Part One- Framing the Discussion- Responding to Emily Wierenga’s Letter to Gay Kids

 

 I was driving home when someone tweeted out a question to me about a week old post from Emily Wierenga. I started skimming and had to pull over. I pulled into a parking lot and read and read and then cried.

 

It’s an open letter to gay Boy Scouts.

 

There are so many problems with this post. So much damage, pain, abuse, and worst of all, it is written to gay children. If she knew how vulnerable and sensitive and incredibly prone to suicide young gay kids are, she wouldn’t have written it at all. Or at least, would now take it down.

 

I’m addressing this in pieces because I don’t have the energy to go through each point. 

 

I hesitate to use the word “oppressor” because it sounds so, I don’t know, medieval and like a stretch, but I don’t think there is anything more dangerous than an oppressor with a voice dripping with honey. If you’ve read anything from Emily before, you know that she is a beautiful writer. She is gentle and nurturing and draws you in easily.

 

Quickly, before you read on, realize that this isn’t simply an argument or a debate over theology- it is my life. It is my family’s life. It is about everything that drove me into such self-destructive behavior. It is about shame and those who shame others.

 

And it’s also about the way these discussions are framed.

 

Emily establishes the two camps. One the one hand, there are mean judgmental christians who have no grace (kindness, mercy) towards the LGBT sinners. They need to be nicer. On the other hand is a group that could care less about the Truth, but rather, only care about grace. Which she argues, is an abuse of grace.

 

Emily states in her post:

“If [the Church is] too focused on right and wrong, and abandons grace, then it loses the heart of the gospel. If it focuses all on grace and not on right and wrong, then it abuses grace.”

Question for everyone, who are the Christians here? Those that don’t care what God thinks and just want to say everyone is okay? Or those that hold tightly to “Truth” in the face of the world’s “Lies”?

 

As one commenter put it:

I think it’s wise to be respectful of gay Christians (and straight Christians) who do not believe homosexuality is a sin, and to not automatically assume they just don’t care what God thinks. Many devote their lives to following Jesus as fervently as anyone else.

 

Anyone who understands anything surrounding the conversation on homosexuality and the church, knows that Emily is distorting the actual conversation that is happening. Christians disagree about whether or not same-sex relationships are sinful. Some say such relationships are not blessed by God and some say they are, and others are undecided, that this is the true framework of the debate.

 

Yet, Emily insists that it is not.

 

Take, for instance, her response to Rachel Held Evans who pleaded with her to think about the damage she was doing.

 

“I hear your heart, Rachel, and I’m sorry that this post hurt. But true love is not pretending that everything is okay. True love is daring to be honest, even when the truth hurts. I’m afraid we as Christians have slipped away from this and are just pretending everything is okay. And when the Lord returns we’re going to have a huge wake-up call.”

 

See what I mean? It’s an incredibly condescending response drizzled with honey. She is saying that Rachel is “pretending that everything is okay,” that Rachel is just a bleeding heart with no moral compass, which makes me wonder, has she not followed Rachel’s sexuality series all year? This is a silencing technique because, really, who is going to argue with the God of the universe? When someone establishes the argument by stating that they are one God’s side and the other is operating counter to God’s plan, that is a form of silencing. As Matthew Paul Turner rightly pointed out in his comment:

“You have no idea what God thinks about gay people. You know what Old Testament Jews wrote about being gay. And you know what The Apostle Paul wrote. But you don’t know what God thinks. I’m fine with you believing what you want to believe about gay people and the boy scouts and whatever. I have a problem with you presenting in a manipulate “love letter” to gay people. No gay person feels loves by this.”

 

Finally,

 

I feel the need to write this because I am tired of hearing that I am abusing grace and that I hate truth. Neither are true. If Emily had been on my parents’ bed with me while I sobbed because I wasn’t sure what God had planned for my life, she would’ve seen that I was hardly “pretending everything was okay.”

