An Open Letter to Our Critics
“When your critics stop criticizing you, you have ceased to become effective.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
Dear Critics of Whosoever,
I’ve always taken great refuge in the words of Mr. Emerson. These words I find especially comforting in the face of the enormous amount of criticism hurled in the direction of Whosoever. I used to be very thin-skinned about the criticism. Anyone who criticized me got a response, and usually not a nice one. Now I realize the value of criticism.
Just as the saying goes in advertising circles, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” I’ll amend that to say “there’s no such thing as bad criticism.” Either constructive or meant to harm, I welcome any and all criticism. By being criticized, I am making someone think, I am making someone spell out their beliefs as opposed to mine. That’s progress. That’s being effective.
Critics can wield a lot of power over us. Often being criticized makes us change our ways. It can make us unsure of the path we have been on, and force us to rethink our decisions and actions. Sometimes this can be a good thing. Some critics have actually helped me avoid making mistakes. But, often criticism hurts us so deeply we stop doing anything at all. The moment we fear criticism is when it becomes dangerous. Better to embrace the criticism and weigh it against our knowledge of the situation than to be paralyzed by it.
To that end, I’d like to say thanks to all my critics. It’s partly your letters that help keep me going. You’ve certainly made me more aware of the impact Whosoever can have on people. So, I suppose I owe my critics some manner of response for all they have given me. That is what this open letter will try to address.
Nehemiah’s Great Work
I take comfort in the story of Nehemiah. Here is a man who had his critics. His story begins when the Jews returned to Judah after Babylonian captivity. Their city has been destroyed by the Babylonians. The wall around the city had been torn down, leaving them defenseless to attack. Nehemiah was a court official in Persia who took a leave of absense to return to the city to help rebuild the wall.
Not everyone wanted a wall rebuilt around the city. The people around Judah were hostile and were determined to stop the project. They used several tactics to try to foil Nehemiah’s plan.
First they ridiculed the Judeans. They called the wall weak, and joked that it would fall if even a fox went up the side. [Nehemiah 4:3] Then they began spreading lies about the Judeans. They reported to the surrounding nations that Nehemiah meant to become king, and lead the Jews in rebellion. [Nehemiah 5:6-9] They even plotted to attack the city and kill Nehemiah, but nothing they did stopped the rebuilding of the wall.
At one point, Nehemiah’s two main enemies approached the wall and asked for a meeting. They told Nehemiah, “come and let us meet together.” It seemed like a reasonable request. However, Nehemiah knew their hearts. He said “they intended to do me harm. And I sent a messenger to them saying, ‘I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?'” [Nehemiah 5:2-3]
My critics have resorted to every one of the tactics used against Nehemiah. They have ridiculed me, saying, “you can’t be gay and Christian!” or “if you’re gay then you’re definitely not Christian! Pick one or the other!” My faith has been ridiculed by more than one person along the way.
They ridicule us by saying we are a group who will never enter heaven because of our sexual orientation. At Whosoever, you will not find any person or group branded as those who will never enter God’s kingdom. It was Jesus who warned the Pharisees that if they shut the gates of heaven on those seeking to enter, they themselves will be shut out. Whosoever’s sole task is to fling wide the gates of heaven. We seek to bring the love of God back to a community sorely in need of God’s comfort and love. We never seek to ridicule our critics or shut the gates of heaven on them.
My critics have told lies about me, and the mission of Whosoever. They say that we believe “that anyone can be a Christian and then go off and live however he/she wants because, after all, it’s “Whosoever believeth…” and that our mission is to “brainwash more homosexuals into thinking that anyone can “just believe” and beyond that everything’s dandy.” I challenge anyone who has actually read through Whosoever to find that claim. As Nehemiah said to his critics, “No such things as you say have been done, for you are inventing them out of your own mind.” [Nehemiah 6:8]
My critics do not stop at ridicule and lies. I’ve had threats from people who say things along the line of “quit now or face the consequences.” I’m sure there’s even some who would attack and kill me if they could.
My critics want to distract me. Nehemiah wrote of his critics, “they all wanted to frighten us, thinking, ‘Their hands will drop from the work, and it will not be done.'” [Nehemiah 6:9] They seek to meet with me so I’ll come down off the wall and stop the work while we debate theology, scripture or whether my faith is true or not. My words to them are the same as Nehemiah’s, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.”
So continue to criticize me, please. It helps me to know that I’ve made you mad. It helps me to know that I’ve made you think. It helps me to know that God is blessing my work, and making it an effective witness to his unconditional love. It helps me to know that you now realize there is at least one person out there who values your criticism, and uses it to stay focused on the work God has given her to do.
But realize, your criticism, whether it comes in the form of a threat, ridicule, lies or hateful words, will not stop my work. No amount of criticism will destroy my faith. Kathleen Norris speaks my heart in her book “Amazing Grace.”
“I refuse to be shaken from the fold. It’s my God, too, my Bible, my church, my faith, it chose me. But it does not make me “chosen” in a way that would exclude others. I hope it makes me eager to recognize the good, and the holy, wherever I encounter it.”
Here I stand, a part of God’s family, whether my critics like it or not. As for answering criticism directly, I decline. I have work to do.
For those of you who have questions about Whosoever and where our faith lies, I invite you to take time and read Whosoever, I mean really read it. Here you will find the answers to all your questions and concerns. Whether you agree with this magazine’s stand on homosexuality or not, I hope you’ll read with an open heart, because God is here, within the pages of this magazine and within the people who put their time into contributing to it. I hope you’ll be able to recognize the good and the holy that you’ll encounter here. You may walk away still disagreeing, but it is my earnest prayer that you walk away blessed.
In God’s Perfect Love,