On November 30, Elizabeth Thompson was fired from the staff of Young Life in Durham/Chapel Hill. According to her account, which I’ve read, she was fired because she refused to tell developmentally disabled teenagers that they are depraved and separated from God. You see, Elizabeth ran YL’s Capernaum Ministry in Durham/Chapel Hill. She was presented with the Non-Negotiables statement from YL (an earlier version) and asked if she could assent with all point in the 9-page document. She said no. She said that the kids with whom she works cannot understand “separation from God” as it is dictated in the penal substitutionary theory of the atonement. So she was fired.
Subsequently (in December), a clause was added to the Non-Negotiables document exempting Capernaum staff from having to present the linear gospel presentation dictated in the Non-Negotiables document. But that raises the obvious question: If the theological proclamation in the document is “non-negotiable,” then how can there be exceptions? What about a regular (i.e., non-Capernaum) YL staffer or volunteer who is working with a student with Asperger Syndrome (a mild for of autism), or a student who is clinically depressed and suicidal, or a kid whose parents are going through an ugly divorce? Are they exempted, too?
In fact, some of us would argue that teenagers in general are developmentally incapable of understanding human depravity as it is spelled out by theologically sophisticated adults like Augustine, Calvin, and Luther. (Please, don’t get on the comments section and tell me how well you understood sinfulness when you were a teen. Have you read Luther with teens? I have. The fact is, his doctrine of sin is compelling and brilliant, but it’s not for 13-year olds.)
You see, this is the problem with absolutist statements of doctrine, as some of us have argued. There are always exceptions, they’re always relative, and they’re always debatable. Thus, to publish a document entitled “Non-Negotiables” takes YL from being a centered-set ministry (the center being relationships and Jesus Christ) to a bounded-set ministry (if you don’t subscribe to every bullet point in this document, you’re out) (good post on centered and bounded HERE). This, I argue in my forthcoming book, is inevitable: Centered sets (at least theological ones) invariably devolve into bounded sets. It’s happening at the Evangelical Theological Society, it’s happening in the Southern Baptist Convention, and now it’s happening at Young Life.
Thus, my prediction that a schism is coming in evangelicalism (which was founded in the 1940s as a centered-set movement).
Oh, and if you want to see the ministry that Elizabeth had going, watch this: