Tag Archives: Youth

The Naming Project: Ten years of summer camps for queer kids and allies


Brad, Jay, and Ross at camp in their younger years

More than ten years ago, three gay Lutheran men with seminary backgrounds saw a need for “a space for youth to find community and know that they were safe and accepted for who they were.” Based upon their collaborative efforts, The Naming Project came into being and now celebrates its tenth anniversary. I blogged about The Naming Project four years ago, and more information is available on their website.

Rev. Brad Froslee is now the pastor of Calvary Lutheran Church in South Minneapolis, Jay Wiesner-Smith has returned to the secular world as a human resources person for Comcast in Philadelphia, and Ross Murray is now the Director of News for GLAAD and lives and works in NYC.

Today The Naming Project continues to provide safe, welcoming, and nurturing environments for g/l/b/t and allied youth. The dreams and work of Jay Wiesner, Ross Murray, and Brad Froslee alongside the work of a tremendous Advisory Board, congregations, and community leaders continues to unfold. There is a dream that every youth (whether g/l/b/t or allied) should know a place of acceptance and the abundant love of God. And throughout our lives we are reminded that it is an ongoing project to remember that we have been created and named as “a beloved child of God.”

On this tenth anniversary, the Naming Project is undertaking a major fundraising effort. Please help as you can, share with your friends, and point any potential camp attendees in their direction.

When Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber talks, Lutherans listen

Nadia Bolz-Weber

I was one of 500 or so who packed the sanctuary of Central Lutheran in downtown Minneapolis last night to listen to ELCA rock star, Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber, as part of her whirlwind tour to promote her spiritual memoir, Pastrix.

Rev. Bolz-Weber, a tall, slender, dark-haired, heavily tattooed, “cyber-punk” pastor and a self-described “cranky, post-modern gal of the emerging church a la Luther,” rocked this audience, much as she did the 35,000 screaming teens and chaperones at the most recent ELCA youth convention in New Orleans. The irony is that her counter-culture appearance and hip language born of a prior career as a standup comedian (I’m sure last night was the first occasion that “F-bombs” were dropped inside this hallowed sanctuary) is used to convey a decidedly mainstream Christian, especially Lutheran, message (grace and redemption, saint and sinner, death and resurrection).

I first encountered Rev. Bolz-Weber, long before she became famous, about the time I started this blog back in ‘09, and she had started her own called Sarcastic Lutheran. At that time, I read a story in which her mission church startup to “my people,” the House for All Saints and Sinners in Denver, had provided sanctuary to a lesbian teen who had been booted from her own home. Though Bolz-Weber is straight (she talks about her really cool and good-looking husband), she has been an outspoken LGBT ally. In 2011, Pastor Nadia offered the sermon at the California Rite of Reception for seven gay, lesbian, and transgender Lutheran Pastors. One of them, Pastor Ross Merkel, had been defrocked by the ELCA in the early nineties after he came out to his Bay Area congregation, but the congregation kept him in place and a newly-elected synod bishop did not object. Pastor Nadia calls Pastor Merkel her spiritual mentor, and she embraced Lutheranism in his adult-confirmation class after a childhood of spiritual abuse in a fundamentalist, patriarchal, congregation.

Again, an irony. This outsider and pastor to the outsider has been embraced by the ELCA establishment. Though there were youngsters in the audience last night–including a carload of teens from Iowa who tweeted while traveling north on I-35, “We’re coming! Don’t start on time!”—the audience was mostly middle-aged Lutherans, even elderly, including several hundred clergy from the Twin Cities area.

Before encountering Pastor Merkel and Lutheranism, Pastor Nadia had experienced spiritual healing in AA, where she became sober “by the grace of God and in the fellowship of other recovering alcoholics.” I share this journey with Pastor Nadia, and I have given talks entitled, “I learned all I needed to know about grace in AA.” She also credits a couple of years of Wiccan involvement for healing the patriarchy-inflicted, gender scars of the church of her youth.

