When it's Time to Change
Part of the “Things That Were Not a Thing Like 10 Years Ago” Series
By Kelly Peterson-Cruse
*The topic of homosexuality is a sensitive issue, there are serious disagreements about it and that the church is waiting on the recommendation of the Commission on the Way Forward, but that there should also be room for grace and ministry for young people regardless of gender orientation.
Youth Ministry today is a lot different than it was even 5 years ago. Young people more and more are seeking places that are all inclusive and consider the diversity of the world we live in today. That includes places of ministry (i.e. YOUR youth ministry) that has considered and is equipped to be inclusive of not only ethnic youth, but youth who may have a different sexual preference and/or gender identity. To say that we as the church “shouldn’t have to deal with this”, is naïve at best. That line of thinking limits ministry to not be inclusive to all seeking God’s grace, love and a life of faith. The existence of the issue itself, and a wide variety of theological responses to it, are also a reality of the times and culture we live in the United States of 2017.
Ideally, we can find a way to minister and be in relationship with all young people within a ministry setting.
I have heard of churches sending young people away, because “the church was not equipped to handle this”, or just ignoring it in hopes “they’ll grow out of it.” I do realize in some congregations there is a theological opposition to this topic and its place in ministry. That position is recognized as we are called to a ministry of young people. We at the very least need to have resources to help young people find a safe space to live and grow in their life of faith. Ideally, we can find a way to minister and be in relationship with all young people within a ministry setting. Additionally, I have found being prepared, giving some thought and knowing your resources BEFORE this topic is presented in your youth group, is the very best way to create a culture of change with loving response and actions.
So… Where do you go? The following are suggestions and resources that I have gathered in creating a piece for the Safe Sanctuary website. These are general considerations; the piece also offers practical suggestions around bathroom and housing.
Being inclusive while protecting all children and youth is difficult to navigate. It is a process that is constantly changing and evolving. Currently, there are a few considerations that I have found useful in making decisions around LBGTQ youth:
- Make no assumptions about a young person’s sexual orientation or identity.
- Accept whatever gender the youth identifies on registration forms.
- Make room for a blank on registration forms where a young person can identify as non-binary or fluid for example.
- Educate yourself and train staff on proper use of terminology.
- If the youth is in gender transition, ask if it is ok to have a discussion with the whole group explaining their transition in a way that is sensitive and prevents the youth from becoming the “poster child” around the issue or being bombarded with questions that could be inappropriate.
- Realize you might be the only adult they’ve come out to; finding ways to protect the youth and their privacy is important.
- Be intentional about creating a safe environment and culture by awareness and training around homophobic language and bullying.
- Create a policy or behavior covenant that all are aware of and commit to uphold.
- Do not suggest that this is something that “they will grow out of” or that “God will help them deal with and overcome.”
- Be ready to give support to parents as well as the youth and to have an intentional conversation with your youth group that helps them with terminology, process (in the case of transitioning youth) and respect. (I talk about how they would feel if people were constantly questioning everything about their sexuality and personal relationships and role play this…).
- As it is with adults working with youth, you should have clear practices in your guidelines or policy around showering, toileting and dressing. In general, all should be done in private, especially for adults.
Again, the key to this is being prepared, having resources, creating practices that will already be in place when these considerations present themselves in your youth ministry program. Yes, the times, they ARE a changing…
- umcyoungpeople.org/resources/faith-and-sex - The SEX curriculum has expanded to included lessons around sexuality and gender identification.