When I posted about Dannah Gresh’s concerning (and poorly composed) chapel sermon at Grove City College on Tuesday, I figured I wouldn’t get much response.

I guess I assumed that most Christian leaders are like those I grew up with — ensconced in their own success and emotionally unmovable when criticized rightly. Pastors and teachers I encountered along my path were usually those who would listen gravely to what you had to say, and then effectively smile and pat you on the head with some platitude or smooth response, and never really hear your hurt or perspective. There was no empathy or genuine concern about how they affected people. Usually, what got their attention was the threat of bad PR, not a hurting individual.

Since then, I’ve learned that there are good pastors. The pastor who cared for me during my last two years of college, the pastor who’s been praying for me as I work through hard personal things right now, the professors at Grove City who have a ministerial relationship with the students under their watch. These individuals (with their relatively small spheres of influence) have given me a lot of hope, personally.

But when it came to those with big public ministries, I retained my cynicism. From where I sit, I have observed that fame does things to people. It looks like it’s easy to be wrapped up in the numbers and the tour and the new topic or book and forget that there are real people receiving and engaging with your message. That people are sometimes basing their whole spiritual life on your ideas and what you say deeply impacts the decisions they make and the way they live. I think it’s for this reason that James reminded his audience that teachers will be judged more strictly.

So. When I posted yesterday, I didn’t know what to expect, but I certaintly didn’t expect Dannah Gresh to personally respond. And I never expected her to respond with gentleness and apology, with an attitude of “please let me make this right.” But I thought I’d at least make sure she was aware we were talking about her message, and I posed this on her Facebook fan page:

FB dannah gresh

I didn’t think she’d respond. I sort of half-assumed she’d even delete the post. But she didn’t delete it and she did respond to me.

And, oh my. This gives me hope for the Church in new ways. Here’s her comment (she posted the same comment on Shaney’s piece, though not on Dianna’s):

dannah gresh comment

Not long after the comment went up, I received an email from her with an invitation to talk over the phone and continue the conversation. We’ve corresponded briefly, and she’s for real. This isn’t a stop-the-bad-blogs-from-talking-about-me move. This is a real, heartfelt desire to avoid the rape culture elements of the Christian purity movement and a sincere attempt at engaging us here.

I’m excited to see where this goes. She still hasn’t addressed Dianna’s concerns about her use of the word Hebrew word “ahava” (which, to be fair, I’m not educated enough to seriously address the nuances of the translation) and the rape of Dinah, but I’m hopeful that she will.

The purity movement is so well-intended, but it’s strayed into legalism and modesty checklists and straw man caricatures of feminism and blaming the victim. This is not okay. But perhaps there’s some hope for addressing these issues, after all?

***

A further clarification for those who felt like her story was certainly hyperbole (which it did turn out to be) and that those criticizing her sermon were “nitpicking” — words mean things. You can’t excuse someone’s careless words on assuming the best about their intent when they have such a big public presence. If she said it in a public forum, it’s up for public discussion, and it’s her job to communicate clearly to avoid sending the wrong message about abuse.

I know we’re all Christians and it’s a good impulse to try to be nice about things, but that’s not appropriate in situations like these, where she was speaking to (guessimating based on my years attending GCC chapels) an audience of 500-700 students and is regularly publishing mainstream Christian books and leads a multi-level ministry to young people of various ages and helps run a blog about  these topics. Statistically speaking, there are those who were in her audience on Tuesday morning who are currently in abusive relationships or have experienced abuse, and without her clarification, the message they heard was “don’t be needy,” “don’t fall in love,” and “being thrown against a wall is okay if your partner really loves you.”

This is why her clarification and engagement with our concerns is so, so important and encouraging.

Thank you, Dannah. Let’s keep talking.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/cassandra.dasher Cassandra Dasher

    It really is so refreshing and encouraging to see a public figure display such humility and grace, such genuine concern for her audience. We need more of this kind of positive interaction.

  • JoAnna K.

    Dear Hannah, I know I rarely comment on either FB or here. But while I do not find myself agreeing with many things you say or share (or at least the nuances or leanings), I read most everything — because I have always valued and loved you, and I want to understand where you are and where you’ve been, as much as you yourself are able to articulate and choose to share. You have challenged me to be much more careful to be clear and sensitive in my thoughts, words, and actions. I just have to comment this time and applaud you for being the exact opposite of hypocritical with regards to Mrs. Gresh (whom I’m only the tiniest bit familiar with personally). . .I deeply admire her response and yours. (I haven’t yet read your original post about this, so no comment on that, yet.) I can tell that many hurts have left a bitter taste in your mouth and soul, yet you have spoken so graciously and sweetly in this post. Bravo!

    I would like you to know that you were used of the Lord to drive me to a deeper, richer and more out-of-the-box relationship with Him, those several years and a lifetime ago. :-) It would take a lot for me to forget you — you touched me deeply and I am still stuck with the habit of calling some folks “dear” as a pet name just because of you! You often come to mind, and especially with this unexpected illness I just had (severe pneumonia) I have been very stirred up to pray for many friends, and you and your husband were definitely among them.

    Love, JoAnna (Talbott) K.

  • http://www.facebook.com/memilywould Emily Nicole Wood

    so refreshing! thanks for writing both of these and for actually starting a conversation, instead of just taking the offensive and running blindly. i think you (both) handled this really well.

  • Pingback: Update: Dannah Gresh Responds | Shaney Irene