Dear Child

I spent most of yesterday afternoon crying about the words said by Sean Harris to his congregation about kids who don’t meet gender norms. As the mom of kids who don’t fit most stereotypes, it breaks my heart to hear that kind of harsh treatment suggested for young children. I’ll let others who are more eloquent speak about the pastor. Today I’m just writing to the kids in his congregation.


Dear Child,

Do you know that you are dear? If you hear nothing else, read that and hold it in your heart. Keep it close, because I know you may have heard that you’re not dear. But with all of my heart today, I want you to know that you are.

I’ve listened to the words that your pastor shared with your parents and I just want to hold you. I want to hold you if your parents take his advice and hurt you because of the way that you are. I’m so sorry that you are enduring abuse at the hands of people who have been entrusted with the position of caring for you. You are a treasure and a gift and should be treated as such. Your mannerisms, your sexuality – none of these should detract from the love that your parents show you.

Even if they don’t hit you, I want to hold you because those words damage without any direct action. Hearing that you “need to be attractive” if you’re a girl can hurt you if you don’t feel like you’re attractive enough. Hearing that you have to dig ditches if you’re a boy may cut at you, especially if that’s not your idea of a good time. When the way that you look or the things that you enjoy or the people you love are criticized by your pastor, the shame of that goes deep.

But, my dear child, please know that love goes deeper.

Photo by A. Witt

You are not a cockroach. You are not a problem that needs to be fixed. Your value is not based on your looks. Your worth is not tied to your ability to do “manly” things.

I’m sorry that this is a lesson that you’re being taught at church. In a place where you should be loved, you are taught that you are unlovable. In a place where your unique gifts and abilities should be celebrated, you are taught that you must fall within certain parameters to receive praise. In a place where you should never have to earn love, you are taught that receiving love depends on your behavior.

Dear child, you are beautiful just the way you are. Not because you look or act a certain way, but because you bear the image of God. He delights in you. He sings over you. He dances because of you.

He loves you. I love you.

If I could hold you right now (and oh, I want to hold you right now), I would whisper that to you over and over.

He loves you, I love you, we love you. You are loved.

Dear child, I’m telling you that today. And if you need to hear it years from now, I’ll say it again.

Because no matter your age, you are, and always will be, a dear child.

  • Sarah Askins

    Such a beautiful way to use words to heal, to love, rather than spite and hurting. We may never fully realize how deeply those children have been hurt, 

    • Alise Wright

      Exactly. And while these words are fairly obvious, we have to remember that EVERY time we start in with the “abomination” talk, we run this risk. Our words matter so much.

  • Kari

    I saw you tweeting about this yesterday. It is big news here in NC. The Amendment One stuff is getting pretty heated.
    My church is open and affirming, so we have come out strong against the amendment: (no “coming out” pun intended)
    Here’s my blog post about why I’m voting against.
    If any of your readers know anyone in NC, please please please remind them to vote, and make sure they know how harmful this amendment would be!

    • Alise Wright

      Yeah, obviously it’s bigger in NC. I so don’t understand the need to make sure that it’s not just illegal but needs to be in the constitution as well. To not recognize that as bullying is just astounding to me.

      Thanks for sharing your post and your thoughts here.

  • Kellen Freeman

    Excellent post Alise. This can’t be said enough.

    • Alise Wright

      Thanks Kellen.

  • Peter Hakkenberg

    Alise… thank you so very much for saying what was in my heart.  I have reposted it on my facebook.  I am sure you won’t mind. This should be seen by more people than heard the message. Your tears and compassion and love are God’s love. Keep on shining. 

    • Alise Wright

      Thanks Peter. And yes, by all means, share it around. People who hear things like what Pastor Harris said need to hear that they’re loved. I don’t really think that those kids are going to hear it, but they’re not the only ones who hear about how they’re supposed to be. And they need to hear it.

  • Guest

    Dear child, you are beautiful just the way you are. Not because you look or act a certain way, but because you bear the image of God. He delights in you. He sings over you. He dances because of you. (Only problem is that would NOT be the One True God of the Bible but an idol, a figment of someones fallen imagination!)

    • Alise Wright

      So when God says that he loves the whole world, it excludes kids who are gay or who even just LOOK gay? 

      • Nicholas Sommerby

        It’s funny that he says that, because what is god but an idol, or a “figment” of someone’s imagination that was propelled and turned into something grand?