Queer Clergy cover jpgJust released this week, Pastrix is already appearing on best-seller lists. As an author whose own book will be released later this year (Queer Clergy: A History of Gay and Lesbian Ministry in American Protestantism), I must confess to more than a little envy. Maybe I should hire her publicist.

The Courts and Conversion Therapy

Once upon a time, I tried lawsuits for a living.  “Plaintiffs,” “defendants,” “negligence,” “foreseeability,” “standard of care,” and “reasonable man” were the jargon of the litigation attorney.  Many of my cases fit the category of “professional liability,” aka malpractice.  I served as attorney, on both sides, in professional liability cases against engineers, insurance agents, attorneys, chiropractors, and, especially, medical doctors.  Here’s the medical negligence rule in Minnesota.

The prevailing professional standard of care for a given health care provider shall be that level of care, skill and treatment which, in light of all relevant surrounding circumstances, is recognized as acceptable and appropriate by reasonably prudent similar health care providers.

Since the recognized medical, psychiatric, psychological, and counseling organizations have issued statements debunking conversion therapy (aka reparative therapy) as ineffectual and harmful, would it not be possible to sue practitioners for failing to provide “that level of care, skill and treatment … recognized as acceptable and appropriate?”

A different legal theory, consumer fraud, is behind a lawsuit recently filed against Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) in New Jersey.

Four former JONAH clients, who were teens when they signed up for help, filed a consumer fraud lawsuit against JONAH and two of its counselors Tuesday, saying they were defrauded by JONAH’s claim that “being gay is a mental disorder” that could be reversed by conversion therapy — “a position rejected by the American Psychiatric Association four decades ago,” the lawsuit said.

According to CNN:

“This is the first time that plaintiffs have sought to hold conversion therapists liable in a court of law,” said Samuel Wolfe, a lawyer with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Meanwhile, a California law recently went into effect that bans conversion therapy for persons under 18 years of age.

California’s conversion-therapy ban … was one of the signature bills passed by the Legislature this year. The law prohibits minors from being subject to therapies aimed at changing their sexual orientation from gay to straight. Under the law, therapists who practice conversion therapy on minors risk loss of their licenses or other discipline by the state.

When California Governor Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, he stated, “these practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery.”

Not so fast.  Conversion therapists have immediately gone to court seeking to overturn the law.  One judge has allowed the law to stand, but in a real head-scratcher, a second judge has issued a temporary injunction against the law on the basis that the free speech rights of the conversion therapists outweigh the potential of harm to minors subjected to the therapy.  Really?  You can’t make this stuff up.

Wayne Beson, in a blog on Huffington Post calls out the up-is-down, Alice in Wonderland, lunacy of the decision:

It seems that Judge Shubb is a bit confused about the First Amendment. He appears to believe that it gives mental health providers license to say whatever they want, even if it is not in the best interest of clients. Such thinking makes a mockery of medicine … the judge seems blissfully unaware that the toxic words of a biased shrink can sometimes be as harmful as a scalpel in the wrong hands. The wounds of “ex-gay” survivors are real, devastating and can sometimes last a lifetime.

Shubb should fully understand that when he protects reparative therapists, he is wholeheartedly promoting and endorsing such outlandish quackery. It becomes particularly damaging when such demented “therapeutic” techniques are practiced on LGBT youth.

In another example of false equivalency in which all views are considered equal, even when repugnant, dangerous, and demonstrably false, the Anoka School District in Minnesota is back in the news.  This is the largest school district in the state that garnered unfavorable national attention in the last couple of years due to a number of teen suicides following bullying.  At issue was the district’s neutrality policy in which teachers and administrators were required to remain neutral when issues of human sexuality were discussed; critics claimed that this elevated the views of homophobic bullies to equal footing with tolerance and respect.  Following a lawsuit, the district eliminated the policy and also set up an Anti-Bullying Task Force.  A Minneapolis Star Tribune report today suggests there is further controversy on the Task Force.

