WYLIE (Why Young Life Is Evil)

WYLIE (Why Young Life Is Evil) August 17, 2009

I haven't yet read Jeff Sharlet's book, The Family, but I've been reading every interview with him that I can find.

You may be familiar with Sharlet from his blog, The Revealer, and from an earlier project he's long been associated with, Killing the Buddha. Now that his book is finally out in paperback, I'll be reading it soon. (Hardcover? What am I — made of money?) In the meantime, there are those interviews.

In this one, with Chuck Warnock of Confessions of a Small-Church Pastor, Sharlet mentions the Family's family-connection with Young Life, an organization with finances that "were for a long time tangled up with the Family's."

Aha, yes, that makes sense. To explain why, I should probably rehash my old Why Young Life Is Evil rant, but it's been almost 20 years since the last time I recited that. So instead I'll just share the story of the last time I delivered the WYLIE speech.

I forget why I had been up all night that Friday — staying up all night wasn't that unusual for me in college — but I remember that I was very, very tired and hypercaffeinated when I arrived in the dining hall for breakfast Saturday morning.

Breakfast on a Saturday morning was unusual for me in college, but I saw a familiar face and went over to sit down with my old roommate Lou. "What are you doing up for breakfast?" he asked me. And I told him, whatever the reason was, then asked him the same question.

He was heading off to some big seminar with Young Life. Lou was a Youth Min major — a kind of pre-seminary major for people who wanted to specialize in youth ministry. The professors in that program were really into Young Life, a popular sort of para-church franchise that offered whole programs and curriculums and training seminars for youth pastors who wanted to learn Youth Ministry the Young Life way.

Lou was apparently required to go to this seminar for some Youth Min class, but I was disappointed that he hadn't figured out some way to ditch or weasel out of it, because I considered Young Life to be evil.

Being, as I said, very tired and caffeinated, I said this out loud. "Young Life? They're evil. You should ditch."

Lou said something jokey and dismissive along the lines of, "Gee, why don't you say what you really feel?" but I didn't pick up on the signals he was giving, so I took that invitation literally and launched into the extended dance mix of my Why Young Life Is Evil rant.

It was only when I was reaching the end of said rant that I began to be dimly aware that there were a bunch of other people sitting around us at the long tables of the dining hall. People in Polo shirts with popped collars. Young Lifers. And their professors.

So. I immediately tried to remember what all I'd just said. It'd had a bit more caffeinated flourish than the usual rendition, but it was still just the standard Young Life Is Evil rant I was giving all the time back then. Reviewing the highlights of that in my head, I didn't see anything that required an apology. It was a bit awkward and uncomfortable to have said all of that surrounded by Young Lifers, but there was nothing that needed to be taken back, amended or corrected.

Because, after all, Young Life is evil.

Their Big Idea for youth ministry is scarcely hinted at in anything on the group's Web site, so I can't quote this in their own words, but it goes something like this: If you want your youth group and your youth ministry events to be popular, you've got to get the popular kids to come. So the popular kids should be your priority — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the attractive kids, the Heathers.

So basically, Young Lifers accept and adopt the stratified hierarchy and caste system of high school. A Young Life meeting — by design — looked like a casting call for the villains of every decent high school movie ever made, the richies or preppies or whatever you wanted to call them.


This seemed to me an inversion of the gospel, and a perversion of it — a betrayal of everything Jesus taught and demonstrated. The WYLIE rant started with a sarcastic preamble about how Jesus must have selected fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes for his closest followers because those people were so popular. The lepers, Samaritans, perpetually unclean hemorrhagic women, slaves and the rain dogs of every kind — those were the cool kids, right? The winners? The in-crowd?

Then from there I'd kind of work my way up to Romans 12 — the whole, "Be not conformed to the pattern of this world" bit — or to Acts 17 and the bit about those early Christians who "turned the world upside-down." That's not what Young Life is about, I'd say, they don't want the world to be turned upside-down, they like it fine just the way it is, with the people on top staying on top and all those other people on the bottom staying on the bottom.

Evil. E. Ville.

And, as it turns out, probably more evil than I realized.

Because while I stood by everything I had to say in the WYLIE rant, it was still, in my mind, a critique that I would have expected Young Lifers to deny or defend against. I believed that I was stating the case for the prosecution. But it turns out this was also nearly identical to the case outlined by the defense.

Sharlet recounts how the founder of the Family — and thus, also, ultimately of Young Life — Abraham Vereide, was driven by what he said was a vision from God in which God told him, "Christianity has gotten it wrong for 2,000 years — all this talk about the poor, the suffering, the down and out. I want you to focus on the up and out. I want you to be a missionary to and for the powerful."

Evil? Yes it is.

Now imagine what happens when you take this approach and apply it to the local high school. Imagine what happens when you decide to be a minister to the youth there, a minister "to and for the powerful."

