The Education of a Church: Rein in the Youth Pastors

Image

I was in Junior High. I remember being fully aware of my attractions, but uncertain of where to turn. While I didn’t know where to go, I definitely knew where not to go- my church youth group. Those around me didn’t realize it, but I understood I didn’t belong. They were the Christians and I was the sin. I was the poison to their pool.

Reinforcing this reality were the words of none other than my own leaders. Maybe it was when we watched a short Christian documentary about how people contract AIDS, with a lengthy portion on the promiscuity of gay men.

Or perhaps it was when,

“that’s so gay!”

was said more often than

“God bless you”

It could’ve been when my youth leaders smirked as students spoke in slurs, only then to offer a few cracks of their own. I remember practicing my fake laugh, while my stomach went sick, as the head of my small group did his best impression of a “homo”.

~

Later on, as I grew older, I was part of another youth group. It was more mature, but just as disturbing. There was one time in particular. While in the midst of a Bible Study, one of the leaders lamented the fact that the local Christian college granted admission to gay students. He saw it as a slippery slope to Hell, or worse, liberalism.

Strangely, his exhortation took a turn as he noted a statistic he had read recently. He told us that one out of every nineteen people is gay. There were twenty in our group.

What could have been the start of a redemptive conversation regarding the words we use ended with a break and a return to our talk about the evils of Kabballah.

When he threw out those stats, it felt like a warning upon us all. It had the echoes of Jesus saying that one of his own would betray him. I felt the burning crimson begin to cover my face and I excused myself to the restroom… I was barely breathing.

~

Years later, on the first night in my dorm, in that college on that slippery slope, there was a night I would never forget. We were all gathered in the common area as our RD spent over an hour handing down the house rules. Everything from curfew to cigarettes to shoes in the door was covered. As she brought the night to a close, she said something that totally caught me off guard.

“Hey, just so ya’ll know, gay is not synonymous with stupid, ugly, unchristian or what have you. I won’t be tolerating any of that here. “

I felt safe. For the first time in a setting of faith, I felt safe.

I should have always felt this way in Church.

~ ~ ~

Youth pastors and leaders have such big hearts. Typically, they are the ones that never shed their childhood innocence. The ones still amazed by simple wonders and never lose their silliness. Sometimes they are volunteer college students, other times, they are people with children of their own. These people need not be lectured on the meaning of love because they are living examples of it.

Having said this, there’s something they may need to hear.

I have heard too many stories like my own to know that my experience isn’t the exception, it’s more the rule. Homophobia gets a hall pass in a lot of Churches today. Should it be a surprise that so many gay kids end up leaving the church? The very leaders that they look up to express such utter disgust and contempt for people like them. They make jokes about their pain. They ridicule their insecurities. They teach their friends that gay kids are uncool, creepy and should be kept at a distance. A church youth group is supposed to be a place of spiritual support, not a breeding ground for bullies.

Think, just for a moment, how Christ has been conveyed here. I can only speak for myself but when I was that age… Christ was a guy that couldn’t have cared less about me. He was a knuckle dragger jock who called me creepy and gross. Clearly, he liked my leaders- they spoke about their friendship with him all the time. They talked about how God had told them to come into ministry. How God set them in the position they were in at that moment. He was the one that put them in my life.

My bullies were sent from God.

~

This is something that is so solvable. So simple that I really don’t need to articulate a long list of recommendations or ground rules, because, really, it’s that simple. If you are in a position of authority in the church, call the youth ministry into your office to discuss homophobia. It may not be a problem for your church, but why not make sure? Especially in light of all the young LGBT suicides taking place over the past few years, why not sit them down anyway?

You don’t have to change your convictions in order to make your youth groups safer.

Tell the leaders that it is unacceptable, in any way, shape or form, to disparage those that are gay. Make them realize how hostile of an environment they create with their crude comments. Remind them of the Christ that chose to chill with the closeted. Read off the names and stories of kids that took their lives in the past year as a result of bullying. Encourage them to get on board with the It Gets Better Campaign. Give them copies of the books by Justin Lee and Andrew Marin. Assign them homework, tell them to go out and learn more from their brothers and sisters in Christ. Let them know that racism, sexism and homophobia are all forms of prejudice and the wounds they inflict can have long lasting implications.

Furthermore, show them what an incredible opportunity they have to be Kingdom Builders! Tell them that being a leader is not about becoming part of the mob, but about guiding them. Reconciling them. Loving them, bullies and losers alike. Make it a priority.

It is so sad, tragic even, that this is a problem in a community based on unconditional love and universal unworthiness,

But yet, here we are…

Folks, it’s time to chase this sin out of the Church.

Because bullying has no place in youth ministry.

RR

Advertisements

Measuring My Manhood

Image

My manhood hasn’t always been a huge concern for me. I mean, occasionally I’ll experience the brief insecurity of letting Taylor Swift finish her song as I’m riding in a car full of dudes, but who hasn’t? (and honestly, who doesn’t love her?). There’s also the times when the demon incarnate baseball will roll up to my feet, and I have a moment similar to Smalls in the Sandlot, where I, uh, run it over to its owner. Oh, and also, I don’t really fall under the hetero tent either.

But I have some manly qualities about me. And, in all seriousness, I am very proud to be a man. It’s a unique part of my identity, and just for sake deconstructing stereotypes: no, not all gay men wish they were women or are feminine.

I’m practical, logical, enjoy the outdoors, love fishing, action flicks, working on my core, eating steak-rare,  (this is starting to sound like a dating profile), anyhow, my point is, even if you were to judge me from societal standards, I think you’d consider me a man of men. But all the reasons listed above do not equate to the Biblical definition of what a man is. They are what pop culture defines masculinity as. I am not Chuck Norris nor am I Rambo. And I am no less a man than these two real/fictional characters would have you believe.

