A Christian Apologizes for the Treatment of Jessica Ahlquist February 16, 2012

A Christian Apologizes for the Treatment of Jessica Ahlquist

This is a guest post by Alise Wright. You can connect with her at her blog or on Twitter or Facebook..

I’m sorry I waited a month and a half to write this.

You see, there have been a few big fluff ups in the Christian world that have needed my attention. There were some Christians who have been saying not-so-nice things about other Christians, writing books and giving sermons that denigrate women in the faith. They have an actual impact within my community, but they also have an impact on how people outside of the faith see us.

Of course, in the midst of these things, I missed a more direct opportunity to not just talk about how we look to people who aren’t Christians, but to actually be someone who gives a crap about people who aren’t Christians.

I saw the story about Jessica Ahlquist’s fight and didn’t really think much about it. Of course she was in the right. Of course the courts were going to find in favor of separation. Of course there would be some who would say that this was further proof of the persecution of Christianity in America. I’ve been around for a while. These stories all play out pretty much the same way.

Then the story turned nastier. Florists refused to deliver flowers that were purchased for Jessica. A representative from Rhode Island called Jessica an “evil little thing.” Jessica received death threats and needed a police escort to and from school.

I still stayed silent.

I let the arguments about the worth of women in the church consume me while I missed an opportunity to defend a young woman who was being dehumanized directly by people who share my faith. I allowed discussions about how in-fighting inside of the church looks to those on the outside eclipse how it looks when someone who claims my faith calls a 16-year-old girl “evil.” In my desire to make sure we didn’t look like asses, I ignored folks who were actually being asses.

There are lots of excuses as to why I didn’t write about this earlier, but what it boils down to is that it’s easy to ignore things that aren’t happening directly to me or “my people.” Jessica has had the support of the atheist community and it can feel like that should be enough. No sense in sticking my neck out and risking the wrath of people who would threaten a high school sophomore.

But if I honestly believe that I need to love my neighbors as myself, then I need to speak out when my neighbor is being hurt.

So to my fellow Christians? Stop it. Stop the name-calling. Stop the death threats. Stop the angry letters, the whining about attacks on religion, the accusations that Jessica is just a tool. Treat her the way you want to be treated by those who disagree with you.

And to my neighbors in the atheist community (and especially Jessica), I’m sorry I was silent for so long. I’m sorry for my hesitancy and my timidity. Mistreating people simply for disagreeing is always wrong and it always deserves to be addressed. It is always my hope that this won’t need to be addressed again, but if it does, I won’t wait.

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  • Cadunphy280

    What a great post! 

  • Edouard Boily

    Good people are good people, no matter what their faith, or lack of, is.

  • Eric D Red

    In reading this, I had two thoughts.

    First, thank you Alise!  If more faithful were as reasonable as you, there would be so much less antipathy and need for pushback.  So many of the radical believers don’t realize that this decision was correct, and protects them as well.  There is a solid principle of letting everybody believe as they see fit, and practice that belief insofar as it doesn’t infringe on others.  And when faith becomes government mandated or endorsed, it ceases to be a free choice.

    But my first thought wasn’t so nice, and in retrospect not fair.  The title is missleading, and makes it appear that a Christian is apologizing for the wrongs done by others.  My first thought was that this was another example of forgiveness by proxy, which is a Christian principle after all, but wholly inappropriate.  Only the injured has a right to meaningful forgiveness.

    But this isn’t at all what Alise is apologizing for.  She is clearly and correctly admonishing those who bullied and complained and so on.  She is correct to do so on Christian principles, and on American Constitutional principles, and on principles of human decency.  What she  apologizes for is not standing up sooner for what is right.

    If all Christians and other believers behaved this way, we’d all get along a whole lot better, even if disagreeing. 

    So really, change the title.  She’s not apologizing for Jessica’s treatment, she’s apologizing for not standing up sooner.  A small fault for somebody who does stand up.

  • Anonymous


  • Thank you for speaking up, Alice. That took real guts.

  • Renshia

    I would think Jessica appreciats the sentiment. As long as people follow bronze age myths this type or social break down will be a regular occourance. My question is, why would an itteligent person like yourself continue to enable such a life degenerating belief system

  • GeraardSpergen

    “So to my fellow Christians? Stop it. Stop the name-calling. Stop the death threats. Stop the angry letters, the whining about attacks on religion, the accusations that Jessica is just a tool. Treat her the way you want to be treated by those who disagree with you. ”

    I apoligize if I missed it, but I didn’t see anything like this on your blog, Alise.  I appreciate that you’ve really connected with the larger problem surrounding this issue, but there’s another audience that needs to hear your appeal.

  • kataton

    A little off-topic, but….this:”There have been a few big fluff ups in the Christian world that have needed my attention. There were some Christians who have been saying not-so-nice things about other Christians, writing books and giving sermons that denigrate women in the faith.”

    I know nothing of the comings-and-goings of christian culture, but find it interesting that they and we are apparently living in parallel universes and dealing with many of the same problems right now. So, as a woman seeing a lot of similar crap in the atheist community these days, I say a big “Thank you!” to Alise for taking up the fight in the christian community. Apology accepted for taking so long to stand up for Jessica; sounds like your time has been very well-spent. 

  • kataton

    Check again, she’s put it up. 🙂

  • Canadian Atheist, eh!

    Nice post. I got a little teary there, and I have precisely no direct connection to Jessica.

    Anyway, I second Edouard’s remark. It’s obviously much more complex than that, but yeah.

    Meanwhile, there is an ad on this page for Nazarene Bible College. Weird. But that’s missionary work for you. Love this line on their site, down in the “About” section: “. . . nationally accredited by the Commission on Accreditation of the Association for Biblical Higher Education. . .” Hahaha, what?

  • Tom

    I agree.  The title also colored my reading of the article and I was predisposed to the same ultimately unwarranted indignation.

  • As a Christian, I was appalled by the negative & hateful reactions to Jessica.   That a State Rep would call her an evil little THING was chilling.  Dehumanizing a minor when you are in that position of authority and responsibility just left me staggered.

    And, yes, lots of disappointment regarding some of my fellow Christians’ awful behavior, attitude and lack of respect for others.

    Although I saw a few posts about it on facebook, and contributed my own, it didn’t seem to get much play in my online circles.  I’m glad Alise took it up.  Hope it gets some traction in the Christian blogosphere.

  • FTR, this wasn’t my title for the post. I really don’t mean to apologize for anyone’s actions – I only wanted to speak to what I personally have done, which was just to say nothing. I know how much silence hurts and given that the person very closest to me is an atheist, I am embarrassed that I waited so long to speak up. 

  • Dan Brennan

    Alise, loved this post!  I’m a Christian and I’m delighted to see you guess post-post on Hermant’s blog about Jessica. Insightful comment from kaktaton. 

  • Southern Black Atheist

    I just wanted to add that I think this was a wonderful post also. Alise, more people like you are what I want to see in this world, regardless of their religion or lack thereof. Hopefully this message will spread wide in your sphere also.

  • Drew M.


  • Keulan
  • wright1

    Many thanks for speaking up. Ms. Ahlquist has made it clear she has no conflict with thoughtful people of faith like you, nor do most other atheists.

  • Thin-ice

    Yes, most atheist/freethinker websites and blogs seem to have Christian or Mormon ads featured very prominently. It couldn’t be random, it must be requested by the advertiser (I don’t know how web advertising works). But you wonder what kind, if any, response they get from these weirdly placed ads.

  • myatheistlife

     I’d like to ask you a question. Answer if you wish.

    You have seen and recognized the nastiness of self-professed Christians and decided that this is not for you. Why do you still want to be a Christian? I don’t understand why a person would want to be associated with such ignorance and bigotry? How many people to you hear claim to be a good Nazi or a good KKK member? I would simply like to know your thoughts on why you would continue to be a Christian after admitting the harm that other ‘Christian’s’ are doing.

  • Anonymous

    Alise, all I can say is…..Bravo 🙂  and thank you. Like Canadian Atheist (Eh?), I got a little teary reading your words as well  (I’m a Canadian Atheist as well, maybe we’re bigger softies than most 🙂

    I think I was moved by your post not just because it’s incredibly refreshing to see/hear a Christian who understands that Jessica’s actions did not amount to ‘persecution’ of Christians or Christianity and that the constitutional principles at the heart of her suit protect Christians as well (I participate in a lot of forums and I can tell you that I might have encountered 2 or 3 Christians (at most) who demonstrated this understanding), but also because this goes beyond Christians and atheists……

    most importantly, imo, your words/actions are a wonderful example for how human beings should treat each other. In situations like this, it’s so easy to dig one’s heels in and commit to a ‘defensive’ position and do nothing else ~ but to be willing to put yourself in the shoes of someone on the other side, and, when doing that leads to the recognition of mistreatment, to go further and speak out and stand up (especially when others from your side will probably howl in disagreement) deserves high praise.

    When you act with things like honesty, integrity. fairness, compassion and bravery, you’re not only a credit to whatever small ‘tribe’ you belong to, but you’re a credit to the tribe that we ALL belong to.

  • Anonymous

    Blah, Blah, Blah, 
    “Love was the first to dream of immortality, — not Religion, not Revelation. We love, therefore we wish to live. The hope of immortality is the great oak ’round which have climbed the poisonous vines of superstition. The vines have not supported the oak, the oak has supported the vines. As long as men live and love and die, this hope will blossom in the human heart.” – Ingersoll

  • Gordon Duffy

     My guess is that it is because she believes in Jesus.

    I mean the reason I am not a christian isn’t that “some christians are terrible people” it is that I *dont* believe in Jesus.

  • shan k

    Right. On. The small of heart and vision are frequently unfair. This has been miserably unfair to Jessica. Glad she stood up for her rights — strong women are inspiring.

  •  The ads are usually chosen by algorithms or something that picks up on keywords and tags on the site and tries to match it with relevant ads. Since atheist sites deal mostly with religion, you get religious ads.

  • shan k

    Exactly. Thumbs up, Alise. Thumbs up, Jessica.

  • Nicely done, Alise. Thank you.

  • Anonymous

    That’s beautiful imagery. I’ll have to find out who “Ingersoll” was/is.

  • The only way I get to be free to practice Christianity is if everyone else in the country is free to practice Islam, Judaism, Atheism, etc. That’s how freedom of religion and separation of church and state work. Jessica’s courage and clear-sightedness should be applauded, because in the end, she is also standing up for my right to worship Jesus. Thank you, Alise, for calling us out. And thank you, Jessica, for standing up for what is right.

  • No matter what group I aligned myself with, there would be awful, hateful people in it. My husband (an atheist) likes to tweak the line from Bill Cosby: Himself (yes, we’re old) where he talks about drugs intensifying your personality. I think that religion can give extra steam to those who are already assholes, but I also think that it can give an extra push to those who are inclined otherwise. 

    Ultimately, I’m a Christian because I believe in the deity of Jesus of Nazareth. I’m not interested in making converts – I just love his message & it resonates with me more than any other. It challenges me to look at things and simply question, “Is the loving?” I’m not saying that it is necessary for all, but for me, this is where I’m at. 

    Thank you for your question!

  •  That’s a bit of a disjointed question…  Obviously she believes in her version of Jesus-related religion, but doesn’t see the nastiness you describe as inherent to Christianity.
    Having said that, I don’t want to put words in her mouth.
    I have to say I agree with that point-of-view, though. Christianity doesn’t *make* people nasty, any more than it makes people nice.
    It allows the person’s own nature to shine through, and provides a foundation to affix all kinds of good and bad attitudes to, and to excuse them.

  • Thanks, Alise. I think you speak for a lot of us in the Christian faith on this one. I wholeheartedly agree.

  • Shane B in Florida

    Thanks for the kind words. I wish the Fox News comments with endless threats of violence would stop. They need to be more like you. Atheists are some stand-up people. I think that is the problem. Atheists want freedom for Christians as well as atheists. That’s it. Without death threats towards a CHILD! Seriously? Anyway, thanks again.

  • Anonymous

    OK. You heard from the ‘nice atheists’. Now from a militant one.  You sat back for 6 weeks and said nothing. Did you go to church and tithe, supporting what you knew was wrong? This is nothing more than a ‘confession’ to your god that you were wrong. You can spray perfume on horse shit but it will still stink. And so does your religion.

  • If other atheists act poorly, do you stop being an atheist? This seems like a bit of a silly question.

  • Awesome stuff, as usual, Alise.

    I hate that the loud and ignorant Christians color the rest of us with their massively idiotic ideals and I hate that more of us haven’t been vocal enough to support the idea that there are Christians who do love and respect our fellow humans that believe differently.

    But I love that Alise has taken up that mantle and given us Christians an example of how to bridge the divide that has been forged by the close-minded, hateful and ignorant Christians of yesterday and today.

  • Alise, I know you “to actually be someone who gives a crap about people who aren’t Christians.” Regularly. Persistently. Even when it’s not popular. And when the people you’re giving a crap about treat you like crap, still you care, still you show love and compassion. You are the best kind of Christian. The real kind. xo

  • Lauryn

    Thank you, Alise, for being the kind of Christian that the world needs to see.

  • Jennifer

    IDK, Alise. I think you wrote about where your heart led you to write. And I also think no matter when you speak out, the most important thing is that you do speak out. I’m frankly tired of belongint to a church that is more about judgement and oppression than about love. It embarrasses me and makes me sad. These people, supposed Christians, are agents of vitriol and division. They literally CAN NOT comprehend a world that does not align itself completely with their beliefs. And that’s frankly bullshit. So, keep writing and talking about what you need to write and talk about.

  • Jennifer

    Totally. I am now more than ever concerned more about my “non” Christian friends than I am about those in the church. They can handle their own biz.

  • Beautiful, Alise. You couldn’t have expressed my own heart better. I’m a Canadian Christian (hi to the other Canucks I saw here in the comments! And yes, I was teary, too…maybe we are just all softies despite the hockey…) and I was surprised by the story. Thank you for standing up for Jessica on behalf of many of us that respect and honour her, precisely *because* of our faith and convictions about the teachings of Jesus.

  • I didn’t know any of this was going on. I mean, I know it happens all across our country, but I didn’t hear anything about Jessica’s situation until yesterday. I guess that’s what happens when you quit reading or listening to the news. :-/ I’m appalled, and yet I’m not surprised either. 

    The thing is … I’m not sure if I had known whether I would have written about it. I try not to chase every “fluff-up” and run around being angry at people’s cruelty, ignorance, and attacks all the time. I’m not sure if my blog would have been the right place for this. But maybe it would — you’ve given me food for thought. It is important to me to stand up for those who are being oppressed, so maybe this is one of my blind spots.

    Thanks for this, Alise.

  • Judy5cents

    I have never understood how people who believe themselves to be followers of Christ,  feel compelled to say hateful things and send death threats to people who don’t believe as they do.  Did they miss the part in the Bible where Jesus said we’re supposed to bless those who curse us?  I’ve always believed that I should respect the beliefs (or lack of beliefs) of all individuals and it’s not my place to judge.  I think Jesus had something to say about that too. 

  • Silo

    That’s a good question. Did she tithe for the last 6 weeks? Until we know, it’s beyond inappropriate to assume she did, as you seem to have done in the subtext of your post.

    And even if she did, she ended up doing the right thing, and clearly felt awful for not doing it sooner. We need more of that, and we need patience for people to come around to do that right thing. Humans are not perfect creatures. Making no allowance for an internal struggle means condemning the well-intentioned, the people who WANT to do the right thing but have trouble mustering the courage from the get-go.

    What we DON’T need are assholes who think they’re perfect and expect perfection from everyone else.

  • Jesse

     Ingersoll is Robert G. Ingersoll, a prominent free-thinker from around the last turn of the century.

    This has more info and quotes from him: http://www.infidels.org/library/historical/newton_baker/intimate_view.html

  • Barbaraabrandt

    I am a “follower of Jesus” and it’s because of his messages of love, grace, freedom, peace, compassion, forgiveness  and mercy for all people.  I’m not  perfect and I’m sure I’ve said and done things in my life to hurt people, both Christian and not.  And I’m likely to in the future.  But hatred, threats, bullying or condemning people who disagree with you for any reason — there is no place for that in humankind – period.   I like what Alise posted but I’m also grateful that it was shared here.   We are all “neighbors” on this planet and we all need love, grace and acceptance.