Consider what this does to the kids themselves — not just to the kids who don't "merit" your attention because they're unpopular losers, but to the powerful and popular kids who do receive that attention. They've received that attention because of their status, not because of who they actually are. That attention is thus conditional, and if they are being told that this attention is an expression or extension of God's love for them, then they are also being taught that God's love for them, likewise, is conditional.

God loves winners, therefore God loves you, they are taught. So, what happens if and when you lose?

Yeah, that's evil.

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  • Andrew


  • Emily May

    I’ve been involved with Young Life since high school, and hope to go on staff one day, and honestly your impression of it is so wrong. Young Life’s tagline for FOREVER was “Every kid, everywhere, for eternity” I’ve gone to leader conventions and attended seminars on how to reach tough kids, kids who aren’t popular and kids who struggle. Yes, Young Life does target some of the more “popular” kids too, because alot of the time those are the kids that think they have it altogether but are the most broken. Young Life’s ministry is to go after the unreached, the end. No matter if they’re attractive and popular, or not. Young Life wants the kids who would never set foot in a church, so that they can show them what following Christ is really about.

  • Andy

    Ok, I’ve never heard of this Family stuff but I’ve heard this argument used about Young Life before, and as someone who works for this ministry, I feel like a few things should be addressed.
    1. Not all Young Life leaders have this mentality of “Only go for the cool/popular kids.” Besides a current motto of YL being “Every kid,everywhere, for eternity,” Young Life has ministries that focus on kids in the Urban setting (where I work), kids in Rural settings, kids with special needs, and teen moms.
    2. Current theories on adolescent development will show that the ideas of “Cliques” is an outdated and irrelevant idea. The hierarchical structure depicted in 80’s teen movies is simple no longer what occurs in today’s high schools. Instead, students are often found to have a very close group of 2 to 3 friends that often associate with other small groups like themselves.
    3. As for Young Life just employing duche guys in popped collars, I couldn’t be further from that. I’m a hardcore kid with gauged ears, never played any sports, and doesn’t fit into any of the other stereotypes I’ve seen in this post.
    4. Statements like “Young Life is full of hypocrites” and “Young Life kids party the most” show me that people don’t get the point of it. This is not a club for youth group kids, this is a place for unsaved, broken, messed up, rich(because they need Jesus too) or poor, black,white,brown,etc… to hear about Jesus for the first time. And we straight preach the Gospel, but we recognize that permanent life change takes time. So yeah, someone might be at YL on monday night and then getting hammered on friday. But I’m still going to love that kid and keep sharing Jesus with them.
    5. Young Life is run by imperfect people. I’m sorry for all of you who have been hurt or burned by YL. Forgive us and help us change so we can most effectively love all kids to Jesus.
    4. Young Life is run by humans who are going to fail.

  • Im so very sad that you all have been so misinformed. Im not trying to attack you guys. But THROUGH YoungLife, GOD is able to a lot of good to young teenagers who are lost in this world – from all social demographics.

  • Nina

    Young Life doesn’t start with a program. It starts with adults who are concerned enough about kids to go to them, on their turf and in their culture, building bridges of authentic friendship. These relationships don’t happen overnight — they take time, patience, trust and consistency.
    So Young Life leaders log many hours with kids — where they are, as they are. We listen to their stories and learn what’s important to them because we genuinely care about their joys, triumphs, heartaches and setbacks.
    We believe in the power of presence. Kids’ lives are dramatically impacted when caring adults come alongside them, sharing God’s love with them. Because their Young Life leader believes in them, they begin to see that their lives have great worth, meaning and purpose.
    This is the first step of a lifelong journey; the choices they make today, based upon God’s love for them, will impact future decisions … careers chosen, marriages formed and families raised. All ripples from the time when a Young Life leader took time to reach out and enter their world.
    this was taken straight from the younglife website.

  • SRB

    Why young life is evil seems like a really dumb thing to be so passionate about when all we want to do is help high school kids see jesus, many people (all types, not just cool kids, believe it or not) have been shown Christs love through the love their leaders have shown to them and the message of the Gospel they’ve heard at club or at camp. We should all be working together toward God’s mission, not trying to critique eachother as we attempt this.

  • Shelby

    So yeah, Im in Young Life and everything this guy has said, IS TOTALLY WRONG AND HIPPOCRITICAL. Dont listen to this. Young Life is an outreach to high school students to INTODUCE THEM TO JESUS CHRIST without making them uncomfotable. It has NOTHING to do with cliques or anything. I’ve seen more teens saved through Young Life and its camps Than I have in church! Churches sometimes throw Jesus down your throat and causes people to back out and run from Christ. So before you say all this stuff about Young Life, or believe this guy, Go check it out for yourself. Thanks. And no, Just for the record, That website says nothing about that! Stop Lying!

