You don’t know me, but this morning I read an article about you. (You can read it here: http://www.abc27.com/story/25061872/little-girl-taken-out-of-christian-school-after-told-shes-too-much-like-a-boy ) Ever since then you keep crossing my mind. As I went around town today in my jeans and button-down shirt and sweater, I thought about you. As I came home from the gym tonight, I prayed for you. And all the while, I wished I could write you a letter…the kind of letter I wish someone had written to me.
I don’t know how to get one to you, though. I thought about trying to send it to your grandparents for them to read to you, but I’m not sure if it would make it there. So instead I’m writing this and posting it on my blog. Maybe somehow these words will find their way to your grandparents and they will share them with you. Or, maybe years from now you’ll find them online, and know that a lot of people were thinking about you today.
I read this morning that Timberlake Christian School, your school, has asked you to leave. The reason why, they say, is that you are not following “Biblical standards”. They say that you should be wearing dresses, and letting your hair grow out, and acting more “like a girl”. And they are saying that unless you do those things, you can’t go to your school anymore.
You are eight years old, and this probably sounds pretty silly to you. Don’t worry; I’m 37 years old and it sounds pretty silly to me too.
I’ll bet that I was a lot like you when I was eight years old. I didn’t like dresses. I liked playing football and collecting baseball cards. My favorite things were airplanes and science kits. And I liked cutting my hair short.
A lot of people called me a tomboy. I think they meant that as an insult, but I actually thought that was pretty neat. Maybe you do too. Or maybe you don’t. Which is okay, because if you don’t you can call yourself whatever you want. You get that choice, just like you get to choose what kind of clothes you wear, and what hobbies you like.
But here’s what bothers me most of all, Sunnie. These people who are saying you can’t go back to school with your friends are telling you that Jesus is the reason. Like you I was raised in the South. I spent the first part of my life in Virginia, just like you. And my parents always taught me to respect adults. But I was lucky because my parents also would tell me that sometimes adults are wrong.
Sunnie, the adults that told you that Jesus doesn’t like the way you dress, or that Jesus wants you to act “more like a girl”? They’re wrong.
Jesus does love you, Sunnie. You know how I know? Because Jesus loves me too. And Jesus loves everyone like us, who grows up preferring shorts to skirts, and jeans to dresses. Jesus loves us when we cut our hair short. Jesus loves us when we out hit the boys in baseball. And Jesus loves us when we don’t want to wear a pink bow in our hair.
The pastors at your school may disagree. That’s okay. Tell them that there are pastors out there who think that they are wrong about Jesus. I’m one of those pastors. And if you came to my church, or the churches of a lot of my friends, no one would say a word about what you were wearing or what your hair looked like. (Actually, we might…we might tell you we like your sneakers or your t-shirt…but that’s it.)
Sunnie, I don’t know who you’ll grow up to be in ten years. I don’t know who you will love, or what you will be like then. And that stuff doesn’t matter right now. Know why? Because you’re eight, and you have plenty of time to figure it out on your own time. No one else gets to do that for you.
So, Sunnie. I hope you keep being you. I hope your grandparents keep being incredible. And I hope your friends’ parents tell them that you had to leave school not because you did anything wrong, but because the school did something wrong.
But most of all, Sunnie, I hope you know that God loves you. God loves you so much, and God loves you exactly as you are now, and exactly as you will be. Never doubt that, no matter what people say or do to you. Just like they don’t get to tell you how to dress, they don’t get to take Jesus away from you either.
Keep being awesome, Sunnie.
Pastor Emily C. Heath
Update 3/26/14: Within about two hours of this blog post’s publication it found its way to Sunnie’s family and it was read to Sunnie. To those who made that happen, thank you.
Additionally, a number of people have commented or emailed saying the “true story” hasn’t come out. There have been both insinuations and outright assertions about Sunnie and Sunnie’s gender identity. Of course no evidence that their assertions are true has been presented. But, even if it were, here’s my question: Why does it matter?
If Sunnie, or any child for that matter, is trying to figure out who they are, why wouldn’t Christians want to support them? I think people have expected me to say, “Oh…well in that case…throw Sunnie out!” Really all I can say is clearly that school, a school that could not support Sunnie the way Sunnie needed to be supported, does not deserve to get to claim someone as brave as Sunnie as a student.
I believe Jesus said, “suffer the little children to come onto me” and not “suffer the little children to come onto me…but only if they are gender conforming”. I think a school that truly sought to follow him would do the same. But, that’s just my opinion. And, really, this has always just been about supporting Sunnie.