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

Church,

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.

Love,

A College Kid Who Misses You

An Open Letter to the Church from My Generation

“Winning back the Nation:” Jesus as Feminist

I’m in Eau Claire, Wisconsin visiting my friend Livi. Livi is a hipster. She won’t tell you that, but she is. She’s wildly passionate about beards and flannel and if you opened up her itunes, you’d probably have a hard time finding English band names. This is appropriate, because the town she lives in is a hipster town. Don’t believe me? Ever heard of Bon Iver? Justin Vernon, King of the Hipsters?

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Justin Vernon is from Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He went to school where Livi goes to school (she seriously brags about it. ALL THE TIME). None of this matters that much, except that I went to church with her today. In Livi’s hipster church, they showed a hipster worship video (Christians can be hipsters too, I guess. Like, Jesus was a Christian before it was cool. Eh, eh??). This is it:

And as very cool as these musicians seem, I had a little bit of a hard time with some of the lyrics. “Win this nation back” in my ears sounds like a ringing endorsement for Mitt Romney, a plea to “put God back in schools” and, I don’t know, add the ten commandments as amendments to the constitution. I know some people are really passionate about all of that, but I think most of the whole America-is-Israel-let’s-make-laws-so-people-have-to-live-biblical-lives movement is pretty ridiculous. So when Livi got really excited about the song, I tried hard to think about it again. “Win this nation back.” What does that really mean? Maybe it’s not a buzzword for the right-wing fundamentalists. What would it really look like for the church to win the nation back?

Well, more than half of this nation is female. So let’s start there. We live in an oppressive patriarchy that tells women day after day that their purpose is for men to look at. This is striking a particular chord with me lately; I can’t get away from society telling me that women are for sex. They are objects… for men. (Chris, Sam, Jordan, Tad, YOU KNOW I’m not trying to blame ACTUAL males for this that are in my life. I love you guys. I’m talking about media objectification of women here. You three love women and I love you and we’ll all be best friends forever.) This heartbreaking reality becomes more real for me every time I drive past a strip club, see any commercial for beer, hear a sitcom make casual jokes about pornography, see magazines in the checkout line, or notice that #VSFASIONSHOW is trending on Twitter. These phenomena do horrible things to women’s self-esteem. It makes us feel like our worth is in how we look, and that we’ll never look good enough. It’s a driving factor in most girls’ lives: what they eat, when they wake up to work out, the kinds of clothes they buy, how they interact with men. It’s in our heads, true or false, that men want women for sex, not for their hearts or ideas.

I am becoming more and more convinced that none of that is true. Most of this is due to the extraordinary men in my life who prove to me again and again that they care about me. (Yeah, you guys. Plus you, Dadski.) They take my ideas seriously; they want to protect me from feeling like this patriarchy makes me feel. I’m imagining how the world might react if the church took this mission seriously. What if leaders in the church actually took on a *gasp!* feminist perspective and told their youth how beautiful women are because of their capabilities as humans instead of objects? What if they started proving that they meant that message by giving women *GASP* lead pastors’ jobs? Or encouraging women to go to seminary the way they encourage men to go to seminary? What if churches began to teach young men not to harass/harm/rape as often as they gave their young women the modesty talk? This nation is women, and it is fathers and brothers and friends and sons and this nation wants to see women respected. That sounds like a start to winning this nation back.

Another chunk of people in this nation are gay. And an even bigger chunk consists of people who love those gay people and want them to be treated like they matter. What would happen to this nation’s perception of God if the church began an overwhelming campaign to love gay people unconditionally? What if churches began LGBT missions (NOT to fix them, to love them exactly how they are) and proved to those people that they do matter to the church and to God? People are pretty good at detecting empty promises. How would this nation react to an outspoken love from the church? Some people would react with rage, I know that. I know those people personally, they live in my building. Churches have this really huge opportunity to love the kinds of people that Jesus would have loved. The outcasts, the abused, the thirsty. Win the nation, Church.

The bible makes a clear differentiation between “the world” and “the Kingdom of God.” I’ve always been annoyed with that distinction because it has been abused. “The world,” I was told, are the drinkers, the fornicators, the cussers, the feminists, the democrats, the gays! And “The Kingdom” is the church. But I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant at all. I think “the world” is the oppressive patriarchy, the society that tells women they have to lose weight to be sexy and that men have to whistle at women on the street or pick them up at bars to be real, masculine men. The “Kingdom of God” shouldn’t be known for not drinking, or not having sex until they’re married, or not cussing, or whatever. They can be those things too, but those aren’t the most important things. The Kingdom of God is a place where society’s lies are overturned, where everyone is loved and valued and living together in familial community, sacrificing for each other and ending their oppression.

“Listen to me, my people;
hear me, my nation:
Instruction will go out from me;
my justice will become a light to the nations.
My righteousness draws near speedily,
my salvation is on the way,
and my arm will bring justice to the nations.”

(Isaiah 51)

Church, let’s rethink what justice is. You know God as a god of love, justice, peace. Prove to this nation that he means that for everyone. Win back this nation.

“Winning back the Nation:” Jesus as Feminist

Sports Metaphors and Barricades to my Faith

Dannika Nash

Of all the confusing words in religion, “faith” is the one that frustrates me the most. I would wager my little brother that the word is used by Christians more than any other (save “God,” “Jesus,” possibly “Amen.”), but its actual definition is one that most Christians would be hard-pressed to identify. I can picture it now: Jay Leno takes his camera crew into the churches of America and asks them to define “faith,” this word they use so often, and they stutter and stammer and are embarrassed and the men in Jay’s audience bellow with laughter and the women chuckle and the Christians cringe but are good natured about it, thinking they could do better if they had to. If caught by Jay Leno, I wouldn’t do a better job. I have only vague ideas about the meaning of the word itself. I know it is what Christians prefer to use these days instead of the word “religion.” I know we are taught to have it and keep a tight hold on it. I know it is similar to optimism, and people use it to cope with death and sickness and failures. At its worst, it is pitted against science and philosophy in books titled things like “Keeping your Faith in College”[1] and “Science and Faith: None Can Live While The Other Survives.”[2] But lately, I’ve been trying to look past the worst of Christianity to the best. Because even though the worst is easy to yell about, the best is full of life and beauty and real love.[3] And I found out from a year of yelling that hopelessness makes for okay literature and bad poetry and real, scary meaningless depression in my actual life. So I’m giving the best a try, and changing the channel really quickly from the televangelists.

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I have a lot of problems with traditional Christianity. I’m a feminist who loves gay people and liberal politics and I’ve got some issues with authority. I was a communist once.[4] I’m fairly sure there are places in this world where those things and Christianity go together, but Midwestern America is not one of them. The more I’m reading books by Christian hippies though (Rob Bell, Anne Lamott, Rachel Held Evans), the more I feel like the church could actually be a place where I belong. I tried to be an atheist for a little bit last year, but I’m too scared of death. I had to put a little faith[5] into my understanding of this world to sustain the hope that death doesn’t mean death. That this world isn’t all there is. I’m still hesitant to call myself a Christian, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to do it, but Christians are looking less and less like women-hating science-deniers and more like protest-going-gender-including-beer-drinking real people that I want to be around. If that sounds like a compliment to you, you’re welcome.

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The thing is, as much as I really want to be a Christian sometimes, there are some major roadblocks that I can’t completely get past with my own will power. I’m not going to get into them; you can probably imagine what they are based on the information about myself I’ve already given you. Other religions are a big part of this barricade too, along with the concept of exclusive salvation and biblical authority. The point is that as hard as I try, I just can’t quite sign up for this thing completely. As liberal a church as I choose to attend, I probably can’t ever comply with a Christian creed without lying a little. I want to though, and I think that counts.