  • Shelby

    This is also what Young Life is about. So stop believeing this stuff on this guys little “story”
    This came from a Young Life site:
    1.We proclaim the person of Jesus Christ in every message.
    2.We proclaim the reality of sin and its consequences—that apart from divine grace, we are estranged from God by our disobedience and incapable of a right relationship with God.
    3.We proclaim the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as the ultimate proof of God’s love and the only solution to our problem of sin.
    4.We proclaim the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
    5.We proclaim the risen Christ’s offer of salvation by inviting our middle school, high school, and college friends to confess Jesus as Lord and Savior.
    6.We proclaim God’s call to discipleship by encouraging all who respond to grow in their faith.

  • Randy

    OR, maybe you’re just jealous because the cool kids don’t come to your church.

  • CJ

    I’m not sure where you were involved with YL. But it sounds NOTHING like the organization I know. YL has incredible presence internationally, in some of the poorest nations of the world. YL staff works with homeless children and orphanages. YL staff have part of their ministry dedicated solely to mentally and physically disabled (search “Capernaum” on their website). Hardly the popular jocks and cheerleaders. YL has “YoungLifes” devoted to teenaged mothers. Yeah, dude, those are definitely the high-school-flick villains.
    How DARE you call an organization evil that has done so much for so many. When I visit a YL club, I see 10 volunteer leaders with hearts of gold, driving their beat up late model sedans into the worst neighborhoods, picking up parent-less kids in drug-infested projects, and driving them somewhere safe. There, they feed them, play some games, let them be kids instead of taking care of their little brothers. And there, I see white, black, hispanic kids. I see them singing and playing together. I see some rich kids and poor kids. And no one USED the rich kids to get the poor ones there. That concept is dead because it’s not Biblical. YL realized this some 30 years ago.
    SO I don’t know how old you are, but if your perceptions of this organization are that old, do some research. By the way, if the church was doing what the church is supposed to be doing, things like YL wouldn’t exist. YL leaders are heros and saints to many kids, parents, and families. It takes a lot of gall to insult their efforts to love ALL KINDS of kids.
    What happened? Were there kids at one YL club who you didn’t get along with? Did you develop some vendetta early on? Did you get hurt? And then, instead of offering a prophetic voice, you simply deride it as evil? Always easy to be the name-caller. Always easy to muddy the water. YL has and will continue to do more for millions of people – all kinds of people all over the world – seems better to get on board with something like that.

  • Chris James

    What a filthy characterization of a great organization. To have to vindicate those who serve in this mission is ridiculous. YL volunteers have done so much for so many. And, No, not just for some select few of the popular crowd. If your engagement with a few YL leaders 30 years ago is the rationale for your “rant”, please reconsider. I won’t list all of the defense for YL unless someone wants a fair debate. I assure you, YL is not “evil” any more than anything else – for any other reason.
    How DARE you characterize YL leaders as insensitive, favorite-playing, “adhering to the high school caste-system”. Poor job of doing research, but great job of slander and inappropriate representation. The most Godly and Christ-like individuals I have ever met have not emerged from the pulpit and certainly not behind the keys of a keyboard. They have been YL leaders OR those who do ministry like they do…raw, unconditional, relational, with ALL kinds of people (yes, rich, poor, black, white, etc). They are more like Jesus than any group or church I’ve seen. Reconsider the harsh comments. For crying out loud, YL leaders are doing incredible things with all types of kids. To insult them or call them evil is a reckless use of technology.
    Here’s what I see YL leaders do in my town: They meet and pray for 30 minutes. Then they drive into the worst neighborhoods and pick up kids from parent-less homes and drug-infested violent projects. They pay for them to go to camp. They buy them clothes. They take them to school. And when it’s YL night, they bring them to the meeting. And those kids mixed in with kids of all walks have fun together. They sing and play games and listen together. They break down social and economic walls together. They become friends…Oh, but, Yeah – YL leaders are evil.
    You can take shots at glamor hungry televangelists all you want. Be my guest. I’ll join you. But don’t you dare insult or hinder the efforts through defamation the hearts of gold that exist in those (not just in YL, but everywhere) that do raw, tough, dirty, difficult, messy ministry with kids who live in ugly worlds with dads who left them and moms who would just as soon do the same.
    Shame on you. Or shame on the people who gave you the idea that YL was anything like that.
    Some facts for you:
    1. Young Life’s largest initiatives are in the poorest countries in the world. And they work in orphanages and with homeless children there. Wow – nothing like Jesus, right?
    2. Young Life has a ministry dedicated to mentally and physically disabled kids called “Capernaum”. Those are certainly who you’re referring to as the “villains” in the high school epic genre, correct?
    3. YoungLives reaches out to teenaged mothers and walks beside them as they try to work as raise children. YoungLives leaders help young girls learn how to finish up school, get jobs, even go to college while they help take care of their babies. Now that’s REAL evil, isn’t it?
    Time to change WYLIE to something else and go after things that really ARE doing wrong and evil in the world. You’re barking up the wrong tree.

