When YouTube views go up, so does my mail. My TEDxMileHigh talk has been getting around 10,000 to 15,000 views a day over the past couple of weeks, which doubles the amount of correspondence I receive. Every single day I hear from people from all over the globe. Some days I hear from three or four. Lately I have been hearing from 10 to 15.
I never look at YouTube comments. Too many trolls live there. I do occasionally check the YouTube thumbs up/down ratio. It runs consistently over 90 percent positive. Emails, Facebook messages, and other forms of correspondence run about 80 percent positive and 20 percent negative.
Almost all of the negative messages come from conservative Christians. In fact, I do not remember the last negative message I received that did not come from a conservative Christian. What do the negative messages say?
Well, let’s suppose someone just arrived on the planet, and had never heard about Jesus, or his followers. Let’s say all she would know about Jesus would have to be taken from the correspondence I receive. What would she think?
Here is the very first line of an email I received Sunday morning: “How do you work around that God said He created male and female?” I never answer those kinds of emails, and rarely read past the first sentence. As soon as the tone is clear, I hit the delete button. The messages usually include the same elements:
- God created only two genders, male and female. It says so in Genesis.
- You are a tool of Satan.
- Repent before you spend eternity in hell.
If the messages are from people who once knew me, or knew of me, they usually say,
- You were a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
- How can you live with yourself?
- Repent before you spend eternity in hell.
These are the negative messages I receive, time and again. So back to that person who just arrived on the planet. Based on these messages, what would she think of followers of Jesus? First, I imagine she would think these people are really afraid of hell, since they never fail to mention it.
Second, she would wonder where in the world the sheep/wolf thing originated. (I mean, really? Why do people always choose that metaphor? Is there a fill in the blank “suggested letter” they are all using they found somewhere on the Internet?)
Third, she would check out the Internet and discover there are not just two genders. There are, in fact, a plethora of intersex conditions, which would cause her to assume these people are not well read. Based on the correspondence, I doubt she would have much interest in following Jesus.
Now, let me share with you the contents of another message I received the same morning:
I’m writing you from (city) in Germany. I just saw your TED talk and it was amazing. It brought me to tears and touched my heart.
I have two daughters and my youngest, (name of child), has been “different” from the start. From the beginning I had a gut feeling that told me that she is transgender. And, with all the worries and anxiety I have, knowing how intolerant our world can be, I am blessed to have her. Because I realize how much I love her, how much I love my children. And I know for sure that as their mother, I love them and accept them as they are and want to be. I acknowledge and respect the journey they have chosen to pursue in this life.
Paula, I thank you for your authenticity and your courage. It empowers and supports me for the challenges to come. I know that the heart and love is the most powerful force in the universe. I am grateful for the experience and the opportunity to grow that I have, thanks to my children and especially thanks to (name of child.)
I wish all the best. Please continue your work and I hope you enjoy your life as it is.
With all the support and warm regards from Germany,
First of all, that is better grammar than I get from most Americans. (I receive messages from all over Europe with that kind of command of the English language.) But look at the tone of the letter. That is the tone of four out of every five messages I receive. Rarely do the messages ever reference Jesus. They just act like him.
Letters like that are why I continue to write and speak and preach. They make me believe in the human capacity for goodness and grace and love. They communicate the good news of the Gospel, whether or not the person writing the words claims to be a follower of Jesus. That is the source of my hope that all things are being redeemed.
And maybe, some day, the conservative Christians will stop being afraid of hell long enough to realize that God’s love even encompasses them, just as they are.