Friday, October 12, 2007

A Youth Group Experience

A few weeks ago a friend who is active in the local LGBT activist group called to ask me whether I would be willing to come as a guest speaker for a youth group composed of LGBT youth and their allies.

"Sure," I said. "What do you want me to talk about?"

"They want someone to talk to them about religion and spirituality," she said. This friend, by the way, knows about me, that I am a closeted lesbian. (Maybe that was self-evident, maybe not.)

About a day after I said yes, I contacted her by email. I asked, "How do I negotiate my being in/ out with these kids? I don't want to present them with an unhealthy role model."

She reassured me quickly that this group, of anyone, knows full well the complications/ implications of being in and out. She also reassured me that my choices are not "unhealthy" but simply my choices, and that the group has a strong understanding of confidentiality. So, ok. I went.

I met on a balmy Wednesday afternoon with about ten young people, all identifiying either as gay or transgender or both. There were also two adult mentors (my friend and another woman). I hadn't given a lot of thought to what I would say (because I was assured that they would have questions). To get us started I held up my bible and said, "So, what's a word or phrase that comes into your head when you see this book?"

A young man said, "Confused."

A young transman said, "Angry."

A young woman said, after a minute of body language that showed fairly significant distress, "Don't even get me started."

What followed was an hour and a half of some pretty hair-raising stories. Many of them were about ministers threatening kids that they had to come out to their parents immediately, that they were going to hell, that they were not loved by Jesus if they persisted in their "sin." Many of them were about kids deciding (correctly) that there was nothing for them in those churches. Many of them were about getting kicked out by parents, having plans for education derailed, getting jobs at fast food joints in order to pay rent on crappy apartments.

At a certain point I held up the bible again, and said, "I apologize to each of you, on behalf of the church, for the violence that has been done to you by the misuse of this book." I went on to tell them, possibly not very articulately, that when I read the gospels, and see who is in Jesus' entourage, and who Jesus chooses to be with, I see a great deal of hope in the bible. I see a God who is constantly siding with the underdog. I see a God who says, the crappier life treats you, the more beloved you are to me. But I also see a God who doesn't use platitudes to keep people down... in other words, it's not ok to be treated crappily because of some afterlife hope. I see a God who says "You.... yes, you... you are welcome at this table. You are welcome now, as you are."

I didn't say a lot of stuff that occurred to me later... stuff, for instance, on re-naming. Scripture is full of people whose names change when their relationship with God grows or deepens. With a room full of trans kids, that might be good to talk about. We'll do it next time.


don't eat alone said...

Sounds like a powerful evening for them and for you. They -- and you -- are wonderfully and uniquely created in the image of God. Me, too.


Anonymous said...

"We'll do it next time."

Thank you so much for being a voice of hope and love to those kids. And thank you for your willingness to go back. I'm currently struggling with helping one or two of the youth at the church I'm working at realize that God loves them no matter what, because the voices they hear at school and on the news so often tell them otherwise...

Anonymous said...

Bless you for doing this!

LittleMary said...

sounds awesome! i am so glad you went. little toe by little toe you are living into YOU and it is a beautiful thing.

Rev. Dr. Laura Marie Grimes said...

How wonderful that they had you there.

Jan said...

Cecilia, it is so good that you spoke to those kids. How I wish my daughter had heard this message when she was a teenager! You spoke God's truth to them, and I am so sad that "God" is used to condemn such children (and adults). Thank you for speaking to those kids!

a feckless boy said...

I have only just discovered your blog. And I just wanted to say something encouraging, though I'm not sure what? Maybe, just a prayer that God will be all you need for where you are today.


Heather W. Reichgott said...

so glad you were there as the pastor that you are! for some of these kids it was probably the first time they saw a gay or lesbian person in the role of ministry. the message "God loves you no matter what" is doubly powerful when the person speaking knows what it's like to be in the hearer's shoes.

Doorman-Priest said...

Its a privilege to be able to begin to put right what others have messed up. Only recently, as a High School teacher, I have come into contact with three young gay teenage boys, all in classes I teach. One tells me he is going to Hell, another won't touch the Bible (This is Religious Studies by the way) unless he is wearing gloves and the third is just angry, angry, angry.

Like you I have begun to challenge their view of the church and of Christianity. I have given them Mad Priest's blog details so that they know there are Christians out there who are gay friendly and inclusive and I have been able, in the context of a module on religion and prejudice, to use the famous Dr. Laura letter as a tool to challenge the accepted wisdom of the O.T. on sexuality. It is making a difference.

Keep up this vital ministry.

Aghaveagh said...

To second (or third) what has already been said, what a powerful ministry that has been suggested to you. However far you are able to pursue it, only you can know.

I can only imagine how comforting it would be to these kids to have someone talk to them, not about condemnation, or hell, but love, and unconditional love at that.

God bless you and yours.


Anonymous said...

Amen, Cecilia, amen. You have just articulated here one of the most aspects of being an ordained person -- just your very BEING there shows that not all ordained people are like those horrific, judgmental folks these kids have had experiences with. In my own discernment, when I think about having the power to say, "On behalf of the church, I apologize for the violence done to you in the name of Christianity," I get chills up my spine. What an immense privilege.

By the way, do you know about this campaign against religious biogtry against GLBT people? I saw a billboard for this this weekend in Greenville, SC, right across the street from Bob Jones University, and just about ran my car off the road.