Friday, February 10, 2012

An Open Letter to Ellen Degeneres

Dear Ellen Degeneres,

Hello. My name is Jack and I live in Springfield, OH. We have never met.

I’ve seen your name in the headlines a lot these past few weeks. I’ll admit I am not a regular viewer of your show (it’s nothing personal, I just don’t watch much television). But I see you now and then, and you’ve always made me laugh. I remember you dancing at the beginning of your show, which I think is really cool.

I also remember when Dori told me to, "Just keep swimming." I thought I'd try and return the favor.

I read a story in the news about JC Penny, and how they hired you to join their team, and the terribly troubling events that transpired afterward.

I read about a group of people who protested, boycotted, and petitioned JC Penny to fire you as their spokesperson because you are gay. This group seems to think they have the right to silence you, to write you off, to push you aside. I find that to be painfully sad on many counts.

I made this an open letter for 2 important reasons. First, the attacks against you and JC Penny were very public. I think public offenses warrant public apology. Second, I was thinking that maybe there are some others out there who could benefit from reading a letter like this.

So, yes, I want to apologize. I am not arrogant enough to presume that my words are adequate, or or that I am even qualified to give them. I was not involved in the JC Penny incident in any way. I actually was pretty disconnected from the controversy, only hearing about it after JC Penny decided to stand by their decision. But I wanted to extend an apology nonetheless.

I’m sorry some people are convinced we are at war with each other. They seem to believe that different lifestyles, such as yours, are a threat to their children. When they see someone living differently than they would, they are convinced they must “fight back.” I do not believe we are enemies and I don’t believe we have to fight with each other. I believe the culture war is a myth and I refuse to be pressed into combat.

I’m sorry you have been vilified and called terrible things. It seems as if this organization has made you the face of all they disagree with. I’m sorry for the hurtful things being said.

I’m sorry so many people have judged you and categorized you without even meeting you.

I am sorry that this conversation has become all about sex, when it should be a conversation about love.

I’m sorry that members of the Christian church have waved signs at you from a distance, or shouted mean things through a bullhorn. I’m sorry they didn’t approach you and address you with the respect and dignity you deserve.

I’m sorry some people are bullies.

I'm sorry some people think their sins are better than your sins, who think they are closer to perfection than you are.

I'm sorry you've been treated like a second class citizen.

I’m sorry some people aren’t satisfied to have differences of opinion and lifestyle but rather attempt to legislate their own morality. I’m sorry people try to change others by force.

I am sorry for the deafening silence that is often perceived from the Evangelical church when it comes to the defense of people in the LGBTQ community. With bullying on the rise, and a rash of disturbing teen suicides, those proclaiming themselves as the light of the world should be… well, brighter. Some of us are trying to be better about that, but our silence is inexcusable and I apologize.

I’m sorry you have to fight for things that were given to me freely.

I teach preschool for a living. I teach four-year-old children their ABCs, their 123s, their colors, their shapes. Those things are important. But I find myself spending more time on other important life skills. Things like sharing, honesty, peacefulness, respect, and love for one another. And I certainly don’t tolerate bullying.

Maybe some of the adults in our society have forgotten these important preschool values. Perhaps I have grossly underestimated the need for decent preschool teachers in this country. They may have never learned these values in the first place.

Of course, there is also the possibility that they all just need a nap.

I looked up the One Million Moms website. I won’t repeat any of the things I read there, but I was troubled to see that the group believes, among other things, that their mission is a godly one.

You may have gathered from some of my language that I consider myself a Christian. I hesitate to say that, but not because I am ashamed of my faith. I hesitate to use a word to describe myself that has become associated with bigots and gay-haters and small-minded hypocrites. I am also wary of being lumped into a certain constituency, or voting block, or demographic… the Evangelical base, or whatever. You know them. They’re the crowd that cheers at a debate when somebody talks about executing prisoners or building an electric fence to zap immigrants to death. I want to be a Christian, but not that kind (it sounds very unlikely, I know, but there are more of us out there than people realize).

Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to sound like I have been victimized or anything. Like the “liberal media” is unfairly portraying us or something. Other Christians have gotten pretty good at playing the victim, and that is not what I am trying to do. I am simply trying to draw a distinction between my faith and the one I’ve seen in the news lately.

