Uniting In The Face Of Belief Based Discrimination & Bullying 

PictureNC High Schooler, Kalei Wilson

by Mark Sandlin

Kalei Wilson and her family have become the focus of threats and harassment from people who are upset by her attempts to begin a place for students, who happen to be nonbelievers, to gather for support and encouragement.  As you might imagine, much of the resistance comes from Christians.

As a Christian minister in North Carolina, the state where this is happening, I find it beyond troubling and sadly ironic that people who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus are responding in such an aggressive, intolerant and unloving way. It’s inexcusable, really.

When I first heard about this story, I strongly felt the need to respond. I immediately realized that the response needed to include the voice of my friend, Madison Kimery, North Carolina’s own teenaged, activist extraordinaire! In some ways, Madison and I couldn’t be much different. I’m an oversized, scruffy, Presbyterian minister and she is a petite, brilliant, youthful atheist. Yet, we both strongly recognize the value of diversity and the freedom that this nation claims to offer to express those differences.

We’ve decided to write Kalei open letters of support. Be sure to read through to the end and to watch the very brief video at the end from both Madison and me. We offer up a couple of different ways we can further support Kalei.


Open Letter of Support to Kalei – Madison Kimrey

Dear Kalei,I don’t know you but I have a feeling we would be friends if I did. If I went to your school, I would not only join your club, I would run for an officer position in it.I’m an atheist, and even though my friends don’t judge me because of my beliefs, I know it can be very lonely sometimes. I know how it feels when everybody around you bows their head and you’re the only one looking up. I know that feeling of wanting to find other people like you and who really understand you. I understand how wanting this doesn’t mean you are trying to attack or change anyone else’s beliefs and how hard it can be to get others to understand this.

I also know what it’s like for people to bully you and come after you and your family because you stand up and try to help others. That isn’t easy and I want you to know that you doing the right thing for you and choosing not to go forward with your club in the face of that does not make you any less of a hero. You are an inspiration to me and I’m sure to others as well.

What you have done is made the path less treacherous for others to travel. You, as a young person, have done more to make this world a better place than many will do in a lifetime.

I am sad for your school that the adults in charge allowed this to happen to you. Had they done the right thing and let you start your club without any opposition, you may have never had to go through so much heartache and turmoil.

To me, it seems they are not teaching lessons of tolerance and respect but lessons that encourage the kind of bullying and attacks you and your family have endured. I hope that they will reflect on their behavior and choose to act differently in the future.

Please know that even though the club at your school didn’t work out the way you wanted it to, you’ve helped to start a much bigger club. This club is made up of people who might not share the same faith or religious beliefs, but who believe in loving our neighbors and standing up for them when they are attacked or discriminated against.

Thank you for all that you’ve done and all that you and your family has endured. You are a beautiful young woman.

Madison

Open Letter of Support to Kalei - 
Rev. Mark Sandlin

Dear Kalei,I don’t know you, but I already like you. You actually remind me of my own daughter, who’s named Kayli. She’s a bright, young high schooler, just like you. She’s even started her own club at school. I love seeing that kind of leadership and vision in young people – just love it.She, however, didn’t meet the kind of resistance that you did. I’m a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina, so I can’t honestly say that I truly understand how it feels to be different from most of the culture in terms of your religious perspective. My daughter Kayli does know what it’s like though: She’s neo-pagan. I’ll admit that my parental instincts kick in when I see how you have been treated – well, my parental instincts and my general sense of right and wrong – well, those AND my basic understanding of human rights.

I’m not writing you to tell you that not all Christians are like the ones who’ve bullied you. I’m not writing to tell you that, because from what I’ve seen of you, you already know. I am, however, writing to apologize for the behavior of those Christians who have behaved so badly. Frankly, as a minister, I think they are missing the whole point of what Jesus was trying to teach us. Rather than condemning you, they’d be better off looking to you as an example of what’s right in the world.

Young leaders like you will make this a better world. In fact, just in what you have already done, you are moving us in that direction. You deserve to be recognized for your courage and your desire to bring folks together in a supportive environment. I am saddened that a place that purports to be an institute of education is actually making the world less respectful of varying perspectives. How do they think we broaden minds, if not from varying perspectives?

I suspect that you’ve not only laid the roadwork for other teens across the nation to start their own secular clubs, but also that there are a few adults in your own town who’ve been forced to reconsider the behavior of people they once respected. In the long run, I think that’s a good thing. Ultimately, it builds a better world. Thank you.

What your critics have done is brought more attention to this matter. I am not a fan of what that’s meant for you and your family, but I do think something much bigger will come to pass because of it. That said, I’ve spoken with Madison and we’d like to make you an offer as a show of our appreciation for what you have already done. We both have developed rather extensive social media networks. We’d like to offer you access to them. What kind of movement would you like to build? We’ve got the numbers. They are yours if you want them. We will be glad to assist you in whatever way we can.

I’m overjoyed to know that the younger generation has folks like you and Madison and my daughter. It gives me hope and we all need more of that. So, again, thank you.

Mark

We Support Kalei Wilson

Madison and I got together and recorded this brief message of support for Kalei. We’d like to encourage all of our friends to do the same. Regardless of where you stand on the question of God, we should all be able to stand together on the issue of basic human dignity and respect. In the US, we should also be able to stand on the principles of the freedom of expression and civli liberties.Please consider making your own video or blog post of support and title them, “We Support Kalei Wilson.” It’s just the right thing to do.

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About Mark Sandlin

Mark is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA) from the South. He is a co-founder of The Christian Left. His blog, The God Article, was recently named as one of the “Top Ten Christian Blogs.” He also writes for "The Huffington Post" and "Sojourners." He’s married to an amazing Baptist minister and has two fabulous teenagers. More than anything (other than peace and justice), Mark wants to have a beverage in one hand and a book in the other as he and his wife look across the shores of Ocracoke, NC.


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