  • BK

    Wow. All of sudden the anti-YL comments have stopped, and YL supporters are showing up. They seem to have much more experience within the organization than the author. I’m going to check this page for awhile to see if anyone’s willing to debate the pro-YL crowd…

  • Ryan

    Is the pro-YL crowd going to comment on any other articles here?

  • To the more aggressive Young Lifers: if you want to convince people, you should lay off the shouting and insults. Make your case courteously and back it up with proof, and everyone here will probably change their minds. Unsupported assertions and harsh language make you look dogmatic and defensive, neither of which redound to Young Life’s credit: as long as you’re shouty or snide, you are doing your ministry a bad favour in the public eye.
    I, and I suspect others as well, would be interested to hear what you have to say, and I suspect most of us would be happy to discover an organisation is benevolent rather than malign, but you need to ask yourselves whether you want to convince or just to contradict.

  • Reading over my post, I think I should have stressed more that I’m not saying all the Young Life posters were aggressive. So sorry if I implied that.
    Having said that, I’ll say what I should have begun with: welcome to Slacktivist, everyone. I hope you stick around: different perspectives are good for all of us. Maybe you could come play with us in some of the other threads too; I’d certainly be happy to see you there. :-)

  • BK

    I think the defensive-ness comes in when an unwarranted attack comes upon something so close and so special to many people. YL is an organization that has deployed volunteer leaders in the hundreds of thousands to build relationships with kids of all kinds. It comes as an offense to those whose lives have been so changed – to say that that volunteer leader who poured their lives, their time and energy – was full of improper motives.
    My YL leader is my friend now of over 18 years. We talk all the time. We help each other in life. I believe if you thought your mother was a great person (and I hope you do) and someone comes along and makes up insensitive and derisive slanderous things about her…well, you’d get upset too.
    Read the YL website http://www.younglife.org and read about all it’s various ministries to all kinds of kids. This thread began by saying, essentially, YL is an elitist, white, popular-kid-only mission. The testimonies and the YL website, their mission statement and staff conferences are not in line with that assertion.
    As an aside, I want to encourage you all the white, snotty and snobby elitist rich kids need ministering too. :) Many of them have the hurts and pains and loneliness but are able to cover it over with material items.

  • Katie Q.

    So, it’s obviously been a while since this discussion was up and running, but I thought I should put my two cents in as someone who has (and is) involved with Young Life, yet has at times felt disdain for its “strategy.”
    First, I would say that you make a few valid points, but miss the main thing with Young Life. I don’t know exactly what this Family mess is, but I know Young Life and I strive to know the Lord. Young Life is about reaching every kid, everywhere, and for many years the way to go about that was through using (not catering to or agreeing with) the social ladder way back when popular kids could convince a lot of other kids to come to events. A truly good Young Life leader will never EVER ignore the other types of kids and will and should embrace the lost and least in high school and middle schools (i.e. disabled kids, goths, pregnant teens, socially awkward kids, minorities, etc.).
    Today’s teens are a different group and are much more cliquish. Thus, Young Life has shied away from its “key kid” strategy, instead opting for reaching different kids in different corners in the school to come together and realize that Christ and not their clothes, race or economic status is their unification. It is a beautiful thing to see kids that normally would have nothing to do with each other eating breakfast and studying the bible, figuring out how they can reach out to both the popular and unpopular kids at their school and people in their community.
    The thing is, all of us need Christ. The powerful, the lowly…all of them. And Christ had disciples who were the lost and least but also followers who were tax collectors and yes, even pharisees. So yeah, some Young Life kids may be wearing popped collars and be douches, but some of them may play the tuba or run cross country or live in a homeless shelter or be Homecoming queen. We have to stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment.
    So, I’m not asking you to reconsider your position on why Young Life is evil or not. I don’t care about the organization, I just want us to get the point that we have all fallen short of the glory of God and are all sinners, even the popular kids.
    That is to say, we all need Christ. I think Young Life has been a tool for showing kids Christ who otherwise would have never heard of Him. It’s imperfect, yes, but that’s the Church. We are becoming more like Christ, but aren’t quite there yet.
    Thanks for listening.

  • Cole

    Please do your research before bashing something you barely know about..

