging movement that will ultimately advance a new church establishment.

“They have a really hard time understanding that people can come together through a shared term that relates to a shared background and not really care if we land in the same place or not,” Stroop says. “It was very clearly established from early on that the only sort of rule is that there is no rule of where you end it.”

To Dufilho, deconstruction is freedom from certainty, and “freedom from others telling you, ‘This is how you have to interpret the Bible; this is how you have to express your faith,” she says.


Dufilho says she didn’t want to bring her questions to her Southern Baptist pastor due to her experience with the Billy Graham rule: No man should be alone with a woman who isn’t his wife.

“He might think I’m trying to have an affair with him,” she says. But since the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t allow women pastors, there was no one on staff to whom Dufilho felt comfortable she could bring her questions, she says. Instead, she began her search for answers elsewhere, listening to podcasts, reading blogs, and discovering authors such as Rachel Held Evans, considered an essential deconstruction voice. 

“I think it’s really important for women to have safe outlets to talk without judgment or misperceptions,” Dufilho says, “and that just didn’t exist for me.”

Dufilho soon discovered other women who were going through deconstruction, mainly via social media. “It helped me not feel so alone,” she says, “helped me not feel crazy.” Instagram has grown as an outlet for deconstructionism, with accounts like The New Evangelicals holding the church accountable or Deconstruction Girl, who uses memes to share about why she no longer believes.

“I think it’s really important for women to have safe outlets to talk without judgment or misperceptions."

On Twitter, Stroop created the hashtag #emptythepews in 2017, which is still going strong today. Through it, people find a community and use it to share why they left evangelicalism.

“It’s important for us to open up to each other and expose to the public about how evangelicalism harms people,” says Stroop, who now identifies as an agnostic atheist. “And to maybe find some solace in relating to each other.” Stroop lists Professor Barr, anti-racism educator Tori Glass, historian and “Jesus and John Wayne” author Kristin Du Mez, and “Parenting Forward” podcast host Cindy Wang Brandt as essential voices in the deconstruction movement. 

However, a recent article on Desiring God, a ministry site tied to famed theologian John Piper, warns women against seeking advice online. Christian author Tilly Dillehay argues in the piece that a woman should discuss theology with an older woman mentor at church rather than an online community. “Some of Satan’s best work is accomplished by women talking to women, in the floating world of disembodied souls on the Internet,” Dillehay states.

“Women talking to each other is dangerous. They’re not wrong about that,” Stroop confirms. “It’s going to challenge their male patriarchal authority if we’re going to be able to talk to each other.”


Beyond the politicizing of faith spurred by recent elections, which Sharp agrees has done a lot of damage to Christianity, she points to the prevalence of sexual abuses and misconduct in evangelical churches as to why women specifically are questioning the church establishment. 

It’s not only the church where Evangelical women endure sexual misconduct. A Christianity Today article posted this week reported on unchecked sexual harassment in the evangelical publication’s offices. For more than 12 years, the article explains, two men in leadership who were the subject of multiple sexual harassment claims faced no consequences or inquiries. Both men have since left the magazine that was founded by Billy Graham, with one now registered as a sex offender for trying to pay a minor for sex.

“There is a real moment in history to pause and say ‘What am I a part of as a woman,’” Sharp explains. “I think women want a very strong response from churches.”

Women may be leading deconstruction, but Barr isn’t sure if the church will notice as she says evangelicalism has a history of discounting women's voices. She hopes that the dwindling number of congregants may force churches to take notice this time.

“Women are often the constants in the family who go to church and bring their children and teach their children,” Barr says. According to Pew Research Center, Evangelical Protestants consist of 55 percent women and 45 percent men. While 59 percent of women say that religion is important in their life, compared to 47 percent of men. 

Women may be the majority, but several evangelical denominations use Biblical text to deny women the opportunity to hold leadership positions, instead believing men and women have different but complementary roles in the church with women in the supporting role.

Complementarian theology is tied most closely to the Apostle Paul’s teachings, such as 1 Timothy 2, which states: “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”

Dufilho recalls trying to attain this biblical standard of womanhood. She has stacks and stacks of prayer journals in which she begs “God help me. Forgive me. Help me to submit.” The prayers ask forgiveness for what Dufilho now calls basic human emotions: anger, sadness, jealousy.

“For a long time, I just felt like I wasn’t living up to the expectations of being a godly woman. I had a really small box of what a good Christian wife and mother should be,” she says. “I thought that’s what God thought I should be.”

“It’s important for us to open up to each other and expose to the public about how evangelicalism harms people.”

It wasn’t until after she left her Southern Baptist Convention church that Dufilho felt free to explore feminism and challenge scripture. “I didn’t want to be two-faced,” she says. “If I’m going to go down this path, I can’t stay here at this church anymore.”

When Dufilho’s family began visiting other churches, they were able to listen to women preaching from the pulpit. “I felt so grateful my children were going to grow up hopefully with a different perspective,” she says.

Complementarianism, Barr argues in her book “The Making of Biblical Womanhood,” isn’t even biblical and “has damaged all of our relationships with God because it has made us think that God is something that God is not. All women are different and not all women fit the mold that evangelicals say that women have to be. It has created distance between women and God.”


In a sermon last fall, lead pastor Matt Chandler of The Village Church in Flower Mound outside of Dallas disparaged deconstruction, calling it a fad, “some sort of sexy thing to do.” A clip of the sermon spread across social media and sparked outrage from the deconstruction community. 

“Historically, people have always done this examination of what they believe and why they believe it,” Barr says. “It’s not trendy in a sense that it’s something that is going to go away because it’s always been there. It’s that social media allows more people to see it.”

The end of evangelicalism, the renouncement of God—there are those who worry that deconstruction only results in Christians leaving the faith. But Barr hopes the movement will elicit positive change in evangelical churches. “I think that what this has done is shown the church in very clear language that there is a problem,” she says. “There are more people leaving than we really realized. I think it’s really opened people’s eyes.”