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.

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

An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation


I got to go to the Macklemore concert on Friday night. If you want to hear about how that went, ask me, seriously, I want to talk about it until I die. The whole thing was great; but the best part was when Macklemore sang “Same Love.” Augustana’s gym was filled to the ceiling with 5,000 people, mostly aged 18-25, and decked out in thrift store gear (American flag bro-tanks, neon Nikes, MC Hammer pants. My Cowboy boyfriend wore Cowboy boots…not ironically….). The arena was brimming with excitement and adrenaline during every song, but when he started to play “Same Love,” the place about collapsed. Why? While the song is popular everywhere, no one, maybe not even Macklemore, feels its true tension like we do in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. If you’re not familiar, here’s the song:

Stop–did you watch it? Watch it.

Before the song, Macklemore spoke really simple words along the lines of: “Hey, you can all have your own opinions on how we treat gay people in this country, but this is mine.” And I held my breath in anticipation of some kind of uproar or walk-out…but the crowd cheered louder than they had yet. In our red state, in our conservative little city, the 5,000 young people in that arena wanted to hear about marriage equality.

During the song, almost every person at the concert had their hands up and their eyes closed…it reminded me of church. The whole crowd spoke every word with Macklemore. We were thirsty for those words. We want to hear about equality and love in a gentle way. We’re sick of the harsh words of both sides. Say what you want about my generation, but we can smell fake from a mile away. This rapper from Seattle had brought us truth in song form, and we all knew it. I live in such a conservative bubble that I couldn’t believe the crowd’s positive, thankful reaction. But I shouldn’t have been surprised. No one knows the tension of that song like my generation in South Dakota does. So many of us were brought up in churches and Christian homes, and even if we weren’t, we’ve experienced the traditional Christian culture that just resonates from South Dakota’s prairie land. We know conservatism; we know tradition. But we also have Twitter, we watch SNL, we listen to Macklemore, and we read Tina Fey. We’re more in touch with the rest of the country than the Midwest has ever been. Some of us love the church and some of us hate it, but there aren’t too many people for whom it’s irrelevant. So when Macklemore takes on that tension with his poetry, his South Dakota audience listened. We practically yelled with him when he spoke the lyrics:

“When I was at church, they taught me something else: if you preach hate at the service, those words aren’t anointed. That holy water that you soak in has been poisoned.”

We yelled because we knew that holy water too well. We knew that hateful preaching too well. We had all been hurt by it in one way or another.

My point in writing this isn’t to protect gay people. Things are changing—the world is becoming a safer place for my gay friends. They’re going to get equal rights. I’m writing this because I’m worried about the safety of the Church. The Church keeps scratching its head, wondering why 70% of 23-30 year-olds who were brought up in church leave. I’m going to offer a pretty candid answer, and it’s going to make some people upset, but I care about the Church too much to be quiet. We’re scared of change. We always have been. When scientists proposed that the Earth could be moving through space, church bishops condemned the teaching, citing Psalm 104:5 to say that God “set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” But the scientific theory continued, and the Church still exists. I’m saying this: we cannot keep pitting the church against humanity, or progress. DON’T hear me saying that we can’t fight culture on anything. Lots of things in culture are absolutely contradictory to love and equality, and we should be battling those things. The way culture treats women, or pornography? Get AT that, church. I’ll be right there with you. But my generation, the generation that can smell bullshit, especially holy bullshit, from a mile away, will not stick around to see the church fight gay marriage against our better judgment. It’s my generation who is overwhelmingly supporting marriage equality, and Church, as a young person and as a theologian, it is not in your best interest to give them that ultimatum.

My whole life, I’ve been told again and again that Christianity is not conducive with homosexuality. It just doesn’t work out. I was forced to choose between the love I had for my gay friends and so-called biblical authority. I chose gay people, and I’m willing to wager I’m not the only one. I said, “If the Bible really says this about gay people, I’m not too keen on trusting what it says about God.” And I left my church. It has only been lately that I have seen evidence that the Bible could be saying something completely different about love and equality.

So, my advice to you, the Church: if you’re looking for some intelligent biblical liberal opinions on the subject, have a little coffee chat with your local Methodist or Episcopal pastor. Christians can be all about gay people, it’s possible. People do it every day with a clear biblical conscience. Find out if you think there’s truth in that view before you sweep us under the rug. You CAN have a conservative view on gay marriage, or gay ordination. You can. But I want you to have some serious conversations with God, your friends that disagree with you, and maybe even some gay people, Christians or not, before you decide that this one view is worth marginalizing my generation. Weigh those politics against what you’re giving up: us. We want to stay in your churches, we want to hear about your Jesus, but it’s hard to hear about love from a God who doesn’t love our gay friends (and we all have gay friends). Help us find love in the church before we look for it outside.

Oh, and can we please please PLEASE stop changing our Facebook profile pictures to crosses in a protest against gay marriage? You are taking a symbol of hope and redemption and using it to make a political point. No matter what you think, that has to stop. It’s a misrepresentation of what that symbol means.


A College Kid Who Misses You

An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation