So how do I feel about Young Life these days?

I’ve had a few friends ask me about what’s happening with Young Life and what is going on at Duke and how I feel about it. I’m not sure I’ve publicly spoken much about where I’m at with Young Life these days. I knew I needed space and distance between my breaking with them and this new chapter of my life and faith. And out of respect to that, I just haven’t said much about it.

My immediate disclaimer is Young Life was one of the greatest and most influential movements on my life. The vast majority of my close friends I’ve met because of that ministry. But most of us have changed a fair bit since those days and many of us would likely not be asked to lead again. I spent the better part of a decade fully involved; having the time of my life, building deep relationships, deepening my faith, growing as a Christ follower, laughing hysterically, and feeling loved and welcomed and supported by countless people. There is so much beauty there.

There is no Devon Bailey without my years and the community I had with Young Life. There’s no obsessed Dave Matthews Fan, there’s no Youth Director, there’s no living in Austin, there’s no Religion Degree, there’s no Christ Follower without the ministry of Young Life in my life. It was an amazing chapter in becoming who I am. One that has both rewarded me exponentially and troubled me deeply with it’s confinements of the Christ journey. Evangelicalism both taught me all sorts of beautiful character shaping cornerstones that still hold up my foundation to this day, while also depriving me in ways that I still carry deep deep wounds with. Many of the things I was taught to believe through Young Life hurt me and hurt others and challenged me in growth and wholeness. I still am healing from things that I once proudly taught others that I now know are harmful and dangerous. Especially in regards to sexuality.

While I still have many friends who give tirelessly and beautifully to others through Young Life, I still say for too long Young Life has been having a “Conversation” about LGBTQ people. Yet, as a leader when I attempted to be a part of such a conversation and share honestly and openly about it, I was given two weeks to change my mind. That’s not a conversation. That’s fear, that’s not ongoing, that’s dishonest conformity that shares little interest in hearing from and being open to the other side. Truth be damned.

Don’t you know the story? Of the child whom a college student sought out. Who was prayed over, loved, included. Who’s entire High School experience was detoured into the community of an exciting ministry. Shown joy in all kinds of ways. Who was invited to know the love of Christ. Told they would be loved no matter what. To have their entire community established in this ministry. Just to at the turn of 18 years old be told they cannot give back, they cannot return the favor, they cannot continue with this community ( the one that invasively yanked them out of their natural world), they cannot be in ministry all because they are attracted to people of the same sex. Because they are in love and want to experience love and intimacy with a person of their sex.

What a fruitless manipulative tragedy. It makes me so damn angry.

And I can’t be too strong in my judgement because I was a part of that ugliness myself. I believed I was supposed to for so long. But I always had conflict with it. For many years I did my best to tow the middle line and answer with an explanation of the arguments rather than honestly share my view. I know what it’s like to be caught up and struggle with such beliefs. But it was so much more about the insecurity of my constructs than it ever was about the people I may be hurting. Eventually the fear lost. And love won out.

That’s my invitation for Young Life. One that has been extended many times before.

And nobody would be surprised that many if not most college students and many staff members themselves, don’t actually believe the ministry’s policy. That’s not a surprise to any Area Director and it’s why there is so much urgency and anxiety to build hard lines around it. If you’re a safe person you’ve had this confided in you by numerous people. Young Life will not be able to hold onto this policy. No matter how hard or for how long, it won’t last in the end. And the fear of the donor pushback is so, so real. But you cannot serve two masters.

This is just a small part of why I hope what has happened at Duke continues to happen elsewhere. It hopefully forces a stronger consideration and that is a good, good thing. There needs to be social costs for such views. It is a matter of life and death and being casual about it is not enough.

