A Christian’s Open Letter to Church: Don’t Give Me an Ultimatum

Dannika Nash, a college student and Christian, wrote a beautiful open letter to the church that you have to read, even if you’re an atheist. Here’s an excerpt:

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 progressmy 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.

Marriage equality is arguably the main reason young people are leaving the church in droves. It’s so easy to see that love and equality should win out over bigotry and tradition. The church is being stubborn in accepting that… and I don’t mind one bit. Let them wait and waver and watch their young members leave the church for any place that is more compassionate.

(Thanks to Lauren for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Siddhartha Finch

    Hemant, it is great to read a young person speak with a constructive conviction like that. Her points regarding progressing with the times and adapting to an increasingly insightful and informed culture both within the church and beyond, are honest and I believe accurate religious and/or non-religious components of society. My guess is that she will not upset anyone and that her message will be received with gratitude.

  • Art_Vandelay

    This is admirable but part of me still just doesn’t get it. Okay so you’re obviously experiencing a little cognitive dissonance as a liberal Christian…completely understandable. So the solution is to let the church know that if they don’t become tolerant, they’re going to lose the younger generation (and a lot of $). So if the church comes out tomorrow and changes it’s stance completely because they realize this threat is real…they’re still bigots. They haven’t changed their minds out of compassion…just out of necessity.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/David-Evans/100000619020207 David Evans

      That may be all we can hope for. If the church drops its official opposition to gay marriage, a time will come when everyone knows some gay married couples and sees that the world didn’t come to an end. Maybe even some of the older generation will change their minds.

      And eventually, the current younger generation will be in power…

      • Art_Vandelay

        Well it’s probably the best we’ll get but can’t I hope that they choke themselves with their own rope anyway? :-)

    • invivoMark

      And then what will happen when people realize that the church can change its mind about any topic of morality on a whim? Just to keep people hooked and keep the pews filled, they’ll abandon their own doctrine just to entertain a more popular viewpoint?

      The church has carefully constructed a nice petard over the course of centuries and are now emphatically hoisting themselves on it. They don’t have any answers, and they can either admit that, or stick their heads in the sand and hope that the ones who stick with them will never ask any difficult questions.

      I’m actually saddened by people like Dannika. She understands that her Church doesn’t have the right answer on homosexuality, but she’s too shortsighted to wonder if any of the other answers she’s been given might be wrong as well.

      • Art_Vandelay

        Yeah, I think I sort of agree with that. She paints herself as a freethinker not afraid to question authority or as she puts it can “smell bullshit,” but this is the only the tip of the bullshit iceberg (bullshitberg?) that they’re selling. Why stop there?

        • Artor

          Just like the tip of the iceberg, the visible crust on top of a pile of bullshit is only a fraction of the whole stinky mess. I recommend you immediately copyright “bullshitberg,” because I think the term will be very useful.

      • http://www.facebook.com/karen.uncoolmom Cary Whitman

        What happens when a church changes its mind about morality on a whim?

        Unfortunately, nothing, just look at the Mormons. They wanted Utah to be able to gain statehood, so one of the church bigwigs conveniently had a revelation from God. “Oops, we were wrong, polygamy is not OK after all!” Then again in the 70′s (really! The 1970′s!) “oops, we were wrong again, black people really aren’t cursed by God, so I guess it’s OK for them to hold the priesthood!” And just last week, “It OK now for women to lead the prayers at conference.” No explanation as to why it wasn’t allowed before. Somehow God just seems to be getting more mainstream all the time! Amazing how that works!

        If your members a brainwashed well enough, then a church can change its mind without much effect at all. The members who see through the bullshit and leave are easily made up for by the new members and more mainstream members who see the change as a positive reason to stay with the church.

        I have no doubt that eventually, once gay marriage becomes accepted and legal in most of the country, the Mormon church will have another revelation and decide that gay marriage is OK after all, it’s really only a matter of time.

