Four Truths I’ve Learned From My Open Letter and From a Few Generations

Four Truths I’ve Learned From My Open Letter and From a Few Generations

Two months ago, I posted on my blog an open letter to the church about the change I see coming to this nation with the passion my generation (and other generations) is developing for equality of all kinds. I was totally unprepared for the reaction: I’ve been honored and cursed for my assertions; I was fired from my Christian summer camp job, but most importantly, I’ve had a multitude of conversations with just about every perspective you can think of. I still stand outspokenly by the claims I made—I still believe the church has a responsibility to take the LGBT population very seriously in their pleas to be included. I still think the church is primarily prioritizing their political inertia over the cries of the marginalized, and I still believe that change is inevitable because of my generation and their readiness to embrace the movement that is coming. However, the conversations I got to have after the post really taught me a few valuable truths. I want to share some of the truths I’ve learned from people: gay people, straight people, old people, young people, my family, my professors, my pastors, my best friends, Christians, atheists, South Dakotans, Californians, liberals, and conservatives. Thanks to everyone who is taking the time to read and write and participate in this extremely important conversation, and as always, I welcome responses from any perspective.

1.    The Church must make room for progressive thinking.

As much as I want this deep down, I have to come to terms with the fact that no matter how much we talk and pray for this, every Christian will not eventually end up at the same point on the theological spectrum. So, while we cannot give up the task of pushing for the change we see the church needs, there must be a shift in the way we think of our sisters and brothers. Instead of trying to convert the entirety of the Church to my specific way of thinking, I must learn to have passionate and loving dialogue as I make room in my heart and in my church for a person that believes something opposite my own views. Right now, I see the traditional, evangelical church in its comfortable spotlight as the more progressive churches on the fringes are excluded from the Christian family; churches that, say, support gay rights, or hold other nontraditional political leanings. Conservative Christianity has become an exclusive club that treats its progressive sisters and brothers as wild-eyed hippies, and outcasts them. Don’t believe me? Mention Rob Bell’s name in any midwestern after-service coffee conversation and watch the reactions. If the church wishes to include my generation at large in the future, it must learn to make room for the different kind of thinking that is already thriving on the fringes.

2.    We cannot keep treating other religions the way we do.

At camp training last year, the pastor that was supposed to be teaching us the basics of Christianity cracked a joke in a sermon about how the Greek base of the word “agnostic” is synonymous with “idiot.” I am baffled that atheist/agnostic-hating still has a place in our rhetoric at all. Christians, with a few exceptions, atheists and agnostics do not hold their beliefs to spite you. The best ones have done their most earnest logic and philosophy around religion, and have come to the conclusion that they just don’t believe. It’s not a spiritual disorder and it’s not an excuse to treat them as less of a person. Some of them are bitter, and it’s because the Christian Church has treated them very poorly. We need to learn some serious grace in how we act around non-believers before we can learn from their traditions of social justice and skepticism (we could use a few helpings of both). When my post was supported by an excellent atheist blogger, Hemant Mehta, several critics took it upon themselves to scold me, saying that if atheists are starting to approve of my thoughts, I am on the wrong track. It is absolutely unacceptable to treat people of different religious persuasions as if they do not have anything to contribute to our understanding of the world.

3.    There are an astounding amount of Christians who are changing things.

When I wrote the post, I was marooned over here in snowy South Dakota with no knowledge of the huge movement of progressive Christianity happening all over this country—a movement that immediately took me in as one of their own without even missing a stride. The movement’s center exists largely on the blogosphere, but they are going strong in churches around the world and they are not to be trifled with. They consist of people of every generation and they thrive in every single state in this beautiful union. If you are a lone rebel-Christian in Fargo or Cedar Rapids or Laramie (or San Francisco, or NYC), get connected with us. I have hardly encountered a more friendly group than these potty-mouthed pastors and gay-loving sass bloggers. And if you are one of these inspired rebels, tweeting about beer and liberal politics and Martin Luther, I sincerely thank you for giving me hope in the spirit of love and in the dynamic character of God.