        Alise, you are the reason why I still have faith in religion.  Because people like you are the ones spreading the love and adoration for others that the true core of religion teaches people to do.  Your words are very warm and inspiring, and I feel like they’re words that people are’t hearing enough of at all.  If it was someone like you behind the podium at church and preaching to these kids, I don’t see the hatred that oozes from the ones that I do see preaching “God’s” word.

        If there were more like you out there, we’d have much less people feeling the worthlessness that they feel to the point of taking their lives at such an early age.

        You are a truly wonderful person, and it warms my heart to see that there are truly kind people out there.   Never stop what you’re doing.

    • suzannah {the smitten word}

      every person is created in God’s image and beloved by him.

      that pastor peddles hatred–not orthodoxy or anything resembling the love of Christ.  if you can’t recognize that, it’s your imagination–and reading of scripture–that sorely lacks.

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  • Michael Mock

    Did you see this graphic? Pastor Harris’ words put to pictures of Pastor Harris.

    Mockery isn’t always the best way to engage with people, but in this case it seems to me a valid approach.

    • Michael Mock

      Here’s a more direct link to the image.

    • Alise Wright

      These kinds of things feel mockable. But really and truly, my heart just hurts for people who have to endure this kind of pain and I don’t like to repay like with like. 

      I genuinely believe that if people know that they’re loved (whether by God, or people around them, or whatever), they can act in more loving ways. And I’ll preach that all the time.

      • Michael Mock

        I can see that. I just think in this case it’s a potentially effective way of reminding the Pastor about the Motes & Beams verses… which he’s clearly forgotten.

  • Tamara Lunardo

    I love this. My mama-heart aches with yours. Thank you, friend. xo

    • Alise Wright

      Thank you. I know that you know what these kids need to hear too & you say it beautifully.

  • Jennifer Luitwieler

    Dammit. How can the church NOT be teaching this lesson? Makes my mama blood boil. You take the best tack. Lovely, dear.

    • Alise Wright

      Believe me, this was not my initial response. I was a little angry on a few FB pages yesterday. But ultimately, my heart breaks for these kids (and others like them who hear this stuff).

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  • ShandaSargent

    This is a beautiful response, Alise.  Praying that those who need to see this will find it, and be washed with truth.  

    • Alise Wright

      Thank you, dear one. I hope the same.

  • Jaklyn Larsen

    Attacking children?? Really? Talk about a bully… I can’t imagine what would possess a person to say such things. Breaks my heart.

    I hope that your words find their way to those who need to hear them the most. Love shouldn’t be conditional. Ever.

    • Alise Wright

      With you – a pastor once said you can’t embrace someone and hold them at arm’s length. While he eventually did just that with my husband and me, those words have always stuck with me, because they’re totally true. Either I love someone or I don’t. But I shouldn’t pretend that I love them when I’m not being loving.

  • James Williams

    I’m not sure why a gay marriage amendment is shoehorned into this discussion, because they really are two separate things.

    Alise, my past interactions with you make it clear that you and I see the issue of homosexuality very differently, and that’s OK. That said, this isn’t about homosexuality: it’s about a terrible message getting delivered to children because they don’t fit into a mold. And that mold is being thought of by some as biblical, when it’s really isolated to one culture at a particular time in history.

    I am saddened, as you are, that such molds are being enforced and being framed as scriptural. What you wrote here is beautiful, and I back you up on it.

    • Alise Wright

      Thank you James, for your comment. Be sure to stop by tomorrow for the guest post that Nicki has here – I think it will resonate with you.

  • HopefulLeigh

    This is beautifully written, Alise. I hope and pray it will find its way to the children who need to hear it, as well as their parents.

    Nothing about this situation makes sense to me. I can only imagine how heartbroken God feels about it.

    • Alise Wright

      Thanks Leigh. It’s definitely not just the kids at Harris’s church that need this message.

  • Dan McM

    Great post, Alise. 

    I’m not quite as far on the “affirming” road as you are (e.g., I will and do try to affirm to anyone that God loves them; not quite ready to affirm that there is no “sin” in case of homosexuality), but I agree wholeheartedly with you on this.  There is no excuse ever for berating or beating a child, young or old.

