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.