As an Evangelical Youth Worker I am passionate about seeing young people encounter the fullness of life offered by Jesus (“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10). But my heart’s desire is not just merely to see young people survive adolescence but to enable them to fully thrive.
I know that the average life of a teenager is tough, they face all sorts of challenges: poverty, access to education, homelessness, family breakdown, violence, increase availability of drugs and alcohol but the Church historically has been able to offer a lifeline to many young people facing these issues. It has offered love, a listening ear, understanding, compassion and lavishly dished up servings of hope alongside enabling young people to rewrite plans for a positive future. But what if the issues young people face are a little more theologically challenging for us to handle?
What does it look like to thrive as a teenager if you are attracted to the same sex, or want to change gender?
The latest Stonewall School Report, undertaken in the UK, identifies that more than half (55%) of Gay Lesbian and Bisexual pupils have been on the receiving end of direct bullying and 41% have attempted or thought about taking their own life directly because of bullying and the same number say that they deliberately self-harm directly because of bullying.
This is an issue that affects those within the Church just as much as those outside of it.
Whilst these stats might be depressing, they really don’t represent the harsh reality of what life is like for many LGBT teenagers, school can be a harsh environment but now with the increase in social media young people are not protected from bullying once they leave the playground. Real young people, real pain, real loss of life. That is not thriving!
Having been in Church based youth ministry for the last 10 years, I have had in each and every year at least one young person disclose that they identify as LGBT or are questioning their sexuality or gender. Truth is, some Christians are Gay and even if this hasn’t been your experience, the statistics show that young people in your youth ministry will have friends or family members who identify as LGBT.
This is an issue that affects those within the Church just as much as those outside of it. So whilst I appreciate and recognise the many theological tensions that homosexuality raises for the Church I believe that now more than ever we need to put on our wellington boots and stand together in the muddy waters of discussion. Not in order to reach an agreed theological stance on a few specific scriptures but rather to come together to see how we, the Church, can outwork the promises of Jesus that the ‘whosoevers’ (John 12:46) can access the light and love he offers.
At this year’s Youthwork the Conference we have a unique opportunity together to engage in a conversation. Our seminar will look at how we can create spaces for inclusion, consider how we can support young people and enable us to consider some of the tensions surrounding this issue. Will you join us?