Religion and faith can often be a touchy and polarizing subject for people to discuss, especially in today’s world where cancel culture has made it problematic for folks to express a difference of opinion. Mix that in with religion’s strict and often outdated views on secular culture and you have a recipe for disaster.
Let’s face it, the church hasn’t always been the most comfortable place for everyone to practice their form of faith freely and without judgment, but there are select few who are looking to provide a space for people who may not necessarily proclaim or even subscribe to the century-old biblical text that has been born out of European Christianity.
Enter the Unfit Christian. She’s the pastor or “passuh,” as her digital congregation affectionately refers to her. She is providing a space for people to express, question and practice their views on religion however they see fit. It’s a place where you are welcomed to “decolonize your faith,” and hear different opinions that may challenge your traditional views on the church, gender, class or even sexuality and race.
The Unfit Christian’s digital chapel has grown to an astounding 20,000 followers on Instagram and nearly 16,000 on Facebook. It’s an achievement the platform’s founder D. Danyelle Thomas never expected when she decided to launch the blog back in 2016, following the sudden passing of her father, who was also a preacher.
“When I started, my whole thing was I wanted everybody to know that there was room at the cross for all of us, no matter how different our approach to God is,” Thomas told MADAMENOIRE. “So I’ve always kind of gone with this whole thing that I don’t care if you’re Christian. It’s not the goal. I’m the Unfit Christian because that’s my particular upbringing. But you can be the Unfit Muslim. You can be the Unfit Hindu person or Agnostic.”
Thomas initially launched the Unfit Christian as a way to reframe and make sense of her own ever-changing ideas on faith and Christianity. After setting off for college, Thomas explained that she experienced a crisis with her own faith as she was learning all sorts of information that fell outside of the margins of religious theology she grew up believing. The blog served as a way for her to unravel and document her spiritual rebuilding as well as her views on intersectionality.
However, over time, Thomas’s sparse blog quickly blossomed into a thriving digital community of progressive church members across the globe. She was shocked to realize there were all kinds of people looking to deconstruct their traditional views on religious ideology, but Thomas says her goal isn’t to proselytize people or convert them. She hopes to give people the tools to contextualize their own beliefs on topics like homophobia, classism and sexism while simultaneously teaching justice-centered faith ethics.
“I want people to really see themselves and have an experience of God that feels like I don’t just have to take parts me,” Thomas shared of her mission. “I can take the gay part, I can take the trans part, I can take the Black part … all of those marginalized identities that sometimes we feel like we can’t show up with, I always want to make space and say naw that ain’t true. That’s just someone benefiting from your oppression, so how do we reframe that in a way where your faith and your practice really does see you as a whole.”
At first glance, you might be quick to call D. Danyelle Thomas a Christian Influencer on social media, but it’s a term she deeply despises.
“For me prosperity gospel by any other name is still prosperity gospel, so even if I called myself a Christian influencer, that means at some point I’m using my faith, even if I’m presenting it in a progressive way to influence you to buy a thing or believe in a brand or whatever. It just feels like it still ties us to this system of un-nuanced and un-critiqued capitalism. So many folks, myself included, have poor money relationships with church because we’re told that if we were obedient and paying our tides or if we were giving more in church that we would get the things that we desire. When we present it in a way that money is tied to your blessing, I think we really do a disservice to people.”
So what does a digital congregation even look like? The Unfit Chrisitan offers a number of services to her devout followers via her website or Patreon where folks can gain access to her hefty database of devotionals, “shade-throwing” and thought-provoking articles, along with her monthly pre-recorded Q&A lectures based on faith, race, gender and sexuality. The platform also offers digital church-goers special services like tarot card readings where Thomas provides people with one on one spiritual guidance and counseling.
“A lot of my clients say It’s like we’re having a private pastoral session,” the Unfit Christian explained. “For me, it’s really about how do I get you into enlightenment with your highest self? How do I get you into a space where your mind, your heart, your emotions, and your spirit feel well?”
“I don’t necessarily need to look to the cards to do it, but it’s also a way to kind of help people who grew up with these very rigid ideas of what spiritualism can look like. A lot of folks who come from traditions like my own may be used to being called out in a night service by a prophet and given a prophecy that may or may not be accurate to our lives. A lot of people just really need some transitional help, so they feel comfortable with me because they know my background. It’s similar to theirs. They know my lived experiences with faith are similar to theirs. So they trust whatever spiritual power I am tapping into is something that they can trust too.”
While the Unfit Christian has drawn in like-minded individuals looking to disrupt their faith in a positive way, Thomas shared that her progressive views have not always won over the old vanguard traditional Christians. The busy pastor has received a number of discouraging comments on social media and even hate mail condemning the platform’s mission, but it’s something she’s grown to accept.
“I just kind of made a resolve to say I don’t do this for everybody,” she expressed. Everybody is not going to agree with me, and that’s okay. If I wanted everybody to agree with me, I would just die because nothing you do will ever solicit the agreement of everybody, but for those whose lives I am touching, and changing and transforming, that is for whom I do this work and that is what matters. I have to focus on the positive and focus on what my ultimate goal is, which is to challenge people’s experiences with God, and sometimes that’s going to make you uncomfortable.”
As the Unfit Christian grows, Thomas says her role as a digital pastor is something she does not take lightly. It’s a calling that comes with great responsibility and with a few spiritual wounds of her own.
“I had such a negative association with the word pastor which is why I rejected it so much because I had gone through Church hurt. I had gone through a lot of pastors who just did not care for and Shepard me the way that they should and the thing is I knew that was the kind of audience I was serving to,” she said. “I knew I was serving an audience of people who had experienced their own disappointment and hurt, and sometimes like downright egregious abuse–all in Jesus’ name. I never wanted to take that title on, but it challenged me when I sat down with it one day and I finally realized that people were calling me that because I was a reassociation of good touch for them. They saw me as a good pastor. They saw me as a good leader and somebody they could trust.”
You can learn more about The Unfit Christian’s mission here.