Last week I shared some perspectives from my story as a gay teen. This week, I would like to continue offering some perspectives that I hope help youth workers understand how most gay teens feel inside church settings.
As an “out” gay teen, I was never invited to youth group or church. Instead, my peers who were Christians ignored the fact I needed Jesus and focused more on telling me (and my gay friends) how we were going to hell. My perceptions, then, of all church people were formed by those interactions.
Since the only thing people saw was my sexual orientation, I lived as though this was the only definitive part about me. When I walked the school halls, I heard more names like “faggot,” “homo,” and “queer,” then I did my own name. And though at times I flaunted my sexuality in order to live up to the “fanfare” I received, I knew there was more to me than my sexual orientation. I just wish others knew this, too.
However, I felt, when I walked into a room – either in school or other places where I was known, I was met with eyes that only saw my sexuality.
When I became a Christian after high school, I started attending a church where some of the people knew about my struggle with same-sex attractions. Some people even attended high school with me and were surprised to see me at their church. Though I was greeted with smiles and casual hellos, I felt I could never escape the perception of “the gay guy is here, again.”
This uncomfortable feeling caused me to not share about my gay attractions and experiences when I gave my testimony or met new people. In fact, the church where I grew up in the faith, for the longest time, only knew of a few details about my past – homosexuality not being one of them. The main two reason why I did this was: I wanted people to not reject me, and I wanted people to see me, and not my sexuality.
While this may seem harmless on the outside, I battled my attractions, addictions, doubt, fear, anger, etc, inwardly and alone for too long of a time span.
When gay teens walk through the doors of your youth room, how will you see them? How will your students see them?
I love this quote by Darrin Patrick on what it means to truly see people: To be on mission is to have a heart full of compassion for people – to see them the way Jesus did … When we look – not glance, but look – we see the person, not the problem. When we look at the person, we see that he or she matters to God and ought to matter to us. When we look, we see a person to be loved, not a problem to be handled. Only when we look can we experience compassion (Church Planter, pg. 174-175).
How we see teens who are either openly gay or questioning their sexuality deeply matters. More than anything, as youth workers – as Christians, we need to see these students as made in God’s image and as ordinary teenagers.
I am often asked by youth workers if there are specific ministries that need to be started when ministering to gay teens. Beyond forming mentoring relationships with them, gay teens need to be treated just like other teenagers in your group. Talk about Christ. Invite them to a bible study. Visit them at school, or stop in at activities outside of school. Invite them over for a meal. If they are talented with music, ask them to join the worship band – if you have one. Or if they have a gift of leadership, ask them to serve as a student leader.
[Yes, teens willingly engaging in sin shouldn't be in leadership roles. However, a teen with same-sex attractions does not automatically mean they are engaging in sin, and thus discounted for leadership.]
One of the greatest things you can do for gay teens in your ministry, church, or community, is to see them beyond their sexuality. Another great thing is to help your students to see their gay peers in equal ways, too.
With you and for you,
Shawn / @611pulse
P.S. Be sure to attend my workshop, “Ministering to Gay Teenagers,” at this year’s Simply Youth Ministry Conference!