  • chicago dyke, evolved outlaw

    I know how much silence hurts 

    as we say in the gay community, it doesn’t just “hurt.” our motto for many years has been “Silence = Death” because it’s literally true. you have taken an important step towards understanding this truth. thank you. may your intellectual evolution continue. i will pass your words around to the places i go where people like you are uncommon, because i respect real Christians who actually “follow in the footsteps of Christ.” stay on this path, Sister. 

  • chicago dyke, evolved outlaw

    um, because atheists aren’t raping, killing and denying civil rights to believers? and believers are, to non-believers, every single day? 

  • Jesse

      First, and by far most importantly, THANK YOU for speaking up about
    this, and for the wonderful and moving way you did so.  As an atheist,
    it’s good to see examples of religious people speaking out on these
    issues.  As someone with many religious friends, it’s good to be
    reminded there are people who behave with kindness and people who behave
    with viciousness in every group.

    Now, in a much smaller point, I wanted to highlight an aspect of how you
    phrased your explanation of why you are still a Christian.  You said
    you “believe in the deity of Jesus of Nazareth”, which while possibly
    ambiguous, certainly sounds like a factual claim about the existence of
    something outside yourself, in the world of matter and energy that we
    all share. Seen as such, it’s appropriate to examine it with the best
    tools we have for determining the truth of such claims. But you also
    said that you “just love [Jesus’s] message & it resonates with [you]

    more than any other”, which is clearly a claim only about your own
    thoughts and feelings. Such a claim stands on its own, as a
    self-justifying description of oneself.  What I wanted to highlight was
    the conflation of, and fluidity in switching between, an apparent claim
    about the world and a claim about yourself.  I think this is a common,
    if problematic practice, and your comment gave a good example of it.

    Nevertheless, it’s a small point — the thing that needs to be said here
    is: Thank you, and may you continue to do your good work in both the
    theist and non-theist communities.

  • Anonymous

    Oh good, I thought it ridiculous for you to apologize for the actions of others. I was going to ask you about that. The only person who should ever apologize is the wrong doer.

  • Anonymous

    Not true. Communists are atheists and the are screwing entire countries over daily.

  • Jessica Ahlquist has a great future, for taking on the bigots and haters in her community and beating them.
    How crazy if it’s true, florists refusing to deliver flowers to her house.
    Also very refreshing to hear from Christians who think the attacks on Jessica are wrong.

  • You took the words right out of my mouth, Jennifer. The lack of grace in this situation is astounding to me and so sad. Thank you for speaking up, Alise. I add my apology to yours.

  • Anonymous

     Great post Alise, and great comment, Jennifer! Someone once said that religion doesn’t make people better, people make religion better. Christians who walk the talk and call bullshit on their fellow christians are helping to make christianity better.

  •  Not true, Communists follow the Cult of  their Leader — observe North Korea, for example…

  • Anonymous

    God told his people to terrorize this little girl and I’m the asshole?

  • Great article, Alise! More Christians should take your apology letter into consideration. Did we forget the greatest commandment of all? Love your neighbor as yourself? This is one of the big ones we Christians should follow, but not many of us take that into account.

    Guys, not all Christians are stereotyped into being preachy, mean and know-it-alls. Some of them give us a bad name for the way they act. I am a firm believer of what Jesus said about loving your neighbor as yourself. Everyone deserves second chances. Even more than second chances. Heck, the deserve all the chances they can get.

    Now, those who do not believe in God – isn’t this common sense? to love one another? To treat people as you’d like to be treated? Let’s forget about the labels and the ‘religion.’ It’s about loving one another. Jessica, keep strong!

  • Persecution of others is the essence of organized Christianity. This behavior doesn’t surprise at all. It’s what they are, and why we can’t let them control the United States.

  • myatheistlife

     Clearly you have some misunderstandings.  Religious faith is a world view. A set of values etc. If someone claims to hold those same values but rapes kids it is a problem.

    Atheism is NOT a world view. It is simply the lack of belief in gods. Your comparison fails. Just because someone doesn’t believe in santa claus and is a rapist it does not follow that I should then start to believe in santa claus.