4.    We have to stick it out.

For those of you who have left your respective churches, obviously I empathize. I have gotten so fed up with Christianity in the past that I have completely called it quits. But like the atheists that I so respect, I went back to square one and re-assessed my philosophy. I happened to come to the conclusion that I wanted to give God another chance despite the way his people have hurt me. So for those of you that are in my proverbial boat, that have chosen to stick it out in your church or house-church or twitter-church or house-boat church (I so desperately want to join a house-boat church), I implore you to fight the fight, as frustrating and soul-killing as it can be some days, and be the change. We are the life and the energy of the movement that is happening, and we have to endure the hurt that church brings sometimes in order to bring news of love as we know it. If we don’t gently ask the questions that challenge pastors and congregations and loved ones, who will? If we do not prod the Church to keep up with the pace of equality as we understand it, the church will lag as it usually does. We have a unique opportunity: a cause, (a few causes) and a clear-cut place to start. My life got a little easier when I started attending a like-minded church, (shout out to First Congregational of Sioux Falls, SD) but I understand that they don’t exist everywhere. If this helps, here is a list of gay-inclusive denominations, and that could be a place to start. If we do not change the Church, it will continue to oppress. So, if you can, stay. Seek real Church, seek a loving God, and don’t settle for lies. I am (we are) with you.

45 thoughts on “Four Truths I’ve Learned From My Open Letter and From a Few Generations

  1. Cody Harder says:

    Very well spoken. I am a very devoted Christian and fight for the word of God everyday. There is too many people out there that don’t understand the difference between fighting for God and accepting what he has created. The LGBT community is not looked down upon by God, he greatly embraces them. We, as Christians, have a job. That job is to spread our faith. Not to judge any other human being based on their gender, race, or sexual orientation. God bless all.

    • billions4x says:

      You say you are “a very devoted Christian,” right? Shouldn’t you be siding with the Bible vs. public opinion on this topic? After all, the Bible NEVER speaks kindly of homosexual practice or homosexuals. In other words, unrepentant homosexuals will end up in hell. And you want to affirm them in this eternally-destructive lifestyle? You think that’s being loving? Yeah right!

  2. Tom says:

    So where is the line drawn? I am completely for accepting all these different people for who they are, but it doesn’t mean they are right in what they do. Example: I say that we can still love individuals who chose to get abortions, but NOWHERE should we just accept it. That is where people get confused. A lot of individuals don’t hate LGBT, but don’t accept what they do.

    • bornsirius says:

      Just because we don’t accept what someone is doing doesn’t mean that we need to tell them so. It’s really none of our business what someone else does with their life. We can’t be in charge of it anyway. We can live in a way that is in line with our own values and beliefs, and we can certainly explain them if someone asks. I’m wondering if it might be better to let people live in line with their own values, and only offer our opinion about their ideas when it’s asked of us. Otherwise, we can end up sounding like we dislike who they are when we don’t mean to send that message.
      This also gives us the ability to hold our own beliefs up to the light, as well as examining other, new beliefs we might want to explore, without being threatened by them. In this sense we have the space to regard something without having a lot of fear or resentment in the way.

      • billions4x says:

        I get the impression that being liked and accepted is something you value. But Jesus said if they hated Him, they’d hate His followers. I’d rather be hated for standing up for what’s right (and telling others about it, which is part of my duty as a Christian… it’s called “evangelism”) than to keep silent and be liked/loved… while essentially saying, “Go to hell then, but just know that you’re loved and accepted for who you are while you’re on your way there!”

        • bornsirius says:

          How interesting. I’m not sure how you picked that up from my comment. I was not at all writing about my personal values concerning being liked and accepted.
          Being liked and accepted is actually close to the opposite of what I meant; sometimes, I need to live out of my own values regardless of whoever accepts them or not. It’s not really anyone else’s business what I do with my life.
          I don’t find it my job, either, to point out to others where I perceive them as going wrong, or giving others advice, unless they ask for it. It’s none of MY business what others are doing with their lives. I am not here to be their judge. That was the only point I was making.

    • chavisory says:

      But being LGBT is not just about what you do; it’s about who and what you ARE. At the deepest level.

      And there’s something profoundly condescending and dismissive in saying “I don’t hate you, I just don’t think that you can or should participate in the same kinds of romantic and sexual expressions of love that heterosexual people take for granted as right. We don’t *hate* you, we just don’t think God accepts your love like he does our love.”

      Ultimately, I have a hard time believing in a God who’s that cruel–to create people on this earth who are deeply, intrinsically, configured to love people of their same sex or gender–and then decree that to live truly to that is sinful and shameful and the only acceptable option is to live without physical/sexual love and affection.