Apparently, in another misguided notion of fairness, the school board believed the point of view of the bullies ought to be represented on the Task Force, and a known gay-basher was appointed.  The School Board chair said the man was appointed because the Task Force should be “a diverse community.” Upside down diversity.

Now, a petition is circulating in the district seeking that person’s removal, claiming he “uses his personal faith as a weapon and represents the anti-LGBTQ bigotry that is STILL hurting kids in our district.”

“To imply that [he] lends balance is so disingenuous,” [a parent] said. “His position is very clear, and the effects of that rhetoric are painfully clear in this district. … This has nothing to do with balance. It has nothing to do with opposing views. It’s one thing to have opposing beliefs, but this is about opposing the existence of students.”

Mitt’s got some ‘splainin’ to do

News out of southeastern Minnesota tells more sad tales of teens who succumbed to bullying and committed suicide.  Oftentimes it is the short one, or the heavy one, or the shy one, or the stutterer, or the gay, but thirteen-year-old Rachel Emhke didn’t seem to have any distinguishing characteristics except that she got on the wrong side of the wrong crowd.  For seventeen-year-old Jay “Corey” Jones, his life got both better and worse after he came out as gay.  His dad said,

“I just saw a difference in him I saw a smile, I saw a little more energy than actually being down and out and depressed-looking,” [his dad] said. “To me he felt a sign of relief, like, ‘Yeah I got over the hard part, right,’ you know.”

But, being out also meant the bullying increased.

Mitt RomneyIn national news, the Washington Post is out with a well-attested article that suggests Mitt Romney’s elitist upbringing also included some bullying at his posh private school.  But the well-manicured governor’s son was not the object of the abuse; instead, the presidential wannabe was the chief perpetrator.

John Lauber, a soft-spoken new student one year behind Romney, was perpetually teased for his nonconformity and presumed homosexuality. Now he was walking around the all-boys school with bleached-blond hair that draped over one eye, and Romney wasn’t having it.

“He can’t look like that. That’s wrong. Just look at him!” an incensed Romney told Matthew Friedemann, his close friend in the Stevens Hall dorm, according to Friedemann’s recollection. Mitt, the teenaged son of Michigan Gov. George Romney, kept complaining about Lauber’s look, Friedemann recalled.

A few days later, Friedemann entered Stevens Hall off the school’s collegiate quad to find Romney marching out of his own room ahead of a prep school posse shouting about their plan to cut Lauber’s hair. Friedemann followed them to a nearby room where they came upon Lauber, tackled him and pinned him to the ground. As Lauber, his eyes filling with tears, screamed for help, Romney repeatedly clipped his hair with a pair of scissors.

Candidate Romney has attempted to get out ahead of the story by issuing the standard wishy-washy apologyI don’t remember but if I offended anyone, I’m sorry.  In any case, Mitt says, “I’m quite a different guy now.”

We can only hope so, but I doubt we’ll be seeing any “It Gets Better” videos out of his campaign.

Shout it from the rooftops

Last week I received a comment that I refused to publish because it attacked an individual or a group.  Apart from the personal attack, the commenter attempted to make the point that gay friendly resolutions by mainstream churches explain a general membership decline.

Au contraire.

Two years ago, a book entitled American Grace became a national best seller, and I blogged about it in a post entitled Conservative Christianity Driving a Generation Away From Religion.  That post included this quote from another blog that suggested American Grace:

makes the case that the alliance of religion with conservative politics is driving young adults away from religion …. Among the conclusions [of a major survey] is this one: “The association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”

Today I ran across another blog post about a more recent book that makes the case even more starkly.  Here’s the open-ended survey question that formed the basis for the book:

What words or phrases best describe Christianity? 

How would you respond? What’s the first word that pops into your head?  Then, give yourself a couple of minutes to think and then answer again.  What’s your answer after reflection? 