Oh, and I am also nothing like Mark Driscoll.

“The mainstream church, Driscoll has written, has transformed Jesus into “a Richard Simmons, hippie, queer Christ,” a “neutered and limp-wristed popular Sky Fairy of pop culture that . . . would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell.” (http://blog.beliefnet.com/stevenwaldman/2009/01/limp-wristed-jesus.html/)

Latte-sipping Cabriolet drivers do not represent biblical masculinity, because real men — like Jesus, Paul, and John the Baptist — are dudes:  heterosexual, win-a-fight, punch-you-in-the-nose dudes.  In other words, because Jesus is not a limp-wristed, dress-wearing hippie, the men created in his image are not sissified church boys; they are aggressive, assertive, and nonverbal.”

(http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/01/08/jesus-and-masculinity/)

Music to my ears.

According to the list, Driscoll’s list, I flunk with flying colors.

Heterosexual- Doomed from the start

Win-a-fight- Have fought, well wrestled, when I was 7, and I always lost.

Punch-you-in-the-nose- Hate seeing people bleed, next.

Dress wearing hippie- I’ve never worn a dress! Check. But, some would call me hippie-like.

Aggressive- Passive

Assertive- sort of?

Nonverbal– I like to talk about feelings.

So there you have it, I cannot be a member of Mark Driscoll’s Macho Man Club.

Additionally, I don’t make my heavenly father proud.

So, there’s that.

Hold on, let’s tap the brakes.

Jesus, Paul, and John’s turn

 

Heterosexual

While I have very strong doubts that John the Baptist, Paul or Jesus Christ were gay men, they never made public declarations of their sexuality, or even mention a single instance of personal sexual attraction. (perhaps because they weren’t so insecure about it.. driscoll). If this was such an important credential to being a real man, why didn’t they simply say so?

Fighters/Aggressive/Assertive

Jesus nixed our natural tendency towards self-defense by declaring that we take the hit on both sides of the face (Matthew 5:39), and by submitting to a criminal’s death undeserved. And in his instructions for evangelism, he asked us to be “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16, NLT). Not bullies.

Paul was beaten to a pulp, unprovoked, and he refused to raise his fist. Why? Because according to him, we should not “overcome evil by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21, NIV).

John the Baptist looked soldiers in the eye and told them, “do violence to no man.” (Luke 3:14, KJV)

Dress-wearing hippie

For the sake of serious argument, I will pass on talking about how Paul, and Jesus all likely wore clothes resembling dresses, but John, on the other hand, preferred threads of camel hair (Matthew 3:4).

But the hippie charge. I’ll make this short and sweet. Jesus was raised in poverty and led an all out nonviolent rebellion against the religious order. He hung out with societal undesirables (including WOMEN), and had Woodstock-esque gatherings during his sermon on the mount, and when he fed the five thousand. In today’s context, Jesus would be a hippie.

John the Baptist, was head to toe hippie, he chose a radical lifestyle. He ate bugs, and held gatherings in rivers. His statement to the soldiers reminds me of the flower power generation placing roses in the rifles of cadets.

Paul is the perfect example of a hippie’s biography. He started out as a fundamentalist, a legalist, a persecutor, and then, a life altering talk with Christ, and boom, he abandoned the old ways. Additionally, he was a man of utter tolerance. He brought in Gentiles, women, and children. His reasoning?

“for the Kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and approved by men.” (Romans 14:17, NIV)

 

That’s hippie talk.

Nonverbal

 

Perhaps the most ridiculous statement made by Mark Driscoll. Jesus turned oration into an art form. The poetic nature of his parables were sensitive stylistically, and incredibly elegant. Jesus never turned anyone away, nor did he dodge dialogue.

*Additionally, this places us in an awkward position if we are to be nonverbal, cause prayer requires the opposite (although it also requires listening!)

Paul was even more verbal and open about his story. He wrote deeply personal accounts of his own pain, regrets and struggles. He didn’t man up and shut up. He wanted to share, yes, his feelings!

John the Baptist was a preacher. Yes, a preacher. But somehow nonverbal? He engaged with the outcasts and was quite vocal about the coming Kingdom.

The irony of Mark Driscoll’s statements in light of these three men (one of them, being God), would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous. Tragically, Driscoll took his hate speech one step further.

He beckoned forth the bullies.

Image

I cannot imagine what it was like for these worship pastors to be insulted so publicly. And by none other than a pastor!

I cannot understand how Pastor Mark believes this behavior is becoming of a man of God. In an age of teen suicides resulting from cyber-bullying, pastor Mark called for Christian hazing to his some 200,000 followers on twitter and facebook. It is nothing short of sickening.

And, more than anything, I am amazed that people still follow him.

Rachel Held Evans, a personal favorite of mine, wrote a response post to Mark Driscoll’s declarations.

“Godly men stick up for people, not make fun of them.

Godly men honor women, not belittle them

Godly men love their gay and lesbian neighbors, not ridicule them

Godly men celebrate femininity, not trash it.

Godly men own their sexuality, not flaunt it

Godly men pursue peace, not dismiss it

Godly men rise above violence, not glorify it

Godly men build up the Church, not embarrass it.

 

Godly men imitate Christ—who praised the gentle and the peacemakers, who stood up for the exploited and abused, who showed compassion for the downtrodden, who valued women, and who loved his enemies to the point of death.” – Rachel Held Evans (http://rachelheldevans.com/mark-driscoll-bully)

This woman of God knows more about what’s in the fabric of Biblical manhood than Pastor Macho.

Finally, I am glad I do not make the cut for Mark’s Macho Man club.

Because guess what?

Christ wouldn’t either.

RR