 

If she had seen me sitting on the floor inside a circle of theology books, conservative and liberal, watched as my head spun with discovery and doubt and excitement and fear, she would know that I was not “pretending everything is okay.”

 

If she had known that while I was in the closet I read posts like hers and cried because all I heard was that I would be alone forever and it was the same as being an alcoholic or anorexic or an adulterer when I knew that none of those things fit. She would know that I was never “pretending everything was okay.”

 

We need to speak up on this. We need to start calling out the bullshit.

 

RR

  • Mate I hate that you’re hurting, and I really respect your courage and committment not to be beaten by the demons of your past. I respect that you aren’t afraid to let it all hang out there, or tell someone when they hurt you. I respect your incredible writing style and ability to put your thoughts into words. Most of all I respect that you’re coming through the pain. As someone who’s hurting, maybe not for all the same reasons, but hurting nonetheless, it’s encouraging to see.

    • registeredrunaway

      Thanks man, we need to talk about our hurt and how we are hurt and how those that hurt us can and should stop. Thanks for your encouragement. 🙂

  • I’m so glad you are responding to this, RR.
    “I don’t think there is anything more dangerous than an oppressor with a voice dripping with honey” articulates precisely the tone of this post. As you know, one of my personal problems with what I read was the comparison (almost equating) of being gay with being anorexic. I know Emily has personal experience with the latter, as do I, but this argument is at best wrong and unhelpful, at worst deeply offensive to both groups.
    I wonder if Emily is aware of the many young people who suffer with eating disorders and body dysmorphia precisely BECAUSE they, or those around them, cannot accept their sexuality.
    Also the mentality that any of these states can be ‘healed’ with the right faith is incredibly damaging.
    Thank you for your courage and vulnerability here, RR. I look forward to reading the rest of your response. xo

    • registeredrunaway

      Thank you Adele! You have given me so much insight into this, as we discussed over DM, and I am grateful for your wisdom. There is so much misinformation and damage being done that we MUST be vulnerable, open ourselves up and ask why are we still perpetuating the same hurtful rhetoric. Thank you for you constant encouragement and voice!

  • Thank you for this post, I was incredibly disheartened when I read Emily’s. Stunned and saddened. It’s easier to get angry, so I greatly appreciate the fact that you chose to respond rather than react. Her post honestly felt like a reaction fully & completely, trying to hide behind “love.”

    • registeredrunaway

      I agree. Her post, to me, came across as gentle in tone, but really damaging in message (if that makes sense). And that’s what is hard, many people might not see past that, many kids. Hopefully they’ll have someone to affirm their worth if they ever do come across it.

  • Oh, man. I just found you via my Twitter friend, Natalie. What a great post for me to first read!

    When we moved back to this area friends told us, “You HAVE to go to this church. You will LOVE this church. This church is AWESOME. EVERYONE in this area goes to THIS church.”

    So, we went once. Eh. We went again and the sermon was 1 Corinth. 6. Yep. The pastor preached, then wanted to address “myths” about homosexuality. “God did not make you gay,” he stated. Right there. Up front. He said it.

    I have NEVER wanted to leave in the middle of a church service so badly. My husband literally had to put his hand on my lap to stop me from getting up. Seriously, dude? Are you God? Did you and God just have a convo over what He created and what He didn’t?

    As you can tell, I’m a little passionate over this. I’m a church kid. I was a youth pastor. And never have I wanted to just run away as fast as I could from anything church related ever.

    I’m better now. Sort of.

    • registeredrunaway

      Andee, I am responding to this after having read your post and I just love you so much. You’re a needed voice in this conversation. So happy we have found one another’s blogs!

  • Yes. This. You know my heart. Until one has experienced what you and countless others have, they don’t get to speak for your pain or what’s “true or not”

    • registeredrunaway

      I do indeed. Thank you so much Bethany.

  • Ali

    Get it.

  • I didn’t know how to respond, so I thought I would just start typing and see what pops up. I’m super glad you responded to her post. I had not read it, and almost wish I hadn’t — almost. But you’re right: we need to respond. I pray to get the time in the next couple of days to respond in full, point by point, to some of the ridiculous statements she made.

    And, honestly, her fan mail in the comments section were equally as troubling. I’ll have to restrain myself from responding to those comments in order to keep the post at a readable length. Again, thank you for being a courageous believer, even when you don’t feel very much like one. You give me courage.

    • registeredrunaway

      Yes. The comments were so ugly that I slammed my laptop shut a few times. And the worst part? She was responding to some of them with praise and thanks. *nausea*

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  • May I suggest another reframing of the discussion:

    Jesus said: “there will be no marriage in the kingdom of heaven…”

    I’m not sure exactly what the implications are, but surely Jesus’ statement must have an impact on how we handle these topics?

    • registeredrunaway

      That is a good point. Problem is, if you see my latest post, shame-induced celibacy has led to self-identified gay celibate males to have the highest at-risk rate of suicide with 46.1% and a 15.5% attempt rate. I think marriage is a good, companionship, intimacy, these are gifts from God, I believe.

  • I clicked on your post via a tweet from Caris Adel and I don’t know, but I’m sitting here in tears, because I read the pain in your words and I am thankful you are courageous. Thank you for speaking up.

  • Aibird

    Thank you for this entire three part post. Thank you for stating so eloquently how hurtful Emily’s letter is, especially since it is said so often in Christian circles.

    Thank you, because you saw it so well, what I cannot say. It takes me so long to process the pain, to deal with the tears, and I often clam up, struggling to voice a response. I am not in a place to write as you do, so I only comment here, in the safety of your blog, because I am too riddled with scars and open wounds, many inflicted by Christians who speak with honeyed words and act as if their hurtful words are loving. Thank you for calling them out on it for those who are not able to do so.

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  • One of the things that bothered me most about the post was the myriad of comments from (presumably straight) people praising Emily for communicating the truth “in such a loving way.” They seemed to almost give her license to ignore the lgbt folks who commented to let her know that they found her words hurtful, as if a straight person knows better than a gay person whether her words showed love to the lgbt community. If I hadn’t read your words and those of Justin Lee, Matt Jones, Wesley Hill, and Brent Bailey, I might still think Emily’s words were loving. I can’t thank you enough for being so generous with your stories. You are softening hearts.

  • I keep going back to Emily’s blog because I’m sure that she will take it down after hearing from so many hurting voices in the comment section. But I am saddened each time to see that it remains. I’m glad you spoke out here. I wish somehow everyone stumbling across that post would get redirected here, or to RHE, or to the Momastery post, especially the children she is writing to specifically.

    Her post also hurts because it mirrors ongoing conversations I am having with two conservative Christian friends. Her words are not the first time I have read or heard the “honey” masking the hurtful message. I’m so sorry.

    • I am sorry, Holli; I am deeply sorry for the grief I have caused and for the wounds I have re-opened. I have re-titled the post because I understand the pain that the post has caused but I do not feel I can take it down because the main message of the post is that we all have something we struggle with; we all need Jesus, and this was a message I was sending to the church as much as to anyone else. I spoke what I felt to be truth but I tried to do it in a loving way–I’m very sorry that I failed. e.

      • Hi Emily,

        I appreciate that you are struggling with this as I believe so many of us are. I’m a mom of two boys (twins) who are only just two years old. When I read letters like yours addressed to children, I can’t help but imagine if my own child were to stumble upon it one day. What if, during a dark period of searching, prayer, and depression, this was the message he were to find. That thought grips my heart.

        I think we must yield to voices such as the graceful one we find here at RR’s blog. When I read his words, they speak to my heart as if they could be the very words of my own son one day.

        I think (hope) we can do best with our words and letters when we help guide our neighbors on their own personal journey and relationship with Jesus, whatever that may look like for them.

        RR – I’m thankful for your voice. I believe your story and your faith is saving others.