Now shift your thinking.  How do you think others, self-identified as non-Christian and aged 16-29, responded to the question?  What of those who self-described as Christian?

With an open-ended question, one would expect a wide variety of answers, but it turns out there was a single theme that was listed on a startling 91% of the responses from this youthful age group that self-identified as non-Christian.  What do you think that one answer was?



Ouch!  Thanks UMC and General Conference 2012 (GC2012) for reinforcing the perception.

Well, what about the self-identified Christians in that age group?  How did they respond?


But, it was only 80%.

The blog post contains this quote from the book, unChristian, by David Kinnaman.

“The gay issue has become the ‘big one, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimensions that most clearly demonstrates the unchristian faith to young people today, surfacing in a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say [Christian] hostility toward gays…has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith.”

That’s the bad news.  The good news is when a problem is so clearly defined, the solution also becomes obvious.  The United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the ELCA Lutherans, and the PC(USA) Presbyterians have opened their doors.  They understand that “all means all”.  They have decided to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  By inviting gays into their pulpits and to serve at their altars, they have welcomed the whole host, the entire gay community, into full communion, full participation, full inclusion in the life of the church.

Don’t be shy, don’t be embarrassed, don’t hide your light under a bushel.  Tell the world what you have done.  Shout it from the rooftops!

ELCA Churchwide Assembly to consider anti-bullying resolution

Upsala mapI have two vivid bullying memories from my youth half a century ago.

I attended a small, mid-Minnesota K-12 public school, and the first memory is a positive one.  In early elementary school, the class always formed a line in the hallway before moving anywhere (being line leader was a great honor).  One day as the line was assembling, a high schooler who happened to be passing through the hall picked on one of my classmates—don’t remember who or why, but what I do remember was a senior, an athlete, upbraiding the one who did the taunting.  In effect, the hero said, “if you want to pick on someone, start with me,” and of course, that was the end of it.

The second memory is one that makes me cringe, because I was the bully ringleader.  In fourth grade, we had put together an exhibit of frontier days in Minnesota (it was the year of the Mn centennial) that included household items from the mid-nineteenth century.  The gist of our bullying one day was to tease a girl from a poor family by suggesting that they still used these implements of a bygone era.  Silly, yes.  Trivial, no or I wouldn’t still feel guilty about it fifty years later.

Bullying among our youth, especially towards those perceived to be gay, has received a lot of attention recently, especially here in Minnesota where one large school district experienced a handful of teen suicides in which prior bullying may have been a factor.

In prior posts, I have repeated the haunting question of retired presiding Bishop of the ELCA, Herb Chilstrom, “what will you say to your sons and daughters, sisters and brothers and others in your churches when they tell you they are homosexual?”, and I have posed the further question whether one’s church is part of the problem or part of the solution.  Clearly, the ELCA as a church body seeks to be part of the solution.

Of the sixty-five regional Synods of the ELCA, thirty-seven have passed a nearly identical anti-bullying resolution onto the Churchwide Assembly (CWA11) for consideration.  CWA11 opens on Monday, the 15th of August, and I’ll be there as a voting member.

Here is pertinent language from these memorials (the full text is here—click on memorials committee report):

WHEREAS … research indicates children with disabilities or special needs are at a higher risk of being bullied than others (Rigby, K., 2002, New Perspective on Bullying. London. Jessica Kingsley Publications); and it has concluded, “Bullying around issues of sexual orientation, non-conforming gender behaviors, and dress was the most common form of bullying, second only to issues of appearance (e.g., body size and disability)” …

WHEREAS, in the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (2009), this church declares, “Likewise, it [the ELCA] will attend to the particular needs of children and the families of those with actual or perceived differences in sexual orientation or gender identity because they are especially vulnerable to verbal, physical, emotional, spiritual,
psychological, and sexual abuse;” …

WHEREAS, the voice of the church addressing the intersection of race, economic status, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, psychological, and physical ability is a powerful witness …

Here then are the series of action items taken from the Alaska resolution simply because theirs is first alphabetically.