      In fact, I don’t believe it.

      • Walt Miller says:

        This is such an emotionally huge issue so I really admire you, Danni, for bringing it up to/in the church. One of the struggles I have in regard to chavisory’s comment is the idea of deciding our identity based on one particular aspect of our lives. Defining oneself in one dimension is so very pesonally limiting and actually ends fomenting discrimination. I suffer from a condition called Celiac Sprue but being a Celiac is only a small insight into who I am. I live in a heterosexual marriage but my heterosexuality does not define me. I was trained in classical ballet and play the banjo. I am much more complex than one aspect of my life. I realize that in our current over-sexualized society, our sexuality dominates the landscape and seems to be “us” but we really are psychologically and emotionally more. Our common longing for spirituality and a relationship with some sort of god-figure and our angst regarding suffering and fairness all tell us that we are extraordinary beings not definable by any one desire. In perpetuating a single dimension focus on black rights (while accomplishing much needed justice), the black community has mired their cause in their “blackness” as the defining characteristic in their lives so that few people can see past that filter to engage them as simply neighbors. I fear the same is happening for the LGBT population. Jesus talks much more about money and wealth than sex so the church would do well to follow His priority but making sexuality THE focus of one’s life degrades and constricts one’s growth as a human being and as a spiritual being and creates more divisiveness rather than compassion.

        • chavisory says:

          No, marginalized people identifying themselves both individually, and as a community, is not a cause or an excuse for discrimination. People and power structures who discriminate cause discrimination.

          And if you haven’t shared the experience of a marginalized identity, you’re really not in any position to tell other people what our identities should and should not mean to us.

          I would argue that it’s not the LGBT community making sexuality the defining feature of their lives, but those who discriminate and dehumanize on this basis. That is the function of bigotry: to rob people of individuality. It is those who discriminate, commit violence, etc. who have made sexuality THE focus of these people’s lives.

          The fact that people form communities around shared characteristics, decide to be open and honest about those characteristics in the face of bigotry, and band together to protest the discrimination against them, is not degrading or constricting. The bigotry they face is.

      • billions4x says:

        Where on earth did you ever get the idea that God created you gay? That is the biggest lie out there, and although unproven scientifically, it’s wishful thinking that will take you to the Lake of Fire. BTW, there were ex-gays in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 6:9-11), so change is possible when God rescues you from His wrath by giving you a new heart (i.e., new desires, motives), a clean rap sheet (no sin – just Jesus’ righteousness on it – when you repent of your sins and make Jesus your Savior and Lord) and His Holy Spirit (to enable you to live according to your new desires, including heterosexual ones), according to Ezekiel 36:25-27).

        • chavisory says:

          Where did you get that I’m gay? I’m not.

          • billions4x says:

            I was responding to your comment that starts with, “But being LGBT is not just about what you do; it’s about who and what you ARE. At the deepest level.” I guess WordPress put my comment under the wrong comment that you made. Sorry to have assumed something that’s not true, but your LGBT sympathies do reveal the LGBT worldview, and I still stand by everything else I wrote.

          • chavisory says:

            The LGBT worldview? You’d have to inform me of what that is.

          • billions4x says:

            The LGBT worldview? Let’s look at your comment:

            “But being LGBT is not just about what you do; it’s about who and what you ARE. At the deepest level. And there’s something profoundly condescending and dismissive in saying “I don’t hate you, I just don’t think that you can or should participate in the same kinds of romantic and sexual expressions of love that heterosexual people take for granted as right. We don’t *hate* you, we just don’t think God accepts your love like he does our love.” Ultimately, I have a hard time believing in a God who’s that cruel–to create people on this earth who are deeply, intrinsically, configured to love people of their same sex or gender–and then decree that to live truly to that is sinful and shameful and the only acceptable option is to live without physical/sexual love and affection.

            1. LGBT is “about who and what you ARE.” Sounds like you’re saying people are born gay. It’s part of their identity. If so, that’s part of the LGBT worldview.
            2. Your equating heterosexual love/sex with homosexual love/sex. That’s totally LGBT.
            3. God creates people with a homosexual orientation, only to condemn those who live that orientation out as “sinful and shameful.” That is an LGBT argument as well as Gay Theology (which fuels the “Gay Christian movement).