        • invivoMark

          I see Mormonism as kind of a special case, though the same themes obviously run in all religions. Mormons (at least the ones in Idaho, Utah, and other parts of Mormonland) are very effectively brainwashed from an early age. They are completely insulated both socially and financially. They make sure it hurts to walk away. I personally know several highly intelligent Mormons who are simply incapable of critically thinking about their church.

          Dannika may be in a similar situation, but she’s very much like my Mormon friends. It just doesn’t occur to them to question anything beyond their church’s stance on homosexuality.

          • Physeter

            How is that a special case? How is that different from most other religions out there?

        • fsm

          The Mormons are very interesting when it comes to changing moral stances too. You ask any Mormon under the age of 40 about black people and the mark of Cain and they do not have a clue what you are going on about. They somehow manage to wipe these unpopular positions from their collective memories. That kind of thing makes me fear Mormons more than anyone else.

      • Hobjob

        I am not so saddened – I suspect that Dannika is on the de-conversion road but doesn’t yet really realized it. It can be a long road for some – read Seth Andrew’s recent book – “De-converted”.

    • http://www.facebook.com/kynewulf Kynewulf MacGowan

      It doesn’t matter the motive behind a positive change, a positive change is still positive… For instance, even if a selfish rich man only helps the poor for PR reasons, the poor still get helped (and it can possibly inspire others to help).

      If they embrace this change, it means less bigotry that they can teach and shove in their parishioners’ faces, and thus less bigotry coming from their parishioners. Eventually the bigotry will be removed from the church as subsequent generations will grow up without being taught the bigotry.

  • ortcutt

    What I don’t think that Dannika realizes is the degree to which control of sexual behavior has always been a central concern for the Christian Church since the days of St. Paul. Whether Psalm 104:5 is interpreted literally or metaphorically doesn’t strike at the heart of the religion. However, if the Church cannot morally condemn healthy consensual sexual behavior, it can’t control the lives of women, and the means of maintaining unequal family structures is gone. That’s something that conservatives are going to fight tooth-and-nail. She should read Corey Robin’s “The Reactionary Mind” to understand this phenomenon better.

  • http://www.facebook.com/StrangeCandee Candee Bell

    If the church starts changing it’s mind when it comes to issues like Gay Marriage then they have to admit they are wrong and their information is wrong. It opens a whole can of worms for religion because people start to question their religion’s source of information. I mean, if the church backs down from their hate against certain behaviors just to socially evolve with the rest of the human population it would just show that they don’t even truly believe everything they are reading. How can a tribe evolve into a new age if they aren’t willing to explore new ideas. Religion keeps people from evolving because it is the ultimate controlling device….if you just have faith.

    • http://www.facebook.com/StrangeCandee Candee Bell

      Then again there will always be people that will fall right in line with everything the church says without question. If they haven’t started questioning their church by now why should they start?

    • http://profiles.google.com/conticreative Marco Conti

      But the church has been doing that for a very long time anyway. The Catholic Church officially approves of the theory of Evolution. When you stop and think that Evolution pretty much blows the original sin and the resurrection of the savior completely out of the water, I would think Gay Marriage is far less destructive to the doctrine of the church.

      • DavidMHart

        If I’m not mistaken, the Catholic Church accepts the fact that species have evolved over geological time, but not the theory of evolution by natural selection in the sense that matters – i.e. natural selection totally removes the need for supernatural intervention at any point in the process. Thus their position is, essentially, yes, species have changed over time; God has been nudging them towards their present form and is thus still the creator, albeit by a much more gradual process than what you get if you take Genesis literally.

        • Ibis3

          Even so, such a view undermines the doctrine of Original Sin, and thereby the whole sotierology and theology of the Church. It’s just amazing that no one’s noticed yet. They’re like Wile E. Coyote standing in midair after the edge of the cliff has fallen into the canyon.

          • DavidMHart

            Yeah. About the only way I can think of getting around it is if -Ping!- by magic, God attaches a soul to a male and a female proto-human as they are going about their lives in the society of otherwise non-souled protohumans that they live in, and then decides that they don’t come up to the standards that he expects of ensouled humans, and punishes them for it. And that’s just silly. But Catholics have been perfecting the art of believing silly things for a couple of millennia now, so they’ve got pretty good at it.

