A few weeks ago, college student Dannika Nash wrote an “open letter to the church from my generation” that has since gone viral (the post has nearly 3,000 comments). The gist of it was that the Christian church is pushing young people away due to the way the institution treats gay people. She wrote:
I’m saying this: we cannot keep pitting the church against humanity, or progress… 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.
Powerful stuff. So powerful, in fact, that the Christian summer camp she was scheduled to work at fired her, presumably for letting the world know how the church was disappointing her.
Yesterday, Michael Brown, a Christian author and radio show host, responded to Dannika in an open letter of his own, published at Charisma. The whole thing was just dripping with condescension (“Dear College Kid”) and phrases that were very holier-than-thou (“You can call this ‘BS’ or even ‘holy BS,’ but I call it beautiful truth…”): (***Edit***: The phrase “Dear College Kid” was presumably in response to Dannika’s sign-off in her own post, so that part itself wasn’t condescending as I initially put it.)
I’m glad America is becoming a safer place for kids who identify as gay. No one should be bullied for being different. Period. But that doesn’t mean we make marriage genderless or celebrate homosexuality. That doesn’t mean we suddenly discover new ways to change the meaning of the Bible. And when Macklemore says, “It’s human rights for everybody,” just remember that gays are not the only ones who want to redefine marriage. Do you really stand for marriage equality for all?
To be totally candid with you, I always listen to young people and ask for their insights, and I’m sure that your generation cares a lot about fairness and justice and equality. But could it be that my generation is not totally ignorant about these things? Could there be a reason that one of the Ten Commandments says, “Honor your father and your mother” — or is that outmoded now too? Is there no wisdom we can impart to you about marriage and family and gender?
Yes, my generation has made a mess of marriage with all our no-fault divorces and all the scandals with our famous preachers and all the pornography in the church, but we messed things up because we didn’t hold on to God’s Word and to the foundations of marriage ourselves. Now you want to change those foundations? You will live to regret it, I’m sure.
I was so angry when I read Brown’s letter. What arrogance on his part to think that, because he was older, he was automatically wiser. What gall to write about a little girl who testified before a state legislature in opposition of gay rights by saying, in part, “Which parent do I not need, my mom or my dad?” (Apparently, no one thought to ask the little girl which dad or mom in a same-sex couple ought to be discarded.)
I was ready to respond to the entire letter myself when I realized there was someone who could do a much better job: Dannika.
I asked her what she would say to Brown and her response, much like her original posting, was much more kind and generous than anything I would have written. While I was ready to tear him down, her inclination was anything but that.
With Dannika’s permission, her response is posted below.
Keep in mind that she’s Christian, and she doesn’t shy away from using language and suggesting ideas that might be questionable to a lot of us. But I wouldn’t read it in that context. It’s a letter from one Christian (who’s on the right side of this issue) to another (who just doesn’t get it).
I would like to address what I think is a misunderstanding of what I am trying to say with my Open Letter. I first want to state that I appreciate Dr. Brown’s contribution to the respectful dialogue that is beginning to finally surround this issue.
Dr. Brown responded to my letter by first pointing out that I, in fact, do not speak for my entire generation. This is most definitely true — I absolutely do not, and I would never claim to. I am more than aware of the huge portion of my generation that is quite conservative on most things. I am speaking from my own part, those who want to see the country give equal rights to homosexuals. He said:
And the young people I know actually have a very different perspective than yours: They love Jesus, they love their churches, they love their gay friends, and they don’t feel any conflict over it. In fact, they believe that by loving Jesus and by being part of a loving church, they can be the best possible friends to other LGBT young people.
That is actually a beautiful few sentences to my aching heart. I wish more than anything to be one that does not feel exposed to this tension. I commend those young people who have looked past the hatred that I have seen and learned to love in earnest those whom the church has not always known how to include. He says:
And these young people don’t believe they need to reinterpret or rewrite the Bible in order to love other gay kids. Do you think that could be a possibility?
Yes, Dr. Brown, I do, and again I am happy to hear that there is not a conflict in the minds of young people between loving gay individuals and reading the Bible. I feel exactly the same way.
Are they entitled to have a different point of view? Will you be tolerant toward them when they don’t agree with your perspective, or is conformity to the new perspective the only thing that’s acceptable? And if some of them whom I know personally have found something better than being gay, will you reject them or mock them or cast them out?
If you will allow me to be personal for a moment, this one hurt a lot. I live in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My entire family and almost all of my friends are completely conservative on this issue and mostly disagree with me. If I “reject them,” “mock them,” and “cast them out,” I will be left with very little community. Since you do not know me personally, I will fill you in on my own personal mission (and give you the benefit of the doubt that it is yours as well, for I do not know you personally, either). I am absolutely campaigning for love. Love for gay people, love for Chick-fil-A people, love for liberals, and love for conservatives. REAL, understanding, I-want-to-hug-you-and-buy-you-good-Christmas-gifts love. Go-camping-together-and-canoe love. I am absolutely not making an attempt to overhaul the church so that everyone must believe what I believe. I simply want a little space at the table for my end of the spectrum, the end that has been pushed to the fringes and viewed as wild-eyed liberals that “reinterpret” and “rewrite” the Bible. I want dialogue and conversation that is open and questioning and biblical. You are contributing to this conversation with your blog post, and I am thankful for that.
By the way, I’d love a little clarification on what it means to “reinterpret” the Bible? To interpret it in a different way than our fathers and mothers? Which fathers and mothers? Luther? Calvin? Augustine? The Pope? Mark Driscoll? John Piper? Rob Bell? Respectfully, Dr. Brown, to read the Bible is to interpret it. And again, I am more than overjoyed that the young people in your life are interpreting in a way that includes homosexuals. This is exactly my goal.
Respectfully, I am not using Macklemore as the “new gospel.” They are simply entertainment that I think sometimes reflects the love of Christ. All truth is God’s truth, right? I am using what I understand with my most honest and earnest theological and biblical efforts to be the actual gospel — a gospel of love, inclusion, and the big picture. I suspect that we read the Bible differently, and I think that’s absolutely okay. I think there should be room at the Church’s communion table for your interpretations and for mine. Please welcome my friends that feel that they are gay and cannot change, as we welcome yours who are gay and have changed. I am honestly pledging to do my best to see things from your perspective, to understand your biblical interpretations honestly, and to love in spite of our differences.
Maybe you’ve just bought into the latest social fad without thinking through the implications for the young people who will come after you?
Again, no. I can promise you that this is an honest theological process. Like I stated in my blog, I do not think the church should jump on the culture bandwagon for just anything that catches our eye. Let’s process this together as a church.
So Dr. Brown, as far as your deal to follow Jesus, I will absolutely agree to it. I think we may need to have a conversation about some Scriptural problems that are not black and white, but let’s decide together, and if we do not agree at the end, let’s sit back down at the communion table next to each other and let’s eat.
Michael Brown, the ball is back in your court.