What would you name as the greatest challenges for achieving full inclusion of GLBT youth in our churches today?
Several years ago I was asked to be a featured speaker at a state-wide youth rally in the mid-west. The kids were wonderful. Together we laughed, swapped stories, and studied scripture. We connected. After worship one night, the youth minister who hired me for the event asked if I would be willing to lead an informal afternoon session the next day. "The kids want a question and answer time with you," he said. "We can even record it and post it as a podcast on our state's youth resources site."
I was flattered, obviously. Who doesn't like hearing that a roomful of people are interested in your opinions? I was also cautious, however. Timid. A little afraid. The event was being hosted by a very conservative denomination. The youth groups present were brought by very conservative youth ministers . . . and none of them knew that I was gay.
"I'd be happy to," I told the youth minister. "But given an open mic and the freedom to ask anything, you know what they're going to say. They're going to ask about the war in Iraq, whether drinking alcohol is a sin, and what I think about gay marriage. I'm not afraid to talk about those things, but you should know that my opinions might make these churches significantly uncomfortable."
"No worries," he said. "It won't go that deep. They'll just ask stuff about dating and your favorite movies."
He was wrong. The first question was about gay marriage and whether I think homosexuality is a sin.
I answered honestly, giving a brief synopsis of the six "clobber" passages and what they said to their original audience in their original context, in their original language. Afterward, as the room cleared, I had more than a dozen conversations with kids telling me thank you. "Nobody talks honestly to us about these things," they said. "It's like they don't want us to really think about it."
The youth minister also told me, "We recorded everything, but I can't post it online. If I do, you'll never work in this state again."
When a pastor accepts a position at a new church, "job security" doesn't necessarily come with the benefits package. Speaking honestly and intelligently about homosexuality in the church is dangerous. Conservative denominations often have firmly established doctrines about homosexuality that are so powerful they're seldom studied. They're dangerous to question. Suggesting that the church might have misinterpreted the relatively little the Bible says about homosexuality can easily result in a minister being told, "you'll never work in this state again."
One of the biggest hurdles we face in achieving full inclusion of LGBT youth is making the church a safe place not only for students, but also for study. Our scripture is not simple and cannot be read simply. If we're going to claim that the church and its ministers are qualified to say what God does and does not approve of, then ministers must be given the freedom and training to study the scripture responsibility. They must be encouraged to think critically about the issues that affect their people. Walking humbly with our God sometimes means walking contrary to culture . . . sometimes even church culture.