Stepping into Controversy Here

At the Youth Specialties National Youth Workers Convention, like many trade shows and conventions, there is a large exhibit hall of vendors and ministries.  It’s a randomized mix of music ministry, curriculum resources, camp and retreat centers, seminaries, mission work opportunities and more.  As you walk through “the gauntlet” of vendors passing out free t-shirts, stickers and pens in exchange for your contact information, it gets a little overwhelming and impersonal.

I walked differently this year.  Instead of trying to figure out who had the coolest looking free t-shirt and how I could get it for myself, I took the walk as an opportunity to seek out good conversation with people passionate about their causes – whether or not I agreed with their theology.

A conversation that sticks out in my mind was with Christopher from The Exodus Project.  I had never heard of this ministry, but his booth had a big sign about dealing with Gay and Lesbian youth.   A lot of convention-goers would see the sign, avert their eyes and move on to the next booth quickly.  I had to admire the courage of the men who’d work that booth at a Christian conference.  Christopher’s story in brief is that he used to struggle with homosexuality, he was lost and now he wants to help minister to those who struggle with the same issues.

But what stood out was the averted eyes – that made me wonder how often we as the body of Christ would like to treat tough issues like Gay/Lesbian/Bi/Transexual identity by averting our eyes instead of addressing the subject head-on.  Certainly it is an issue that stands to deeply divide our denomination.  Certainly it is an issue that teens face in their classrooms or in struggling to find their own identity.

When I reflect on my own youth ministry, I can think of two instances in particular where I failed to have honest conversations youth that were struggling with homosexuality.  I avoided tough conversations for two reasons – to avoid taking a controversial stand as a representative of the church and to avoid stepping into a conversation I felt ill equipped to have.  In both cases, the youth involved slipped out of our ministry…one slipped away from Christianity altogether.  I regret that I didn’t handle things better.

So how do we in youth ministry address homosexuality with our youth?  I’m not looking to stir up a controversial debate here – I’m just thinking there are real youth ministers out there looking for answers to questions their youth have.  And how do we speak in love and truth in a way that honors our denominational stand?

Resources that might be helpful if you’re facing this issue in your youth ministry:

The Exodus Project.  I personally might not agree with all the theology here, but there may be resources that would help you in your particular situation.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline/Social Principles.  Youth often ask me, “what does the United Methodist Church believe?”  Here’s a link to the church’s official stance on social issues.

Would love to hear about other resources you’ve found helpful.

Whatever your thoughts are on the issue, don’t just avert your eyes.  Have honest, grace-filled conversation.

By the way, I didn’t even leave the convention with an extra 20 pounds of swag-filled luggage.

 
Erin Jackson is National Director – Community & Care for the Center of Youth Ministry Excellence and the YouthWorker Movement. She is a veteran & certified youthworker as well, and loving her current role as a volunteer Senior High Bible Study teacher.  She lives in Arlington, Texas with her husband Dennis, three kids and a dog. She can be found blogging at http://umyouthworker.com/
Follow @ErinJackso


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Comments

  1. susan snyder says

    The Exodus Project is actually a homosexuality conversion group although if you just look at their website it is not clearly labled as such. Obviously since this is you blog you can say whatever you like but I suggest you are a little more careful and do a little more research for future articles.

    • says

      Susan, thank you for your feedback. I hope you’ll find my article’s point is not to support any pro or anti gay agenda here. That’s not the point I’m trying to make. In short, I am pro-not-burying-your-head-in-the-sand. I believe we need to give all young people a safe place to grow and figure out their identity in Christ. It’s hard to find unbiased Christian resources on this or really any controversial subject, isn’t it? To make matters trickier, as youth workers, we are often employed by a church, so publicly addressing tough topics can get tricky. Just the same, I hope to encourage youth workers to grapple with the tough subjects with their youth in a way that is full of grace and love. Youth need adults they can turn to for support. Thanks again.

  2. Georgia Harrison says

    When I have youth or parents that come to me to talk about the issue of homosexuality, I try mostly to listen. This is a difficult issue and we can often be most helpful by giving them a safe place to talk. Also, I always let them know that I love them exactly the way that they are and that I believe that God loves them unconditionally. I also try to find out how I can be helpful, to the youth or parent. As a representative of the church, I want to show them that they are accepted and loved.

    • says

      Thanks Georgia. Well said. Adolescence is such a crazy time of morphing and trying to figure out identity – the best gift we can give youth is a place for them to be unconditionally loved and accepted.

  3. says

    Erin, I want to commend you for being willing to begin a conversation about resources for youth about sexual orientation at all. I have a few resources to recommend, that support our United Methodist call to
    + The United Methodist Church actually produces a pretty good resource on sexuality “Created by God” (published by Abingdon) which can be found at Cokesbury (or Amazon). The new edition is both prettier and contains excellent content updates.
    + One of the best resources for any youth group on sex education is actually produced by the Unitarians and UCC – it’s called “Our Whole Lives” and it focused on responsible, Biblical, faith based decision making.
    + An option for youth who have already decided to “come out” and are asking if they can still be Christian is: http://ourspiritnow.org – which includes resources, blogs, and lists of welcoming congregations and denominations.
    + Finally, I also want to also caution anyone dealing with youth Exodus international and other similar groups are denounced by virtually every counseling, psychology and medical professional association. Numerous studies support the belief that their particular method of counseling leds to high levels of suicide, alienation from faith communities and family, and encourages young people to hide rather than share their struggles. For more information on this caution, I encourage you to visit the American Psychological Association’s website on sexuality http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/sexual-orientation.aspx. I want to note that although these are secular organizations, part of the reason, I listen to them is because they have routinely included in every discussion on sexuality that for many people, faith IS a valid reason to live celibate lives rather than act on same-sex-attraction. What these secular communities denounce is therapy on the premise that a person’s orientation is changeable).

    –Wow this is long, Sorry, but hopefully helpful!

  4. Vini Scott says

    Erin,
    I currently have a lesbian “couple” who announced to me that they were “together” as if it wasn’t already obvious. I chuckle at the adolescent posturing, but on more serious note I would say that I have to agree with Georgia. I have found that the more I work with urban youth, the more paramount tolerance becomes in my ministry. On any level, our mission as United Methodists and Christians is to make ‘Disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.’ People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. My job is to carry the Gospel message of freedom in Christ, not to legislate morality. However, this by no means implies that I will shy away from a teaching foundation based on Biblical Truth.
    My own personal testimony is a colorful one, so I guess because of this fact I err on the side of grace FIRST, theology second. My students know that I do not agree with homosexuality in the same way that I do not agree with lying, stealing, etc. I don’t shirk preaching about sexual immorality any more that I would preaching about racism. The schism comes from the judgment seat, on which I am unfit to sit.

    Shalom,
    -Vini Scott

  5. Jen says

    This article was posted in the Boston Globe yesterday. Where could we as youth workers serve in this family’s journey? This is an important question to reflect on. How could we best support them as they support one another? What could we do to support families in the future so that they do not have to change communities because of a lack of support? How can we influence systemic change and change within our communities? How can we bring about awareness and education? Just some questions to think about. http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2011/12/11/led-child-who-simply-knew/SsH1U9Pn9JKArTiumZdxaL/story.html?s_campaign=sm_fb

    I would also encourage youth workers in the United Methodist church to be familiar as professionals with the United Methodist sexual ethic for support of themselves, their peers, and education in the church and work environment: http://www.umsexualethics.org/.

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