  • http://twitter.com/WoodwindsRock Emma

    “we cannot keep pitting the church against humanity, or progress…”

    The problem is that the church will keep on doing that as long as it exists. I’m sorry, but I don’t see why we can’t just leave it behind this time. In every major human rights battle, the Bible is and always has been there to be used by the opposition to attempt to justify their position. It’s always the perfect tool for them to use, because they can claim it’s their “sincerely held religious belief” and a society which holds up religion as high as we do, falls for that and takes ages to get past it.

    I don’t know why we keep on trying to shift the blame totally away from the religion itself. The problem here is not just the “bad people” themselves. It’s the combination of an ancient text of horrifically outdated ethics and a society that values it too highly letting these peoples’ opposition hold a false bit of credibility in the argument for too long.

    Now I’m not saying that humanity would not have another way to hold progress back without religion, but we can’t deny that religion is one of the ways we have in this case.

  • http://www.last.fm/user/m6wg4bxw m6wg4bxw

    I fully support any religious person who wants to disregard parts of his religion — and the more, the merrier. But my brain cooks a little when I see it happen because the conflict between divinely revealed truth and selective adherence seems irrational and incompatible. At least, with fundamentalists, we get consistency.

  • Rain

    It’s a good sentiment, but good luck with it because it’s hard for religions to admit they are wrong about something unless several or more centuries pass by for them to think about it some more. Good luck.

  • SJH

    She is very misinformed. She Says she listens to sermons but also listens to Tina Fey and Macklemore. Has she compared the teachings of her pastor and her pop culture celebrities with those of more sophisticated theologians? If she is pointing to SNL as the opposing view then something tells me that she hasn’t done much research. This is silly.

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

      Ah, those “sophisticated theologians.” No one has ever been able to explain to me why we should pay attention to anything a theologian has to say. These are not special, magical people. They are human beings with the same knowledge that any other human being has. What makes them better or more intelligent or more trustworthy or more educated than anyone else? Why give respect to a theologian that you wouldn’t give to Tina Fey?

      • Mario Strada

        A theologian is somebody that has taken bullshit to an elevated art form. I think both you and I would agree that we wouldn’t be able to compare our bullshit expertise with their intimate and personal knowledge of pure, unadulterated bullshit.

        Theirs is even better than run of the mill bullshit. They actually get to make up their own bullshit.

    • RobMcCune

      She’s not misinformed at all, theology has little to do with what religion actually is. Besides she talks about the ability to smell bullshit a mile away, so theology won’t work on her.

  • Aspieguy

    The churches aren’t just losing their young members. We older people have left or are leaving the church. It’s simply ridiculous to continually support a religion that tries to legislate their beliefs on everyone, maintains an enemies list, and even mistreats its own members. Men are leaving because the church caters mainly to women and children. Women, the traditional volunteers in church, are leaving because they have no time for it. Even teenagers are sick of it. Churches are just boring, really.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    Slightly OT, but I find it interesting that “the church” automatically seems to mean conservative evangelical Protestantism. There are other churches out there! It’s strange how this one particular branch has managed to grab the label “Christian” and use it to apply only to their group, ie: Christian books, Christian music, the Christian flag, etc.

  • roberthughmclean

    If and when the organized religions grow up and smell the roses, it’ll be too late, the youg ‘uns will have gone for good. People still afflicted by religion can get together in a phone booth while the rest of us have a life.

  • Rels Lecturer

    I have been reading the comments and I think a fundamental issue here is a misunderstanding. Faith and Religion are NOT the same thing. Religion is the organized, political arm of the Faith and usually run much like our corrupt gov’ts.

    • Ibis3

      No, there’s no misunderstanding. We reject both faith and praxis, both private, sincere “spiritual” wanking, and collective, organized, political “spiritual” wanking.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joyce.willis3 Joyce Willis

    Most people brought up in atheist households will abandon atheism as adults. Atheism has the lowest retention rate.