            BTW, you’ve used a “straw man” argument regarding God. Who says He created people with a homosexual orientation? If, according to your LGBT worldview, people are born gay, then you’d have a valid complaint. If people are not born gay, which the scientific evidence seems to suggest, then your “straw God” is nothing more than your own creation. God created man for woman and vice-versa. Any deviation from this He condemns: homosexuality, bestiality, pedophilia, polygamy, adultery, fornication, etc.

          • chavisory says:

            (And there’s more ways to be LGBTQ than to be gay. Just for a hint.)

          • billions4x says:

            I live and work in Brazil. They call them “GLBTS” here, where the “S” stands for “Sympathizers.” Is that what you’re talking about?

          • chavisory says:

            No.

            You don’t seem to be taking into account that sexual orientation can be far more nuanced and complex than a simple gay/straight binary division accounts for.

          • billions4x says:

            Okay, enough of the “games.” If you’re not going to shoot straight (no pun intended) with me, I don’t have time for this.

      • THIS RIGHT HERE. Thank you for finally putting it in a way that makes sense. I have such a hard time believing that God put gay people on the Earth just to suffer and neglect their deepest, truest self.

        When Jesus came to Earth he took SO many Old Testament teachings to task, replacing them and modifying them in the context of love, so that when he left the earth, the only true commandments left were to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself.

        Basically, I’m going to hold on to those two with my life and take a good hard look at the ones that came before.

        • chavisory says:

          I wouldn’t even say “replaced” them, but taught us to interpret them first and foremost in the context of love. That any and every other law is subordinate to those two: to love God with all your heart, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Anytime any other law does not serve those purposes, it cannot take precedence over love of God or neighbor. So if any previously given law is, in actual practice, leading us to hate or dehumanize our neighbors, it is void.

        • billions4x says:

          When you write “the only true commandments left were to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself,” do you realize what you are saying??!! Those two “laws” are each summaries of the Ten Commandments (according to Jesus: Matt. 22:40)! Oops! In other words, Jesus used OT quotes (yes, those NT “laws” are actually OT quotes – see Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18) to not eliminate OT law, but to affirm it. BTW, Jesus affirms the OT formula for marriage in Matthew 19: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (vv. 4-6). So please stop pushing an unbiblical “Jesus,” a “Jesus” created according to YOUR image. Why? That’s idolatry, which is a violation of the Law both the OT and Jesus summarized with “You shall love the Lord your God…”

    • cindy0803 says:

      Explain to me how you love someone but reject them (which is the opposite of accept)?

  3. Sharona Zee says:

    Instead of “Hate the Sin, Love the Sinner”, maybe we could just accept the fact that we are not in charge of other people. Live our lives in accordance with our OWN beliefs, preferences and understandings without necessarily believing that we have all of the answers in a direct pipeline from God.
    Do your best, let me do my best. Relax.

    Thank you for (2) very thought-provoking posts!

    • bornsirius says:

      YES! I was just talking with my best friend about this idea this morning! We were saying how it is our job to live as loving people and worry about our own lives. We have enough to keep up with, we don’t need to be critiquing or judging other for how they live. We can live in respect of others’ ideas even if they are different from us. We ALL see God differently.
      Thanks for this!! :)

      • eric says:

        I am glad to hear Christians saying this. Too many C’s today meet Ambrose Bierce’s tongue-in-cheek definition of Christian: “one who believes that the New Testament is a divinely inspired book admirably suited to the spiritual needs of his neighbor.”

      • Sharona Zee says:

        thanks, I’ve long that that the #1 (and maybe only real) blasphemy is one human being telling another that they’re “going to hell”. When we speak for God (even with the best intentions), we’re on a slippery slope. Let’s let God be God.

        • billions4x says:

          Yeah, “let’s let God be God” and quote HIM! How about Lev. 18:22; 20:13; Rom. 1:26-27; 1 Cor. 6:9-10; 1 Tim. 1:10; etc.? He makes it very clear that homosexual practice is sin, worthy of both physical and eternal death! So, maybe the “#1 blasphemy” isn’t telling someone they’re going to hell after all… when God has said it already in His Word!