  • I just randomly bumped into this blog, and after read the posts and the comments that followed, I feel the need to put in my two cents.
    I was a popular kid in high school. I had as much or more hidden pain than anyone. I felt used by adults. Football was more for the coach than it was for me. I knew I was only loved for what I did and not for who I was. So what did I do? I continued to perform so I could earn some kind of love (though it wasn’t real) b/c it felt good to be recognized. But at the same time, I knew that NO ONE really cared. There wasn’t one youth group in the world that would take me in because I was different than everyone else. I partied and I was popular. And the youth group kids hated me for it…but there was the reality that I just couldn’t relate to them.
    All this to say, my Young Life leader walked into my life and loved me not for what I did, but just because he saw that I needed to be loved. Sure, every student needs to be loved…and man it would be great if we had 500 YL leaders at every school to love on every kid. But I’ll say this: If my Young Life leader didn’t walk into my life, I’d be dead right now. He invested in me and some of my friends and completely changed all of our lives. And no, he didn’t use us to “reach the lower” kids. But he DID cast a vision in us to change the school. We began to love on and include the furthest out kids in the school. We ate lunch with them, prayed for them, brought them to YL, and included them. Jesus Christ used the tool of YL and my YL leader to change my life.
    That being said, I’m now on full-time Young Life staff myself. And this is why I wanted to comment. First, to tell you my story. Second, to tell you that the way this blog is written is not the way Young Life trains. Some clubs in the past (20 or so years ago) did train to reach the most popular kids so that they could get every other kid to come (with the idea that more kids would want to come if the popular kids came.) They don’t do that anymore. Please note: the popular kids need Jesus as much or more than any other kid (trust me, I was one.) But that is not the way YL operates now. Granted, YL still tends to have the more “popular” kids in their clubs today. That is because volunteer leaders are trained to build relationships with kids that they feel drawn to. I’ve been involved with clubs of both complete outcasts and clubs of popular kids. It usually depends on what kind of leaders I am working with. But to be honest? The clubs with the “popular” kids tend to be the kids who have the most pain. They cut themselves. They drink alone. They are abused by their parents. When they have a “bad game” they are told they are worthless pieces of crap. They have so much pressure to be good at what they do, and they push themselves to be good, and have a smile on their face b/c that’s the only way people will love them. Our kids have expressed that we are the only people they know that love them regardless…that we would love them whether they perform well enough or whether they put on an image or not.
    I took 17 varsity football players to camp a few summers ago (none of which knew anything about Jesus.) We sat in a cabin as the kids one by one talked about this: “My mom gets drunk and throws wine glasses at me.”, and “I came home last night to my drunk Dad and he told me I was a disappointment to him and I was never going to amount to anything in life.” and “My parents are separated, sleep in separate rooms, but I can’t tell anyone b/c they don’t want our family name to be ruined.” So much pain. So many tears…kids that cried in front of an adult for the first time ever. Kids who all found hope in Christ for the first time ever. Kids who had their lives completely changed by the tool of Young Life. Young Life is evil? Try telling it to them

  • Matthew

    You people have no idea what Young Life is about. No kids “join” Young Life, thus anyone can be a part of it. You all sound like kids who just simply weren’t in the, what you call “popular crowd”. Now you’re made at an outreach ministry that you know nothing about. Have a real conversation with an adult leader in YL. Someone who actually knows what YL is about.

  • I’ll bite: How can you have a group that people cannot join? That means that either everyone is a member by default, which means that they claim my allegiance without my consent, and is really just meaningless. Or no one at all is a member.

  • Milly

    This post disturbs me and I wish I had more time right now to respond, however I don’t. Were you hurt by Young Life as a highschooler? Nearly word for word one of the heart beats of YL is to reach the “farthest out” kid. Kids in popped collars are farthest out, kids with lip rings are farthest out, kids with glasses are farthest out. Every single clique in the world of high school is farthest out. The Halo-effect happens, thinking that the popular kids have it all together therefore they don’t need to loved on. Thats wrong. Don’t blame a ministry that strives for the heart of Jesus when its the YL leaders who do the job of only responding to the popular “popped collar” kids in high school. Are they not also worthy of love?

  • CaryB

    Don’t blame a ministry that strives for the heart of Jesus when its the YL leaders who do the job of only responding to the popular “popped collar” kids in high school. Are they not also worthy of love?
    There seems to be a general tone of “Don’t blame Young Life, blame the bad people who screw up.” That’s complete BS. It’s their organization. They started it, they believe in it, they preach it, they make money off it, but when they screw up, it’s not their fault? I guess it isn’t the fault of all those archbishops in the Catholic Church. After all, THEY didn’t diddle any little boys in the confessional. They just shuffled them around, looked the other way, yadda yadda. Their organization has some people that are, by Fred’s excellent definition, evil people. BAD people. They have not rooted these people out, they have not gone after them, they have not clarified their position, they have, in other words, acted as if there was no problem at all. If the opposite was true, you’d have a point. But they didn’t and they haven’t and this has been going on for years. I’m past the “awww, cut them some slack” stage. They fucked up. They aren’t perfect, their just the same as 95% of these happy-crappy little “Christian” groups; they’re in it for the money. The popular kids have money, their parents have money, they’re who’s gonna be recruited.
    Lord, from the response, you’d think he’d called out the Ten Commandments or something. Never have I seen so many people with so many wads in their panties about such a stupid subject.