    I think I’ve commented on your blog before — I won’t be surprised if we find out some day that a large percentage of gays turned towards homosexuality because they were abused, physically, emotionally, and/or sexually…. and often times by the family/friends/church that were supposed to be supporting them.

    Thank you for speaking out on this.

    • Alise Wright

      Thanks Dan. I’m not as confident that abuse plays into sexual attraction, but it certainly can’t have any benefit. Seeing that advocated from a pulpit is profoundly upsetting.

      I appreciate you coming along here. You’re a good friend.

  • Lizzy Leigh Vasquez

    Alise, as always, you write such powerful and beautiful words. Even as an agnostic, I want to hold those children, because they are NOT what he said they are, and someone needs to tell them that. Tell them that being hit or *forced* to “smell like a girl” is not okay. This man is a perfect example of what a Christian isn’t, and I have a feeling that God is not pleased, and will tell him, in his own way, on his own time, just how very wrong he is. 

    • Alise Wright

      I appreciate you’re comment Lizzy. The comments are so appalling. I can’t imagine what that does to a young child – heck, I know how upsetting it was to me! I don’t think we have to share a faith to know that recommending physical violence and being verbally abusive is wrong. 

      Hugs to you.

  • Sandi

    When I would go visit my father he would always take me to church with him on Sunday. I was about 9 and had just gotten a cute little haircut. They had a guest pastor speaking and kept the children there instead of taking them to the Sunday school. The pastor spoke with such hatred about so many people. I was shocked, I had never heard such awful things before, and certainly not from a grown-up. Then, he said “Women who cut their hair are whores.” I stood up, tears in my eyes, and walked out.
    This post comforted that little girl. Thank you.
    Beautifully written, and I hope it touches thousands!

    • Alise Wright

      Oh Sandi. I’m so sorry that you had to hear that. My heart just breaks for you. Much love, my dear. Much love.

  • suzannah {the smitten word}

    alise, this is beautiful.  thank you, thank you.

  • RawFaith

    I have multiple gay kids in my life, many who have been homeschooled or gone to christian schools, and the message most of them took away from church was that they were an abomination before God. With several of them, their christian parents have basically disowned them. With several others their parents “love the sinner, hate the sin.” I was with one of them at lunch today with several other 50 something women. One of them was the mother of her girlfriend of three years. She doesn’t want her friends to know about them and insists on calling them best friends. That kind of thing makes me crazed. 

    My goal with them is to love them and create a safe haven for them where they have a chance to experience the love of God first hand. Frankly, I still am torn with the theology of the issue. But I know that we all have a common need for grace and mercy and that He is just as crazy about them as he is about me… as our father who loves us and knows us intimately. I’m thankful and honored to have them as friends and family in my life. I figure my calling is to love, and God’s big enough to sort it all out. 

    I’m glad you wrote this. I read the pastors “clarification” too after watching the video. Both saddened me.  

  • Bridget Weller

    God loves all children, especially the most helpless – the unborn.  They are His creation and to be respected as such.  To harm them is to reject His work and will.

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  • pastordt

    Oh, Alise. This is so lovely. LOVELY. Thank you, thank you for writing so tenderly to those who may never experience tenderness from someone who says they follow in the Jesus way. Such a sad state of affairs when pastors (or anyone, really – but pastors carry a double weight with their words, whether they want to or not)  - when pastors speak such terrible things. How I wish those who heard these things could actually read this. Print it out and tuck it away where they could pull it out as needed. Because I have a strong suspicion that they’re going to need it a lot. 

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  • Bar02_ftgsc

    I was directed here from a commentary about the pastor’s “sermon”. If anything could convince me as an atheist that there is some value in religion, it is this post. “He
    delights in you. He sings over you. He dances because of you.” This is an absolutely beautiful sentiment, and I am so gladdened when I think of all that could be accomplished if more of your fellow Christians, regardless of denomination, believed in this version of God. Thank you.

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  • Paula Ebert

    So beautifully written, Alise! Thank you for sharing your heart… These “pastors” are doing such damage to Christ and to the church! 

  • Jennifer Luitwieler

    I love you.

  • Joy in this Journey

    Oh Dear God. I couldn’t listen after he said to crack the wrist.

  • Corrie Aw.

    I’m shocked beyond words. In Germany, children have a legal right to a nonviolent upbringing. I’m pretty sure this man wouldn’t be a pastor any longer.

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