RESOLVED, that the Alaska Synod encourage new partnerships among our congregations, the synods, the churchwide organization, outdoor ministries, campus ministries, Lutheran School Associations, Lutherans Concerned/North America, Lutheran Social Services organizations, public schools, counseling centers, and other governmental organizations in order to support and offer preventative programs addressing bullying, harassment, and other related violence, especially with
higher risk populations; and be it further

RESOLVED, that these partnerships be encouraged to create or join with existing preventative programs which:

a. utilize positive, inclusive, empowering and developmentally appropriate materials,
b. raise participant’s awareness about the issue, c. focus on prevention,
d. seek to change bystander behavior into ally behavior, e. create partnerships between youth and adults; and be it further

RESOLVED, that these partnerships seek funding for these efforts from a combination of existing funds and new funding sources not otherwise accessible individually such as foundation grants, synod and other Lutheran organizational grants (e.g., Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Wheat Ridge Ministries, Women of the ELCA), private and governmental funding sources; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Alaska Synod memorialize the 2011 Churchwide Assembly to encourage, support, and publicize new partnerships in ministry that emerge in this church addressing the prevention of bullying, harassment, and related forms of violence, especially with higher risk populations.

The Memorials Committee issued a favorable recommendation including the following language (emphasis added):

Thirty-seven synods have presented similar memorials on the topic of “preventing bullying, harassment, and related violence.” These memorials ask the Churchwide Assembly to take action to expand the ministries of this church that address the problems of bullying, harassment, and related violence. The majority of the memorials cite two social statements in support of this request: (1) Our Calling in Education (2007), which affirms that opposition to bullying and other forms of harassment are components of truly safe schools, conducive to effective teaching and learning; and, (2) Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust (2009), which notes that children with actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity differences and their families are frequent targets of abusive behavior. The citations from the two social statements of this church rightly identify concerns within these statements that this church
should aggressively address bullying and related forms of abuse

Lutherans Concerned North America sponsored and promoted these resolutions at the Synod level and will be advocating for them at CWA11.

Listen to the children

I had coffee recently with the chaplain of St. Olaf, one of Northfield’s private, liberal arts colleges and an ELCA school with deep roots in American Lutheranism.  His student based congregation is a Reconciling in Christ (RIC) congregation (open and affirming toward gays), but he said that status is old hat.  Gay rights, including gay clergy and marriage equality, are no longer issues for this generation, he said.  A fait accompliDe facto if not yet de jure.  As baby boomers like me argue, this generation has moved on.

Just last week, a lesbian couple in the twin cities, after first being banned from processing together in a high school social, were welcomed enthusiastically by fellow students.   Last fall, another twin cities student, a gay youth whose article in the school newspaper was banned, was later elected homecoming king.  By the example of their experience, they hasten the inevitable change that is becoming matter-of-fact.

Another young man spoke eloquently recently about his personal experience.  The nineteen year old college student from Iowa spoke before a legislative committee that is considering a constitutional amendment to overturn a ruling by the Iowa Supreme Court a couple of years ago authorizing gay marriage.  This high-achieving student spoke of his experience of growing up with two moms.

Hear him speak.

Evangelicals and gays

Tony Perkins of the American Family Council, gay-basher in chief, not only doesn’t speak for all Christians, he doesn’t speak for all evangelicals.  Nor do Charles Colson, James Dobson, or Tim LaHaye.  It would seem there is a younger crowd, a new generation, that is raising questions about the traditional evangelical intolerance toward gays.  Yes, the move toward gay equality is advancing at all levels of religious and secular society, even within the quarter most associated with rigorous opposition.