        Sincerely,
        Holli

  • Hi… it’s Emily. I know I’ve hurt you, and countless others, and I am truly sorry for that. I have re-named the post and yet I have chosen not to take it down because the main point of my post was that we all have things we struggle with–we all need Jesus. It was a challenge to the church as much as it was to anyone else. And I’m sorry that this message was lost but it’s truly what I was trying to get across. I know it’s not an easy topic to discuss and I’m very, very sorry I hurt you. I hope with time you can forgive me. e.

    • Rachel S.

      ” I hope you will forgive me without my actually apologizing or feeling bad or retracting anything i wrote.” emily…most of us are pretty tired of this. Don’t apologize if you aren’t sorry.

      • Rachel, I do feel badly. I’ve cried a lot about it. I’ve also changed the title of the post. But like I said, I do not feel I can take down the post because the heart of the message is one that I believe in: that we all need Jesus. I am truly sorry for the pain it has caused. e.

        • (not sure why it used another account for my comment, but replying anyway)
          Emily, apologizing for hurt feelings is a non-apology. It seems to me that you are not sorry for what you said–you are sad that people are mad at you, or perhaps that all of your “truth in love” has made them sad. No one is asking you to be sad you made them sad. A real apology here would be to acknowledge that what you said is harmful. You did not do that in a real and meaningful way.Between this and your posts on feminism and marriage, it seems like you think God has called you to bring the truth to all of us poor sinners. Believe me when I say we do not need your help. Just the fact that your post talks about homosexual orientation as though that in and of itself is a sin is enough for most people who have done any research on the subject to not take you seriously, let alone to believe that you are being loving (to say nothing for those of us who LOVE the Lord, study and love the scriptures, have the Holy Spirit, and do not agree with your views on gay relationships.) I really and truly do not know who you think needed to hear this message that has not already heard this bs a million and one times from other “well-meaning” people. Please, please stop.

        • Just Another Chick

          Oh, poor you. *You’ve* cried about this? Wow.

          How about this? Imagine the ire that’s been directed at you since you wrote this. Think about how sad you feel. Now imagine having that come in your direction every single day from everyone you know. Every day.

          Times a thousand.

          Now maybe you have a small glimpse of what gay children suffer.

          Get over yourself. Seriously. You are in the wrong. Take down your fucking post or consider yourself part of the problem the next time a gay teen you know commits suicide.

    • registeredrunaway

      Hi Emily,

      Yes, I do need time, as any of us do when we feel that a deep part of our personhood has been shamed and called broken by someone who does not know us, but has, nonetheless cast judgment. It is also more difficult when in the apology you are still naming my sexuality as a “struggle” with sin.

      There are many reasons why I can’t accept your apology, and yet, I really was hoping for the chance to and also, truly, I hope that your desire to make this right is sincere and that reconciliation can happen between both of us believers. I hope, right now, that you will hear me out.

      Emily, when I first knew I was gay, I scavenged the web for information about Christians and homosexuality. I was in the 6th grade. After many posts that expressed shame, the very same way you expressed that in the “I would be sad if my sons were gay” and the following passages of scripture (they shared your interpretation), I fell into a deep and dark depression. Roughly ten years later I would attempt to take my life.

      Of course, it wasn’t just the articles, it was a Christian culture that reinforced with hurling hate bombs that I was repugnant. Inhuman. Incapable of anything normal. Should and would be kept away- somewhere that God could not see me, my family couldn’t see me, no one. I believed I was a monster.

      That is a level of pain that you cannot relate to (and no, anorexia is absolutely tragic, but we should never, ever compare the pain of an eating disorder with the pain of a child being told they are not human.)

      But, you know what? After I came out God showed up. He told me that I am created and loved and there are no if ands or buts, he loves me as I am! He loves, loves, loves me, Period. And even though your post was awful, you cannot take that away from me.

      Nor can you take away my anger.