  • Jason

    They aren’t perfect, their just the same as 95% of these happy-crappy little “Christian” groups; they’re in it for the money. The popular kids have money, their parents have money, they’re who’s gonna be recruited.
    I can’t say much about Young Life because I don’t know much about it. When I was in high school though, I was a member of the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) briefly. I didn’t really want to take part of any extra curricular activities in school, because that meant spending more time at school which was a place I generally didn’t like that much. FCA was one of the ones I was in for a while so I’d have something to put as extracurricular on college applications.
    I’m not an athlete by any stretch of the imagination but I was told that in the case the word “athlete” meant we were exercising our faith, despite the fact that this club was sponsored by 2 coaches (one who a year or 2 later disappeared because he apparently really liked cheerleaders). I spent most of my time there feeling kind of like a 2nd class citizen because I was a member of the SUPER BAPTIST MEGACHURCH that all the cool kids were in and geeky kids still get crap from Christian kids who are “cool.” I get the impression that Young Life is probably a lot like this.

  • I’ll confess to curiosity about Young Life. I know nothing about the organization, it has zero presence in Canada and I’ve never encountered it.
    That said, I’m in a weird place now because Fred seems to be right that his case for the prosecution and the case for the defence are the same. Some of the defenders here do seem to be genuinely shocked by the claims that Fred is making, but others seem to be saying: “Well, we did only target popular kids, but that’s harder to do now, so we’ve switched” which is…yeah. Couple that with the links to the Family (which is currently advocating genocide in Uganda…) and I start feeling really apprehensive.
    So, which is it? Is Young Life a well-meaning outreach group? Is it about netting the popular kids (for whatever reason)? Is it about reaching out to everyone? (How does one do that, anyways?) What?
    And yeah, I definitely agree that saying “Oh, it’s just the leader’s fault” is a cop-out of the first order.

  • Launcifer

    And yeah, I definitely agree that saying “Oh, it’s just the leader’s fault” is a cop-out of the first order.
    Then again, it did work for Albert Speer…

  • CaryB

    Ironically, as I get older, I’ve grown a bit more conservative (as in, I’ve moved from very, very, liberal to very liberal) but I’ve grown more anarchistic. I’m starting to think that the problem isn’t people (one on one, most people are pretty cool) or the religion (there’s way too many awesome religious people, both here and in the real world, to make that belief stick.)
    I’m thinking that it’s the GROUP that’s evil. More specifically, I see it as a sliding scale. At one extreme you have a large group of people in say, a mall. Not very dangerous unless they panic. Then you have people all at the same place for the same thing. More potential for violence, especially against outsiders. Then you have people organized for the same thing with various levels of emotional meaning (People at a rock concert vs. People praying) then you have the organized people there for a deeply emotional experience based around telling themselves some other subset is bad. And so on, until you’re actually at the Klan, Hamas, the Weathermen, or whatever.
    People are bad. Groups are bad. And Young Life, while not the worst group, is up there. They play on a variety of emotional experiences (religion, exclusion, comradeship, hierarchy) and they base success in this group on popularity and religious fervor, two extraordinarily potent forces in the lives of teenagers. Then they tell the teens they are superior in a number of ways, and worse, that some groups are more inferior than others. (Blacks are cool. Hispanics less so. Gays are Right Out.)
    Then they have the temerity to act surprised when their holier than thou popular kids go out and give the less popular non-holies and assorted sinners grief? Please. It’s exactly what they want. It’s the inquisition tactics turned down a notch. If they won’t join you, either drive them into the fold or out of town. Instead of thumbscrews they use shame, guilt and popularity, but the basic idea is the same.
    No, Young Life is evil. But it isn’t evil because it’s religious. It’s a lot worse than that.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always been somewhat involved in YL. Though I have stopped going to meetings a couple months ago. It’s just so incredibly hard to disconnect yourself from the ties and trails that have been created by particpating, even if only for a short time, in YL. It’s just an awkward transition out of the YL scene overall.
    I know that I’m one of the more popular kids at my school. I don’t mean that in a condenscending way towards anyone else. I participate in music, atletics, academic, clubs – just everything. I have friends from all of those things and as a result I’m just a very well known and fairly well known person.
    I first went to YL after a YL leader introduced herself to me and invited me there. I went, I was young and at the time I thought it’d be a good way to deepen my faith. But it just never quite fit for me. Something was always off. I had my doubts about YL very soon after I started to attend.
    So I looked various things up on the internet, mostly critisism about YL. I found a lot about the popularity thing and that just really sort of set me off and repeled me away from the program all together.
    I don’t know if any of this made sense? But a lot of kids just don’t realize what they’re being used for, you know? Just have to follow your doubts, I suppose. YL, from an insder’s point of view, is almost identical to all the assumptions that are made from non-participants. The rumors and jokes that were made about YL that I heard prior to going were exactly true. I always thought that even if they were true that they’d just be extreme exagerations, but it’s all true.
    Overall, the way YL is setup and run is very disappointing.