Let me tell ya, I’ve been involved in ministries that turn gay people and their allies away and I’ve been involved in ministries that love and include and grow and celebrate all variants of God’s beautifully diverse creation. Take a guess at which one is healthier, holier, more honest, more open, more vulnerable and more beautiful. It is telling to me that of all the hundreds of leaders I knew in college how few still hold to those beliefs. In my conversations, I can tell you honestly, it messed a lot of us up. Never intentionally of course. But it wasn’t open or honest enough for the challenges we all would face. It taught us to compete with all things rather than see them and learn from them honestly and so most left faith behind entirely because what was modeled and offered was too small and abusive of the truth made very apparent otherwise. We were given a competing ideology rather than the eyes of Christ. As Fr. Rohr has put it, instead of leading us to see God in new and surprising places, it too often led us to confine God inside our place, or in this case Young Life’s place.

I don’t claim to speak for every Young Life leader who ever was here. I still know many who would not agree with me AT ALL. I freaking love and get along with several. Nor do I think they are bad people. But especially in regards to this policy, I do believe they are upholding a bad thing.

You will know them by their fruit. Young Life is a blessed ministry no doubt. I still see great fruit in their work. Even with all my differences in theology and practice. But hear this very clearly: The fruit of any anti-LGBT policy is wicked. It’s broken churches, broken families, homeless youth, depressed youth, suicidal youth, dead youth. The fruit is so observably rotten. And it must end.

If you are still involved with Young Life, insert yourself into this conversation. Ask your leaders, ask your Area Directors, ask your Regional Directors. Acquaint yourself with the work they are doing and offer resources that familiarize them with the work of those who have seen out of such thinking. In other words, don’t just read the book they recommend, read the scary books too.

I want Young Life to have courage in this. Not to conform to the world as it may seem like I’m asking, but to love God’s people. To awaken to the hour that has already long passed.

And I want them to be challenged over and over because I believe love and awareness will win in the end.

I get it, I know what it’s like to be in such a place. It’s not lost on me. But understand if you’re not welcome because of who you are, it will never be your loss. Your ministry doesn’t end because those who raised you reject you and all the beautiful things that God is teaching you. Those just aren’t your people. Love carries on and it is beautiful and free. You can still be thankful and sing a different song.

And I will be your people when they won’t be. There are many, more than you have imagined, of us who can say the same.

I’m always available to talk about this and share of my own journey.

Grace & Peace,

5 thoughts on “So how do I feel about Young Life these days?

  1. Hey Devon, I appreciate this post and wanted to know your thoughts on another question. Someone told me once that YL does not hire gay people even who chose celibacy / opposite sex marriage. So regardless of that person’s agreement on doctrine, just being attracted to the same sex is disqualifying from employment. That seems really, really harsh, and it would position YL further to the right than a lot of other similar orgs on this topic. Is this true? And are there any out gay people at YL?

    1. I’m not aware of that specification, but I’d lean on saying that’s not an official policy. They have a 24hr Human resource line that could answer that depending on the level of your curiosity. But no, that specificity was never made clear to me.

  2. Hi Devon 🙂 I randomly came across this and I’m glad I did!! I was a YL Capernaum leader in college and so much of it was great and I gained irreplaceable friends. However, I completely agree with your grievances; I feel the exact same way. I have so many thoughts about this and I know a lot of other volunteer (especially younger student) leaders do as well but it just seems so hopeless since the higher ups don’t care. It’s so disappointing and anti-gospel to not embrace our LGBT friends and like you said, it’s quite frankly life or death. Thank you for your words!!!!

  3. Appreciate what you’ve expressed here. Though my story and journey are different, I’ve had to wrestle with my 15 years serving with Athletes in Action (part of Cru) and whether I could go back, what I’d do and say differently to college students to whom I ministered. This helped me. Hang in there!

  4. YL not just anti-gospel. It relies on white (Christian, straight, male) supremacist ideology – which always employs sacred texts to keep everyone else in their place of inferiority. Examine the history and recognize the pattern of white supremacist ideology that has used various sacred texts to denigrate indigenous people, enslaved black and brown people, women, the differently baled, and lgbtq folks. Call it out for what it is. Jesus turned the tables and said the first shall be last. Institutional Christianity has historically done the opposite. If one is not “saved”, one is inferior. Christianity is basically a supremacist religion that ignores the radical love and teachings of Jesus.

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