A small but growing group which calls itself Evangelicals Concerned offers support for gays seeking reconciliation of their faith and their sexuality:

Organizations or churches with Evangelical roots have traditionally been the most condemning, exclusionary and antagonistic to Christians who identify as GLBT. This bias has produced untold levels of damage to many children of God and has caused many to abandon their faith traditions or commit suicide. Evangelical organizations are responsible for virtually every attempt to convert GLBT people. EC has challenged the conversion therapy notion for 25 years, standing in the gap and providing healing and safety to thousands of Christians.

The Gay Christian Network (GCN) also consists of mostly evangelical members.  Earlier this summer, I met one of their leaders when we both happened to be workshop presenters at the Lutherans Concerned Convention in Minneapolis.

The Gay Christian Network is a nonprofit ministry serving Christians who happen to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, and those who care about them.

Like many Christian mothers, Sandy was completely unprepared to learn that her son was gay.

How could he be? Everything she had been taught in church had led her to one conclusion, that gay people were sinful, that they had turned from God, and that they were ultimately condemned to hell. Yet none of that fit the profile of her beloved son. He was a good son, and he loved God. How could he be gay?

For five months after learning of her son’s sexuality, Sandy was a wreck. She was sure that homosexuality was not of God. Yet she loved her son. She needed answers, but she didn’t know where to turn.

Then she found GCN.

FalsaniAn article in the Huffpost this week questioned, Is Evangelical Christianity having a Great Gay Awakening?  Author Cathleen Falsani suggests that she struggled to accommodate traditional evangelical Biblical ethics with the reality of the gay relationships in her circle of friends. 

That was my answer: Love them. Unconditionally, without caveats or exceptions.

I wasn’t sure whether homosexuality actually was a sin. But I was certain I was commanded to love.

For 20 years, that answer was workable, if incomplete. Lately, though, it’s been nagging at me. Some of my gay friends are married, have children and have been with their partners and spouses as long as I’ve been with my husband.

Loving them is easy. Finding clear theological answers to questions about homosexuality has been decidedly not so.

Falsani then discusses a book by none other than Jay Bakker, the son of the famous televangelists of a generation ago, Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker, called Fall to Grace: A Revolution of God, Self & Society.

“The simple fact is that Old Testament references in Leviticus do treat homosexuality as a sin … a capital offense even,” Bakker writes. “But before you say, ‘I told you so,’ consider this: Eating shellfish, cutting your sideburns and getting tattoos were equally prohibited by ancient religious law.

“The truth is that the Bible endorses all sorts of attitudes and behaviors that we find unacceptable (and illegal) today and decries others that we recognize as no big deal.”
Leviticus prohibits interracial marriage, endorses slavery and forbids women to wear trousers.

ScrollBakker’s exegesis is quite right, and he could have gone further.  When I have presented workshops interpreting the so-called “clobber passages” of the Bible, I point out that these ancient Hebrew regulations were religious rules and not universal ethics, loosely akin to the modern day ritual of meatless Fridays, formulated from a consistent pattern of Hebrew rituals of boundaries, markers, and insularity.  Don’t do as the Gentiles do.  Don’t mix with the Gentiles.  Don’t mix unlike things.  Don’t mix seeds in your field.  Don’t mix different fabrics in the same garment.  Don’t cavort with the temple prostitutes of the Gentiles (male and female).  Don’t follow the sexual practices of the Gentiles.  Don’t eat meat from animals that confuse their category.  A shellfish doesn’t have fins or swim like a fish; it is an abomination.  Don’t eat shellfish. 

Here is the preface to the chapter in Leviticus that contains the infamous clobber passage:

You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you.

Leviticus 18:3

Ritual regulatory rules of behavior for the ancient Hebrews are complicated, which cannot be adequately addressed here, but perhaps that is the essential point; it’s not as simple or as black and white as the literalists would suggest.  When we understand the context of their ancient formulation, we recognize a ritualistic and symbolic system of separation of a besieged peoples, anxious to preserve their identity against the dangers of assimilation by the empires that dominated them militarily and politically.

