At a recent UK gathering of Christian Youth Workers the most requested area of advice and training was surrounding the LGBTQI conversation. Yep, I said it friends, conversation. The use of the word ‘issue’ or ‘situation’ in this context, I find, is at best unhelpful and at worst, spiritual abuse.
One of the reasons I agreed to contribute to 4 Views on Pastoring LGBTQ Teenagers, published by The Youth Cartel, is because it is written as a conversation. The contributors, like me, are on the ground, in the trenches youth workers whose pastoral practices come from relationships with awesome, talented, spirit filled young people who are both a gift to the local church and LGBTQI. In the book you will find each of the views sandwiched between responses to each view. There will be parts you can AMEN and other parts that will annoy you. The one uniting thread though, throughout all the views, is that all young people are known, loved and valued by God. This is as true for me or you as it is for our LGBTQI youth.
Yet sadly, it can seem as if we separate out categories in church far too often: those that are made in the image of God and those that are not. Many of the LGBTQI young people I have worked with have found themselves on the receiving end of this categorizing. Sometimes explicitly declared—physical words spoken over them by pastors, youth workers, and parents, heard from pulpits and discussed at conferences. Other times as subtler and more implicit—the pity look; being treated as less-than-equal compared to peers; and often in the silencing of views, opinions, and prayers as if these young people have nothing of value, of God, to contribute to the church.
Of course, there are pastoral tensions when you are attempting to call the whole church to a higher level of holiness, but I can’t help but reflect that when we do this, either deliberately or unintendedly, we reduce God. I find the words of a youth worker buddy of mine, Ricky, a useful encouragement: “Nothing that happens changes who God is or how God responds to me. Everything that happens can change who I am and how I respond to God.” So, for me, I seek to curate a safe space for all those young people I journey with to reflect the image of God to me, affirming that they are made in his image and have the spark of the divine at their very core. This doesn’t change, ever. So, as the one with power, I need to be active in curating a safe space for all young people to outwork the authenticity and integrity us pastors are so fond of!
-Rev. Gemma Dunning
- What training do you and your team need around the LGBTQI conversation?
- How can you and your team curate space for LGBTQI youth to be active and engaged in your context?