Dear Church . . . Letters from Young People about Welcoming Everyone

Some time back, I received from a youth worker a packet of letters written by young people at a retreat.  These letters were written to the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), urging its people to open their arms to everyone, in particular LGBTIQ people.  I asked permission to publish the letters, without the identities of the authors being revealed.  I was given permission to use them in this way.

One of the emerging realities of the culture in which we live is the dawning awareness that young people—across the theological and political spectrum—overwhelmingly believe full acceptance of LGBTIQ people is self-evidently a good thing.  At the same time, young people are leaving the church in droves—a significant number of them over the issue of the exclusion of LGBTIQ folks. 

As it prepares to make big decisions at General Assembly about how it will include people at the table, it is important for the Disciples of Christ to hear the voice of its young people on this issue.  Consequently, [D]mergent will be publishing one of these letters every Sunday morning from now through the month of May.

Please take some time to listen to what our children are saying.

~Derek Penwell

Youth Letter 1.jpg

Stretch Out

I get angry. I am human.  I am mature enough to note the anger and once the physical traits of anger pass I try to discern why.  That is, once my cheeks are no longer red, I try not to react in anger; I try not to hold onto it.  I try to assume we are all people on the same boat, or globe, and God is the only true “other.”  I actually find this much easier with things that you know would make one angry, such as the two times I have been punched in the face (great stories for a different article).

Small things do seem to drip into my bucket of potential anger.  Some of it is irrational and I am aware of that, but I am going to share a short list of things that get me angry.  I would include things like driving slow in the left lane, people who talk on mobile phones as a clerk serves them, and that extra-large socks are often placed on the bottom rung, (Hobbits are not real; tall people have the larger feet), but I want to share some of the rational and irrational things that pertain to being a dyslexic and raising a son with autism.  It is okay to laugh a little--I will, as I think of them:

  • Jokes about dyslexics said by non-dyslexics
  • After discovering my son has ASD, telling me about someone you know with ASD
  • Telling me “oh he is just 4, he will grow out of it” (yes, 4 year olds are not like 18 year olds, they are smarter).
  • When my son steals food, saying “it’s OK,” as we discipline him. (He understands a lot and this is not OK)
  • Putting text on top of an image on a website; I cannot read it.
  • Saying “oh I have trouble spelling, too.”  Guess what: dyslexia is not just about spelling.
  • Stating “We welcome all children,” and discover that it is only if they sit still and pay attention.
  • Saying “when my child moves out.” Yes, it is irrational, but for many people I know this is not a possibility. 

I can go on and on, but my point was to simply share where I am coming from, when I read Monday the resolution shared on Dmergent, “…to welcome all.”  Within the resolution there seems to be an inclusive list of people in the welcome, “…race, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, nationality, ethnicity, marital status, or physical ability.” I am glad to welcome all people, and honestly it would be great if we could just say “people.”  I am glad to see it includes physical ability specifically, but I was very troubled that my son with a developmental disability or friends I know with mental disabilities were missing from the list.  I know it was not intentional to keep them off the welcome, for the response I have received has been quite positive.  It is systematic of how people with disabilities both visible and invisible are often dealt with in society.  It was simply another drip for me. 

While at the Emergence Christianity gathering this past weekend in Memphis, Phyllis Tickle said she believed that the last group of people to be included entirely in the church is the LGBTQI.  Now when a friend of mine asked the question on my mind about the disabled, Phyllis answered that there is no scripture against those with disabilities.  I was angry for a bit, but seeing the resolution on Monday reminded me to not react from the anger; but to speak up with love.

I believe Phyllis is both wrong and correct, and that is great.  Being wrong is something I do often, and it is a place to learn, so if I claim that Phyllis can be both, so can I.  When Phyllis was speaking about the very important conflict within the church over the inclusion and rights of LGBTQI people, she is saying it is the last fight over Sola scriptura.  That is, for people who are not including the LGBTQI people, their argument relies on a few verses in the Bible, and they attempt to read the Bible literally on all matters, thus upholding a patriarchal system of judgment and law.  So yes, if the resolution passes within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), it is not only an affirmation of an inclusive welcome but that the Bible is not “factional but actual” as Phyllis Tickle would state.

I do believe the disabled are another group that needs to be truly included in the church, and my ministry at Open Gathering keeps that front and center with the disabled, but at the same time, all the others named in the resolution.  Yes, Phyllis said the LGBTQI will be the last group and while I don’t agree with it being the last group, I believe I am humble enough to understand her point is once the acceptance and inclusion of LGBTQI is the norm, the way we read scripture will have been fully brought to a loving way that includes room for Academia and especially the Holy Spirit. Sola scriptura will not have the same power, and we will not replace it with another Pope, but with an organic loving non-hierarchal church.

To go back to the scripture that Phyllis said did not exist to bar disabled people from the church; I know there are specific scriptures in the Hebrew Bible that specifically say things against the disabled, but rarely have I run into Christians who uphold that against each other.  There is not currently a huge division in the church in including people over these scriptures like in the debate of including the LGBTQI.  However, many do take the healing stories and metaphors to an extreme within our own context, and thus create an ethos of the perfect body and mind as synonymous with right with God.  We uphold a platonic idea of separation of body and soul, thus making the experience of the physically disabled simply something to endure until heaven, and/or the developmentally and mentally disabled are disconnected from their soul.   This perspective leads to seeing the disabled as not equal and only in need of our help to be whole.  

So yes, Phyllis Tickle did not include the disabled as the next group because she sees the LGBTQI as a watershed moment, as I suspect the writers of the resolution do as well.  I agree there is something essential to the inclusion of LGBTQI people in the church, in part because as Phyllis points out, it is not just about hospitality, welcome, and love; it is about how we read scripture.

 I declare there are more groups to be included and all need to come to the discussion, understanding that God is truly the only “other,” and we can get upset and angry, but we can also listen to all people and perspectives without snide comments and without scandalizing people. 

So next time you call something, “lame” or God forbid use the “R word,” know it makes me angry, as if someone is using the term “lifestyle” or the “F word.”  The anger must not be returned, but we can share these feelings together.[1]  The more we learn about inclusion, the more we learn it is not a competition; it is the Body of Christ.  There are even more groups of people as well that we need to invite all to the conversation.  We know this, so let us model the love of the great and only other we call GOD.

[1] Mark 3:1-6