  4. Great post! I too have found myself most at home among the awesome blogger community. It had been a long time since I felt really at home in a church. And then, when I moved to LA by myself last year, I found First Congregational of LA and it has been wonderful. As hard as it is to live in this city with none of my family/friends, it would be really hard for me to leave my new church family. I hope everyone can find somewhere like that, if only on twitter.

  5. Jack says:

    Try AYF.com. They operate some beautiful camps, and they are non-discriminatory.

  6. Holli says:

    Visiting via Reconciling Ministries Network again. Just wanted to say “Amen.” to your follow-up post as well. Thank you for your message. I know many of us find hope in your words.

  7. Peace and Respect to you. You make me hopeful for the future. I may actually see the day when I am no longer a second class citizen.

  8. bornsirius says:

    This is fantastic. Was excited to see another post from you. When I read your first post, I felt you were exactly spot on. The LGBT issue has been a huge reason for why I have rarely attended church recently, and why I have been rethinking my spirituality. While I am no longer self-identifying as a Christian, I have really enjoyed visiting First Congregational Church here in Colorado Springs with a friend of mine who is a member. I was really heartened to see that there are Christians who don’t believe in spreading hatred, and try their utmost not to.
    That being said, I don’t believe that most evangelicals are trying to spread hatred. I think they are well-meaning. However well-meaning they are though, I can’t place myself in their number due to what I see happening as a result of their actions.
    In any case, thanks gain for writing this post; I highly agree and hope to see lots more inter-religious and interdenominational conversation on this subject!!

  9. Excellent post! Jesus was about love and His followers must be as well. Life is dynamic and faith must be too. We pray for your continued strength.

  10. chavisory says:

    My only quibble is that the progressive churches aren’t as marginal or fringe-y as you might think they are. Some of the churches starting to go in more progressive directions are actually *older*, more traditional, and more established than the American conservative evangelical churches. The Episcopalian, Lutheran (ELCA) and Presbyterian (USA) churches, for example. They have far lower membership than the megachurches these days, but they’ve been here longer. The conservative and evangelical churches have no exclusive–or even historically accurate–claim on “traditional.” There are a lot of excellent progressive and liberal pastors in some very traditional churches.

  11. Leigh Hollis-Caruso says:

    Thank you for such a wonderful post. I would encourage you to read Jeff Chu’s book Does Jesus Love Me, A Gay Christian’s Pilgrimage in Search of God in America. I went to his book signing last evening, and he talked about the exact same things that you are talking about. He interviewed various people about homosexuality and religion and why its such a divisive issue in today’s church. He talked about the need for civility and mentioned God’s grace appearing in those moments when he least expected it. He said that we need to raise all of our voices together to let people know that there are progressive churches out there that respect all religions (and none) and how respecting the dignity of every human being is what we are called to do. BTW, I’m Episcopalian. If you are ever in Des Moines, IA; contact me and you can visit our church!

  12. […] Four Truths I’ve Learned From My Open Letter and From a Few Generations. […]

  13. Keep the faith. You are not alone. Trust me, there are plenty of potty-mouthed progressive Lutheran pastors (and seminarians) with a keen penchant of drinking beer and discussing theology. If you are ever on the west coast, I highly suggest visiting Pacific Lutheran Seminary – it might give you hope for the future of the church. Keep writing!
    -Tyler (The almost-but-not-yet-Reverend Bartender)

  14. It is important as a leader of the church, meet all kinds of opinions and thoughts about religion, because that same knowledge is strengthened and provides better understanding space and the files of religion.

  15. sophist6 says:

    I have been on an emotional ride today so I won’t comment today – but you have earned yourself a new follower and your words are wise. Thank you for speaking out and making a difference in the conversation about God, faith, and the world we live in. Great post.

  16. This is an amazing post. And I applaud your efforts. Keep going, keep struggling, and please don’t let people bring you down. The Bible has many wisdoms and also has many flaws. I can’t think of a book that has been edited more, sections have been added, cut (the list of expurgated content is very, very long). And I firmly believe, it must be read in a historical context. To really study the Bible is a serious undertaking and an extremely crucial one. Peace, love, hope, xx

    • billions4x says:

      You wrote: “I can’t think of a book that has been edited more, sections have been added, cut (the list of expurgated content is very, very long).” On what do you base your claims?

  17. elizabethmbeck says:

    “seek a loving God, and don’t settle for lies.” Love.

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