Mark tells the story of the father who brings his son to be healed by Jesus. Jesus tells him that all things can be done for those who believe. The father is frantic; you can feel his anxiety. “I believe; help my unbelief!”[6] It’s like he’s trying to slip a half-lie to Jesus at first, convincing him of something he didn’t know himself. But I have a feeling Jesus would be a hard person to lie to. I’m imagining him looking up in the middle of the father’s sentence, piercing him with the love and truth in his eyes. The father knew he needed this miraculous healing power, and he trusted Jesus not to freak out about his confession of doubt. Of course, he didn’t. He healed the kid. So I guess that’s where I am. I want to believe, God, help my unbelief. Heal whatever in my life needs to be healed to take my roadblocks away. The ball’s in your court, and I trust you to be the baller I hope you are. [7]

I like the book of John because he’s different and he strikes me as kind of a hippie with all of his love talk. He writes about Thomas after Jesus’s resurrection. All my life, I wondered why people kept naming their kids Thomas. The guy gets such a bad rap from tradition. “Doubting Thomas” had to see in order to believe. “Faith,” according to Saint Augustine, is to believe what you do not see. Thomas didn’t believe, or couldn’t. He saw Jesus die. He wasn’t meeting with the other disciples, waiting and hoping after Jesus died, he was off doing who-knows-what, moving on with his life and probably grieving the loss of the last three years. I like Thomas and I don’t think he’s the villain or the fool in this story. He needed more than what he got in order to change his life and his thinking, and he was still waiting for it when Jesus came to him. The thing about this story that I think is often ignored is Jesus’s reaction. Jesus doesn’t scorn Thomas and make him sit by while he rewards the other disciples that showed more faith. He meets Thomas in his doubt and he proves himself in exactly the way Thomas asks.[8] In my head, Thomas looked up at the God he thought he knew and said, “God, the ball’s in your court. I don’t know what you’re doing here, and I’m really having some problems with everything you just let us go through. I miss my friends but I’m not an idiot. I can’t just keep pretending I believe this when I don’t. If you really need me, you know me better than I do. Do whatever you’ve got to do.” This, I think, is courage. And that’s why I think people still name their kids Thomas. The guy was real, and whether we want to admit it or not, everyone is going to have moments where they either talk to God about their doubt or lie to God about their doubt. My campus pastor told me that God is always going to be more okay with our doubt than Christians are, and I trust God to be stronger than Christians and stronger than my doubt. So if that’s faith, I guess I’ve got a little of it.


[1] Given to me by a well-meaning relative after I described to her the fun I had during my school’s Harry Potter Week.

[2] I completely made that last one up, but it sounds realistic doesn’t it? Like something that was written in 1989 that was found on a bookshelf of a Sunday school room in a small-town Lutheran Church in Iowa? The cover would maybe have a monkey-looking human holding a bible with a confused look on its face? If I ever lost steam on my current career path, I may find success writing polemical evangelical pamphlets for church foyers. Ironically my made-up title contains a Harry Potter reference. 

[3] I think; I hope.

[4] I watched that movie “The Motorcycle Diaries” with Gael Garcia Bernal.

[5] Cringe

[6] Mark 9:24

[7] Still trying to wrap my head around the exact sports situation that metaphor implies. Like, is he on the other team? Or my team? Why is he in a different court than me? I only played one year of 5th grade basketball but I have a friend who’s pretty good at it so I figured I’m qualified to use the metaphor. I play tennis but I’m not that good. Wait, is this a tennis metaphor? Like the ball’s in my court, I’m going to serve it to you? Or something? The whole big green area is called a court, though, I think. I’m going to leave all of that alone, someone just call me and tell me. Baseball season’s coming up, Go Cubs Go! The word “baller”‘s still cool right? I heard a guy say it yesterday, it sounded cool.

[8] John 20:24, NRSV

Sports Metaphors and Barricades to my Faith