Falsani also discussed Bakker’s interpretation of the New Testament, Pauline “clobber passages”, and Bakker again is accurate when he suggests:

Examining the original Greek words translated as “homosexual” and “homosexuality” in three New Testament passages, Bakker (and others) conclude that the original words have been translated inaccurately in modern English.

What we read as “homosexuals” and “homosexuality” actually refers to male prostitutes and the men who hire them. The passages address prostitution — sex as a commodity — and not same-sex, consensual relationships, he says.

Roman art depicting pederastyIn my workshops, I dig deeper.  Modern day Bible versions that include the word “homosexual” are anachronistic at best and political at worst.  Paul used two Greek words, arsenokotai and malakoi, which do not otherwise appear in the writings of the period; thus, it appears he may have coined them himself.  Bakker’s suggestion that the terms refer to prostitution may be correct, but I think the better interpretation is that the terms refer to the Greco-Roman practice of pederasty, involving an aristocrat and a young man or boy, which was fairly common in the period.  Again, attempting to make sense of Paul’s two-thousand year old writings is complicated, and there’s more to it than fits in this blog, but the essential point is that Paul’s writings were conditioned by a 1st century context.  The issues facing Paul were not the same issues we face today. 

Falsani’s experience—“Some of my gay friends are married, have children and have been with their partners and spouses as long as I’ve been with my husband”—persuaded her that the traditional application of the Biblical “clobber passages” didn’t fit for her and for a growing number of her evangelical friends.  She concludes:

Only time will tell whether more evangelical leaders — Emergent, emerging or otherwise — will add their voices to the chorus calling for full and unapologetic inclusion of homosexuals in the life of the church.

But I’m sensing a change in the wind (and the Spirit.)

An inspiring year-end story about a gay teen

Sean SimonsonEarlier we posted about Sean Simonson, a high school student in the Twin Cities metro area who wrote an op-ed piece in his student newspaper.  His article was his personal response to the wave of news about bullying and suicides of gay teens.  Entitled Life as a Gay Teenager, the article served as his public “coming out” although he was out to friends and family well before then.

At first, the school pulled the article.  Some hateful, anonymous comments appeared.  Sean’s mother Ann, though generally supportive of her gay son, questioned the wisdom of such a public posture, fearing retribution.

Today’s Star Tribune Newspaper (the leading Minnesota daily) published a followup article, and the news is cause for rejoicing.  In this case, it turns out that “Minnesota Nice” resounds loud and clear.  Here’s a portion of today’s Strib article:

[I]n the true measure of impact these days … friend requests poured in on Facebook. Sean estimates 80 to 100 complete strangers tried to add him as a friend.

"I think there was like a person from Korea, and someone from like Norway," he said.

What was more stunning to Sean though, was the reaction closer to home.

"I got one handwritten letter left for me in the main office from a teacher. And then I got like three or four emails from teachers basically saying they support me," he said. "It was teachers I wasn’t close to and so that kind of surprised me."

Sean said a school administrator told him it was worth what the school had gone through if just one kid benefited from what he had written.

If the point of Sean’s piece was to get a dialogue going about supporting gay teens, he succeeded not only among his peers, but also among adults. Ann Simonson said she was caught off guard by the reaction in her social circles.

"I even had to take a couple days off just to respond to the all the emails and phone calls I’d received from friends," she said. "It was just ringing off the hook. It was quite amazing. You find out who your friends are, that’s for sure."

In the days that followed, Sean found his anonymous detractors, the online commenters, melted away. The Knight-Errant student newspaper instituted a new comment policy: no anonymous comments and writers must use valid emails.

And he found he had even more friends than he thought he did. In early December, he was elected Grand Knight, the equivalent of the prom king, for Benilde-St. Margaret’s winter formal.

During my teen years in the ’60s, I didn’t know any gays in high school or college.  They were invisible.  Then came the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village in 1969 and slowly they started coming out of the closet.  Bob Dylan from Hibbing, Minnesota was singing in the University of Minnesota bistros of “Dinkytown” in the early sixties, soon to burst on the scene as the poet laureate/prophet of our generation with songs such as “The Times They Are A’changing”.