  • Leah

    I want to preface this by saying you are all entitled to your own opinions and I respect them completely but I would also ask that you respect mine as well. I am currently a Young Life leader and though I have heard this message that it’s good to target the popular kids because they will draw in more kids, I choose not to lead that way. I target all and every kid because to me, all and every kid is important. I know that I myself came from a very broken place and I know every single one of those kids has brokenness in their lives and so I reach out to all of them. I just don’t think it’s very fair for you to stereotype all Young Lifers when though yes, some may be like that, some are not and choose to lead by Jesus’ teaching. I am not perfect and I certainly do not pretend to be, but I do try to do the right thing and for me I believe that’s accepting every kid for where they are at no matter where they are. We’re all imperfect right? Who am I to pick and choose who gets Grace and who does not? It’s a gift free for the taking and it’s important to me that all kids know that, not just the popular ones. Recalling my years in Young Life as a High School student, I feel the same — there was a broad spectrum of kids that went to Young Life — I know because I was not one of the really popular kids in high school — though there were some that attended YL there were many other types of kids that joined too. I guess all I am asking as that you at least try to respect those that are trying to do Young Life in a way that it should be done. Please don’t stereotype everyone based on one or two experiences.
    Thanks for reading.

  • YoungLifer

    As a Young Life leader, and someone who came to know Jesus through Young Life, I see where your frustration stems from. It does have a tendency to attract the kids who are considered “popular”. But that is not the vision of Young Life. I, as a Young Life leader, aim to make friends with whomever God puts in my path at the school I lead at. My YL team tries to encourage our core YL kids to reach out to their peers, and not just their buds they already hang out with. The gospel isn’t JUST for the popluar kids… it’s for everyone. But please don’t say it’s evil when it IS reaching out to the kids who are trying to find their identity through their peers liking them when really their identity is meant to be in Christ. We all need Jesus, no matter how high up on the hierarchy we appear to be. You think the kids who are popular for partying don’t need to hear how much God loves them? Praise God they are seeking that out somewhere. I hope you can see that all organizations lack perfection, but that the heart behind it all is surely not evil, but hopeful.

  • Man, I think you’ve been mislead. I’ve been a leader with YoungLife for 2 years and never have i been told to hang out with just the popular kids. In fact, Ive been encouraged to hang out with the kids no one wants to hang out with, the kids adults are “scared” of. Which is why our middle school group is full of kids that are on drugs, having sex and cussing like sailors. Im not sure where you’ve gotten your information from, but we dont have any jocks, any cheer leaders, or any kids wearing Polo shirts with popped collars.
    Cool, you have some dirt on the founder of the Family, but Jim Rayburn is the founder of YoungLife, who was a Presbyterian. And a simple Wiki-search will tell you about all the “sub ministries” YoungLife has to offer to the “down and out” such as YoungLives (a ministry targeting teenage mothers), and Capernaum (targeting kids with mental diabilities).
    It breaks my heart to hear someone bash the ministry that played a huge role in bringing me to Christ in high school. Maybe you got burned by a leader or the kids with popped collars werent the nicest kids at YoungLife, but to say its evil?
    YoungLife has been a huge part of leading a lot of kids to a relationship with Jesus and to call it evil is a bit of a stretch.
    YoungLife is for everyone from the “nerds”, single teenage mothers, and kids with disabilities. And praise God he didnt think it was evil to want to reach the captain of the water polo team, president of guitar club, and the kid who wore a polo shirt (minus the popped collar) to school occasionally.
    God has brought me to Costa Rica for the next 5 months to serve the poor community of Nicaraguan immagrants and I wouldnt be here if it wasnt for the awesome leaders I had in high school.
    Youve been holding on to whatever it is you have against YoungLife for, it sounds like, over 20 years. Maybe you can pray for the faults you see in the ministry instead of calling it evil and walking away from it.

  • iloveYL2011

    I just wanna say that I’ve been involoved with YoungLife since my sophomore year (I’m now a senior) and it is one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Because of YL, I’m getting to know God more and more everyday. My leaders certainly do not teach us not to love others who don’t look like us or think like us. They teach us to love everyone. THey don’t only associate with the popular kids in school, becasue I’m not one of those. They reach out to everyone. We’re all invited. And they certainly do not teach that God’s love is conditional. I actually just came back from a Camp and I found out just how unconditional His love is. People don’t have to be “good” to earn his love. GOd loves anyone and everyone just the way they are and He longs for a relationship with everyone. I’ve learned that all you have to do is tell God you want Him in your life and the more you get to know him by reading the bible, praying, going to church, or talking to wiser people, the more you want to change for God. He loves you either way though.

