Ministries like Young Life need to understand that gay and non-binary people actually exist. They are real people, humans, they have feelings. We live in a non-binary world despite the specifics of the Genesis poem. Sure there’s night and day but there’s also dusk and dawn. There’s land and sea, there’s also swamps and marshes. There’s land animals and sea animals, there’s also turtles and crocodiles. Creation is diverse and beautiful. Just observe it and see the wonder of God.
There’s gay. There’s straight. There’s bisexual.
You cannot love every child unless you are safe for every child. When you teach a gay or trans youth that they are a threat that must be removed from others, you’re an asshole. That is a child. And if that’s what your policy requires, your organization is harmful. Go back to the drawing board. If your safety policies favor who it protects based on sexuality and gender, you’re abusive, oppressive, and you are marginalizing. I don’t care how fun your camps are.
If your community is uncomfortable, educate them. If a parent is bigoted, defend the youth from that parent. If someone’s family doesn’t want to send their kid to camp because gay kids will be there. Let them be free to make that choice. If your attendance suffers because of it….cool, welcome to ministry and loving those on the margins. We’re not a popularity contest.
We haven’t paved the cleanest road yet, not even the most liberal of communities have, but damn, at least commit yourself to building that work.
Binary safety policies and practices are not meeting the needs of this moment. If you can’t see this, you’re not showing the concern this hour necessitates. Every child is not welcome.
When you strictly adhere to a binary world you’re just being stubborn and selfish. You’re also dishonoring the creation that reveals God. Camping ought to be safe and ought to recognize this diversity. It might mean literally building things differently. It might mean practicing things differently.
When I was a Young Life leader, I could pick up a male youth from school and drive them home and play video games with them even if their parents weren’t there. That should never ever have been allowed. Those days don’t exist anymore. But because I’m straight there’s not some strict policy preventing that. As if sexual abuse is the only kind of abuse. What if I was punching that teen? Or if I was showing something explicit to them? How is that child being protected? How is your organization being protected from mere accusation? You would have no defense. Don’t just worry about gay leaders in some unfair and disingenuous way. Create an environment where all leaders can lead safely and with accountability. Where you don’t need to worry about any leader of any sex or sexuality alone with any youth. Why? Because we don’t live in a binary world anymore and not every human is able or comfortable being open with their sexuality. Build a safer system because that’s what it means to be a welcome place where people belong and more people can participate.
I constantly hear that “well, due to historic understandings this is what we believe.” And that’s the hill people die on. But just look at history and see how unstable that mentality is. That’s not a solid rock. I don’t know anyone in Young Life who wouldn’t say Islam for example is “not true”….BUT its been doing its thing for a long damn time. Catholics didn’t exactly build the best model during the enlightenment. Progress isn’t your enemy, it’s an invitation. Maturity and growth are not bad things, even if they move past the understandings that have been hard fought for thousands of years. This maturity and growth is modeled in the Bible itself. It’s not contradiction, it’s growth. And the people of God are invited to grow.
If what’s coming from Young Life is this, it’s time to leave Young Life on behalf of love. Rather than hope to change things from within, take notice that you are throwing seed on a rock and the sun is rising. Go and find some healthy soil for your love.
A little Post Script: Often I’m given some leave Young Life alone response to this. Or a “if you don’t like it leave and start a better ministry.” If I see a parent abusing their child in public, I’m not just gonna be like Hmmmn, I’m going to go start a new family where I don’t abuse my kids. I’m going to stand in front of that parent and say enough! And if it’s my parent abusing my family, there’s only so much I can plead and beg before it’s clear it’s not safe for my family to be in the presence of that parent. It’s time to have some hard and devastating goodbyes so that parent can awaken to the healing they are not committed to. There is no era in our future where the church and these ministries look back on this bigotry with favor. That day is not coming.