Social progress often moves as slow as a glacier, and many friends wish for more speedy changes; yet, judged by historical standards, the advances of gay rights these last forty years is nothing short of amazing.  As we stand on the threshold of a New Year, I tip my hat to the Congress and the President for repealing DADT, to heroes such as young Mr. Simonson, and to the inspired leadership within my own Lutheran church for breaking down boundaries.

Top posts of 2010: #2

The October 25th post entitled Conservative Christianity driving a generation away from religion finished in a virtual tie for first place with over 2,200 unique visitors.  The post was based in large part on conclusions suggested by a new book release entitled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which is proving to be a best seller.  The blog post is reprinted here:

A week ago, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Minnesota announced a reorganization plan that will eliminate twenty-one congregations in the metro, merging them into fourteen existing parishes.  Stated another way, thirty-five current congregations will be downsized into fourteen.  Some have suggested that if it wasn’t for the influx of Hispanic immigrants, the Roman Catholic church nationally would  be suffering even greater declines in membership.

Of course, the problem of declining religious participation is not confined to Catholicism.   Indeed, statistics suggest the decline in Americans who identify with religion is startling.

That shift is the decline in participation by all Americans, but particularly young adults, in churches. In 1990 only 7 percent of Americans indicated “none” as religious affiliation. By 2008 that number had grown to 17 percent. But among young adults, in their twenties, the percent of “nones” is reaching nearly 30%. The new “nones” are heavily concentrated among those who have come of age since 1990.

But wait, aren’t many conservative Christian denominations growing?  Many evangelical churches thrive but at the cost of theological depth—“a mile wide and an inch deep”.  Some are thinly veiled entertainment ministries.   Joel Osteen Ministries is merely the most blatant example of the appealing “prosperity gospel” that too often characterizes the mega-growth churches, and makes charismatic leaders such as Osteen very wealthy.

But it is the judgmental scapegoating that is turning off this generation of young adults according to an article out of Seattle last week.  Blaming the public perception of Christianity, as espoused by the religious right, for the stark decline in those identifying with religion, the article discusses a poll and a book entitled American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, which:

makes the case that the alliance of religion with conservative politics is driving young adults away from religion …. Among the conclusions [of a major survey] is this one: “The association between religion and politics (and especially religion’s intolerance of homosexuality) was the single strongest factor in this portentous shift.”

Twenty somethings are walking away from the church, the article concludes, because of a skewed “public perception of religion as largely socially conservative,” and the perception of religion as homophobic is especially responsible for the growing percentage of “nones.”

An unrelated poll out last week suggests similar conclusions, and correlates with this blog’s recent theme of suggesting that conservative Christian policies are part of the problem of gay bullying and critically low self esteem for many young gays.

Most Americans believe messages about homosexuality coming from religious institutions contribute to negative views of gays and lesbians, and higher rates of suicide among gay youths, a new poll reports … Americans are more than twice as likely to give houses of worship low marks on handling the issue of homosexuality, according to a PRRI/RNS Religion News Poll released Thursday (Oct. 21).

After a recent spate of teen suicides prompted by anti-gay harassment and bullying, the poll indicates a strong concern among Americans about how religious messages are impacting public discussions of homosexuality.

Once again, there is a significant gap between the attitudes of younger versus older adults which mirrors very closely the higher percentage of “nones” among young adults.

Nearly half of Americans age 18-34 say messages from places of worship are contributing “a lot” to negative views of gay and lesbian people, compared to just 30 percent of Americans age 65 and older.

I’ll close by repeating the words of a young woman spoken at the ELCA Church Wide Assembly in 2009 (CWA09),

“Give us honesty,” she said.  “My generation is turned off by what they see as hypocrisy in the church. ‘Love your neighbor’ is on the lips of the church, but a cold shoulder is what my generation sees.”