  • jtroop

     Oh hey, no.  I know it’s two years later, but we don’t all need Christ.  I find it absolutely abhorrent that you’re trying to lure my Jewish daughter with Otter Pops at her middle school without even admitting that you’re Christian.

  • Jesusswag2011

    As a Young Life leader I must say, I do not look for the “popular” kids, I look for the broken hearted and so do my fellow leaders. I will also add when my Young Life leader got me involved in High School, I was far from being anything seen as cool.

  • anonymous

    I am an incest survivor. My father was a “major” leader in the Young Life organization….to this day, I am vilified by speaking up about his crimes against me.

  • I’m sorry this happened. Thank you for speaking up.

  • jennifer

    Thank you….it is nice to hear an,,I am sorry.I am certain there are many sexual abuse survivors and hopefully my sharing will help others comme forward.

  • jennifer

    I am a adult child of a YL leader and an incest survivor. In my experience the abuse runs throughout the organization. It is covered up. It is time for this issue to be brought forth and discussed. Victims need to be heard and the perpetrators need to be brought to justice.

  • Dan

    I have been working in churches my entire adult life, from administration to pastor. I also spent a few years volunteering with Young Life and have been to the Young Life HQ in Colorado Springs. Groups like Young Life exist because churches have failed to consistently share the Gospel like Jesus did, outside of the church.

    Do I think that focusing on one type of kid is Christ-like? No! But at least it is a strategy. While I was volunteering with Young Life we had very few “popular kids.” Our group was a mish mash of emo kids, home school kids, military brats, and a couple well like kids from the local high school. It’s not as if Young Life ignores kids who aren’t popular. They don’t teach that God loves winners. During pretty much every camp they have a mud pit, where everyone is covered in mud. The point is that when everyone is covered in mud, you can’t tell race or social status. Everyone is equal.

    To dub something or someone “Evil” is to say that there is no good in them. Young Life and groups like them are doing a lot of good. You can say that they have flaws in their strategy. You can even say that this portion of their strategy is unbiblical. You cannot say that Young Life as a whole is an evil organization.

    Find yourself a church. Any random church. I bet there are some practices that are unbiblical or lack of practices that are biblical. Does that make them evil?

    I honestly don’t know much about “The Family” but I am familiar with Jeff Sharlet. He attacks ANY Christian movement among teens.

  • Brad

    Hi Fred, I think your right… what you are saying here is a rant. I have to comment (which I imagine I will regret), because I don’t need your verbal bashing sent my direction. What your ranting about is the same moaning about churches, religion and people that folks say all the time, “Stay away from the shiny happy people they might make you drink the kool-aid” or “What makes them so perfect, what a bunch of hypocrites!” The irony is that Christians then do the same under the guise of WWJD. I have said these things before too, it is like I have a massive piece of wood in my eye and I can’t see clearly. Truth is the Church is made up of humans… flawed ones.

    My own experience of being picking on and beat up by popular people in school (some who said they were Christians) occasionally creeps up on me and causes me to react to situations, organisations or people. I find myself sizing people up based on their fashion sense (or lack of), what car they drive (or don’t) and even what books they have read (or haven’t), because I also get marginalised. I think we all do. I tend to wonder why we care so much about cars, books and clothes. I have friends who wear suits, boots, dresses, chains and hoodies… I love them all the same. I can admit I sometimes look at big companies or successful athletes and say look how evil. Although, when I think or say this all I am really saying is… look at me… look at how much more evolved I am.

    Now before you completely right me off for not knowing you and having a friendship where I can say these sorts of things to you… please hear me, I’m telling you the truth… I have seen several organisations, both secular and Christian that do not have the success that Young Life has, because they let people’s rants get in the way of what they are supposed to be doing. This happens a lot. It is like we cannot (or more precisely, will not) objectively think about ourselves, organisations, the world and God without our past hurts creeping in and mucking up our perspective.

    Evil… or my first understanding of evil, was when I stood in a concentration camp in Germany at age eleven. That was where I first heard and saw where genocide took place. I had to go and see, reading about it online or in books wasn’t enough. When I first went to go see Young Life at age 28, I thought to myself… this is good. Young Life is not evil. And it is very reckless for you to say that it is. My experience of Young Life over the past decade has been in suburban, urban and now international settings where Young Life has shown to care about every young person. I have served alongside Young Life staff and volunteers at a Young Life camp in Florida for special needs young people. I am absolutely certain those kids were not the most popular at their high school. My experience of Young Life has been very positive. I am sorry yours has not.