    On the other hand if all Christians are not the same then there cannot be a single true religion and no single true god. If both the good and bad Christians claim the same beliefs, morals,  and world view then how can one tell them apart?
    There are already thousands of Christian groups who differ on what it means to be a Christian. Are all of them right?

    You might claim that they are not good Christians and the response will be then show us what a good Christian is and we’ll show you dozens of Christians who say you are wrong.

    Atheists have no club, no rules, no world view. If you do not believe in gods then no matter what else you are or what your world view is, you are an atheist. Not one other thing has to be the same between two atheists. There is no claim that two atheists will have the same world view.

  • Anonymous

    I think that the way Jessica has been treated is ridiculous. As I Christian, I want to say I’m sorry for the way churches and religious folk have responded to her request.  I truly am because it pains me to see people condemn and hate others in the name of Jesus.  I’m a Christian because the story of Jesus is one of grace, love, and peace. The response by people of faith to this situation is anything but… Thank you Alise for writing this letter!  I know many can benefit from reading it.

  • Nancy F.

    Thanks, Ms. Wright. What you’ve done is important.  Yes, it’s important for atheists to support “our own,” but it’s important, too, that Christians who don’t agree with the public, vocal nastiness speak out, too. Just as it’s important for men to speak out against rape.

  • Thanks all for your kind comments, both here & at my place. And a big thanks to Hemant for the generous use of his blog for me to make my apology.

  • Katie Justice

    I am very grateful that Alise’s post was shared on here. Being a “Christ Follower” I am  always reminded and I try to do my best (although I am not perfect) to love my neighbor, show grace, love and mercy. Having a friend who is an atheist, who cannot say that she is for fear of being mistreated, this post makes my heart heavy and that I need to do better to stand up for people regardless of their beliefs. Thank you again for sharing

  • Anonymous

    Are you kidding me? North Korea is one big atheist cult full of atheists. Cult and atheist are orthogonal concepts. One can have, and there are many, atheist cults and religions. I don’t think Scientology teaches that there is a diety. They are into aliens. One can believe in aliens and not be an atheist. Obectivism was run like a cult complete with excommunication and shunning, plus an unquestioned leader.

  • Anonymous

    Yep, Jains are very nice people. I just don’t believe in their nonsense.

  • Anonymous

    Yes. But that nastiness in other religions or philosophies wouldn’t necessarily be based on the teachings of the religion. Jains and members of Ethical Society do not have the problem you probably do. Their founding documents aren’t full of hate and violence.

    Unless the Christianity you believe in teaches that the bible is full of lies and contradictions and is not the source of ethics then you have a very big problem. It’s like claiming to be a nazi and not rejecting Mein Kampf, yet keeping all the nice stuff like exercise, youth groups, and vegetarianism, while keeping the nasty stuff secret. Eventually someone will read the founding document and take it seriously, and to bad effect.

  • Anonymous

    This is the correct answer.

  • Anonymous

    North Korea has a dead man for a president! It even has a Trinity. The Eternal Leader’s son is dead now too and his grandson rules the country.

    And make no mistake. These aren’t just metaphors. Kim Il-sung is literally worshiped as a god. There are temples and shrines to him all over. People pray to him. Just as they prayed to Stalin, though even more extreme.

  • Anonymous

    Ancestor worship is not god worship. Some people “pray to” Justin Beiber and even refer to him as one. That doesn’t mean they actually believe him a diety. Adoring the leader prevents you from being punished. Stalin was NOT considered a supernatural being even in Stalinist ideology. Silent prayer to Stalin in expectation he would hear and grant wishes never happened. So it is silly to us it as a further example that communism is theistic.

    What is the source for this ridiculous line of reasoning. Is this the new excuse for Marxism being taught in X studies courses on campus? Curious because I’ve never heard this claim before. I’ve heard the claim that Marxism is irrational and like a religion before, but not that they are theists. Talk about no true scotsman.

    I’m an atheist and I’ve got no problem with the fact that Marxism is a philosophy which has resulted in more murder than even Nazism. I happen not to be a Marxist.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks, Jesse.

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