It may sound empty and simplistic to say, “We’re not all like that.” Perhaps the best I can do is say that one of the central teachings of Christianity is that nobody is perfect, that we all fall short of what we are called to be. This is why so many of us mess up when it comes to loving our neighbor. If you can find it in your heart, please forgive us. Give us grace, because sometimes we don’t know what we are doing.

Another thing I don’t want to do is preach. I don’t want you to think this letter is my way to sneak in a gospel message. Some Christians are good at that too… trying to evangelize in some covert, sneaky, or less than forthcoming way. I don’t mean to do that.

But some of my Christian friends don’t understand letters like this one. They think that by apologizing, I am compromising. They think I have abandoned the truth or gone lax on my convictions. This being an open letter, can I briefly share a few of those convictions?

I believe in God, Creator of all things. I believe He made all people in His image, and as a pastor friend of mine says, “God didn’t make no junk.” From the beginning, God has loved us and wanted to be with us, but our own broken sinfulness keeps getting in the way. Despite our blemishes, flaws, and rebellions against His good plan, God looks on all of us with love.

God has pursued the people He loves throughout history, beckoning us to turn away from lifestyles of oppression and manipulation and destruction, inviting us to live a better way. God loved us so much He took on flesh, and dwelt among us, and lived among the outcasts and marginalized and forgotten. He started His Kingdom with terrorists and murderers and sinners, only He made them into new creations and gave them a fresh start. He loves us today like He loved us in the beginning, and the day is coming when He will return and permanently establish the Kingdom He initiated.

Today I write to you in eager expectation of that coming day, when every tear is stayed and nothing is left of our brokenness but faded scars. I wait for a Kingdom where nobody is an outsider. I believe Jesus my Redeemer can do that, and I want to see you there in God’s Kingdom, and One Million Moms, and people from every nation and tribe and tongue.

And I think we’ll dance there.

Anyway, Ellen, although we have never met, I wanted to tell you that I love you. I care about your well-being, I want you to be happy, and I want the best for you. I want you to have the same blessings I have. I want you to be as free as I am. I want you to be here with us, not because you are gay, but because you are you.

And someday, we will all be able to look on one another with real understanding. I believe that.

Peace to you,



Ross Garrett said...

Really respect you for writing this, Jack. Keep making a difference in Springfield, brother. Appreciated your thoughtful response.

Hannah Elisabeth said...

This is truly beautiful. Wow. The world needs more people like you. <3

Anonymous said...

Beautifully written. It is so nice to see other Christians that embrace God's greatest commandment, "Love your neighbor" without trying to change your neighbor into something lovable first. Amen!

Anonymous said...

speechless. awesome.

My life said...

Perfectly wrote, even tho I had no idea about any of the jc penny drama.

Deane O Kennedy said...

Beautifully said Jack.

Connie A said...

I hope many people read your letter. Every person deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. I am also a follower of Jesus and I think He would be very pleased with your letter. He has called us to love not hate. God is the judge and He is quite capable. How dare any of us "Christians" think we are so much better than any other person and so have the right to tell them how to live. That is between them and God. We are to simply love. Not compromise out beliefs but live them. Are we so afraid we are going to be tainted if we don't yell and protest against a lifestyle we consider sin? Draw near to God. He will draw near to you. If we would concentrate more on living the Word and showing love perhaps more people would be drawn to Jesus and want to find out more about Him. Just my thought

Anonymous said...

I am very proud of you Jack.
You have always stood up for what was right and not what made you popular.

kylee D said...

thanks bro. i hope ellen actually reads this and is blessed and comforted beyond words.

Zuckermans FamousPig said...

2 thumbs up. Right on.

Emily Hathway said...

I have been learning in the past few years about my allegiance to the Body of Christ. I don't think that allegiance is a one-sided allegiance, only to the victories we have seen in the Body. Rather, I have pledged my allegiance to a Body who have not only loved, but who have inflicted wounds. And in the times I am able to see the wounds that this Body I claim allegiance to has inflicted, though I may not personally have been involved, I believe I can and should have the humility to recognize that it IS my job to confess and repent for the brokenness of this Body. And I believe that through this confession and repentance, God can reconcile and redeem.

Thanks for intentionally walking out your allegiance to the Body of Christ with honesty, integrity, humility, and love.