      Apologies come with actions, Emily. They must come with meaningful actions or else, they are meaningless. The post is still a letter to Gay Boy Scouts. You still say that you would be “sad” if your sons were gay. In your apology, at the bottom of your blog, to a community who’s hearts were ripped right out by your letter, you still say:

      “I am scared that we are ignoring the Scripture or making it what we want it to be, when in fact, it is something else entirely.”

      It makes me think that you did not read the bottom half of my post here. It makes me think that you believe that you know scripture better than anyone else. All of these things make me feel like this apology is manipulative. And, Emily, it is so utterly offensive all over again.

      I love the same Jesus that you love. I know I will not bring you to any new point of view. You are entitled to your own opinions. This is not about that.

      This is about the kid searching the web for answers who will leave your site broken in a thousand pieces. This is about all those parents of gay kids that see it and worry about the church their children are entering. This is about all those reliving the pain of years past. It is not about a minor tweak to the title or your fear of different interpretations of scripture.

      I cannot, in good conscience, accept your apology. Not after all the people you have hurt and not after the lack of Christ-loving action to mend it. Not while the post continues to stand.

      If you would like to articulate where you are coming from more privately, you can email me at registeredrunaway1@gmail.com and who knows, maybe we can find a way to make this right.

      RR

  • John L

    Dear Emily,
    Please reconsider taking the post down. I believe if the heart of your post is the need of everyone for the work of our Lord in their lives, but the message is quite obscured because of the pain it causes, the only virtuous option is to remove and re-craft your message, not re-title it.

    We are to carry the word, the very love of Jesus to the world, but we can’t very well do that if we’re busy cutting off the legs of our fellow messengers by the hurtful ways we are communicating.

    Your hero,
    John 😉

  • Anonymous

    Wow. Your words are beautiful. And true, I believe. I am a Christian who grew up in the same community that Emily is now living in – Neerlandia I am a Christian and a truth seeker, just like you, and just like Emily. I am not gay, (I’m a 31 year old married stay at home mom to three young kids), I don’t actually know someone very closely that is gay (kind of ashamed to admit that for fear that it would appear that I am prejudiced against them- I am not!), but I am a warrior for those who are gay. Although it seems a ‘distant’ thing in my own life at the moment, I know for others it is real, raw, and very very relevant today for so many fearfully and wonderfully made people. For that, I cannot remain silent. I must jump on your bandwagon. I am currently in conversation with Emily about this too. Because I know we’ll never agree on everything, but I can’t allow her to continue to believe what she is believing without challenging her in love. I believe God speaks through Emily, but I also believe wholeheartedly that God speaks through you here, and that he speaks through me sometimes too. I strive to battle the condemnation of homosexuality in love and not anger, but it is hard sometimes! Still, I wage on! And you should too!!! Off to read your next two parts – they are so beautifully written!!! Thank you! And love to you too!!!!

  • Me again. I’m truly sorry. And because of this, I have chosen to take the post down: http://www.emilywierenga.com/2013/07/why-i-deleted-my-letter-to-boy-scouts.html. All my heart, e.

    • KUDOS, Emily, Kudos! I’ve taken down a post or two in my time as well. Honestly, considering the cognitive distortions that such negative posts can have and has had on my psyche (and I know it was intentional on your part) — distortions that instrumentally led to my misconduct — taking it down was wise and even brave on your part.

    • registeredrunaway

      Hey Emily,

      I just want to say, first and foremost, all is well. You have taken bold and meaningful action and I know that it is not easy to remove a post. I absolutely accept your apology.

      I saw many of the comments criticizing your post. Many were those that were hurt by it and expressed their hurt emotionally, but respectfully, but others wrote very awful, crude, and personal, remarks, which I absolutely condemn and I am sorry they made it there. There were also several comments, in support of your post, that were very deeply hurtful and damaging. With the removal of the post, both sides vicious comments will now not be seen by anyone vulnerable to their power.

      Thank you, again, for your bravery and your willingness to move to a place of reconciliation.

      All love,

      RR

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