Session 2 of the Open Paris Conference was a panel discussion on ministering to LGBT teenagers moderated by Chris Curtis with Julian Masian, Samantha Montfort, Gemma Dunning, and Andrew Marin on the panel. As usual, as the session is live blogged I apologise for any typos etc:
Julian: Programme co-ordinator for the LGBT group at the American Cathedral, accepting who you are as a Christian and an LGBT person, happy to share my story with you today.
Samantha: Communication Manager for the LGBT group at the American Cathedral, focussed on helping transgender people through transition, trying to increase awareness on this issue.
Gemma: Work as a Children’s and Youth Minister for a church, but also run an LGBT youth group
Andrew: Conservative church and community, but three best friends came out in three months, ended up living with them in Boys Town (the only official LGBT Town in the USA). Lived there for 12 years, started the Marin Foundation to create bridges between the LGBT and Conservative (Religious, social, political) communities.
Samantha: went through a number of a challenges, abuse issues, almost an impossibility of a disconnect of what you feel and what everyone else sees. Heard a lot growing up in the church, the church seemed very unaccepting. Finished with serious suicide attempt – was in a coma for two weeks. A Canon at the American Cathedral visited and said God doesn’t want you to be unhappy, went on a spiritual journey (even though Father was a priest) it felt like people did horrible things during the week and then moved on during a Sunday which wasn’t good. The group helped Samantha to overcome a lot of issues, very supportive Bishop, see that Samantha is fine, although not always easy, but gives inspiration to help other people as very difficult thing to do. Transgender issues are real and not always the same as the LGB issues. Wanted support to feel that she wasn’t a reject.
Andrew: the deconstruction of LGBT is important, as Transgender had to fight to be part of the LGBT which has benefits, but also has separate issues. Cultural consciousness and national dialogue in the Western world doesn’t change, but the faith perspective is dominated by the term sin. Conservatives say we can’t have LGBT people in our church unless we see same-sex behaviour as sin; opposite view is conservatives oppressing us, and until they change their view nothing will happen. Sin is the 18th most important factor for the LGBT community as to what would help them return to church, the biggest issue is patience and time. I don’t want you to expect me to be fixed because I show up, and my understand and your understanding of fixed could be different. Why don’t we provide that?
- Patience and time
- Non-judgemental environment – doesn’t mean we all have to agree – we don’t judge for the differences
- The support of family and friends
- Believe God loved them
- Understand the teachings when they go to church
As Church we should be doing all of these anyway, we’ve made sexual orientation too complex, the dominant sexual orientation of straight has confused the issues.
Julian: father is an evangelical Pastor, growing up with the idea of homosexuality as a sin. For 20 years that’s all he heard, he had to hide his own sexuality from his family and church; couldn’t be gay and a Christian at the same time, so had to hide one part from the other, but at school and work he could be both! The change started when he went to America to do an internship in Seattle, and came to know churches who were accepting LGBT people, and it changed his view on it, he could for the first time see LGBT people who were worshipping God, leading, preaching. Hiding this back in France became an increasingly difficult issue. Some people from his father’s church left, his father couldn’t approve it because of his position of authority, to keep his job his father had to condemn homosexuality. So Julian had to leave the church, found other churches that were much more accepting. Somehow can feel that his father’s church is evolving, even though he is not there, and thinking that maybe they could be more accepting as Julian had been worshipping, preaching and leading whilst being gay, they just hadn’t known that, the Holy Spirit still worked in him.
Gemma: Youth worker core value is young people have a right to thrive not just survive. The young people are used to living a dual, treble or even quadruple life, with not thinking of inviting gay friends to church. When working with LGBT people, they think the church judges them, they think when she works in a church she makes the tea, when she was inducted a massive cake was made, the lady in the church who made it said to share with the young people. People are suspicious of the motive, think she might want to pray away the gay, she wants to create space for people to reflect.
When applying for church based youth work, even though had a BA in Theology, nearly completed an MA, been a youth worker for 16 years but still got turned down for interview let alone the job numerous times. Vicar tweeted Gemma and asked her to share some stories. Do we encourage homosexuality, which really means do we encourage practicing sex, but lots of work is suicide prevention, work with those who have been made homeless, 1-2-1 work on identity. He then offered her to do the interview process as if the Gospel is the gospel then it is for everyone. Modelling equality – first women on staff in the church – but also doing the LGBT work.
Grew up in the church, ministered for 20 years, always been in contact with Christians, find they often (himself included) can’t handle the topic. Come up with a Biblical view on the topic, but often we need to ask a Christian view on it, we don’t like to condemn people but still feel it is awkward, and possibly biblically still wrong. When hearing the work people are doing heart breaks. How do I balance what I know, what I can discuss with people and the actual people I meet. It is not the only topic where we have this theological view when confronted with actual people it changes your thoughts.
Andrew: the biggest misnomer is that to validate we have to agree. A lot of the contemporary battle is around theological viewpoints, but it becomes validation v affirmation. Samantha’s story is valid, it doesn’t matter who agrees or disagrees, her story is her story. It would be like someone saying that his three friends didn’t come out, of course they did! Get invited to a lot of gay weddings, the more conservative entities don’t understand why he goes, they think he must fully agree with it; when Jesus showed up to people’s houses did he not believe that he was the Son of God anymore; and secondly, can say that couple feels the exact love that Andrew and Brenda felt when they got married.
How is transgender issues different from LGB?
Samantha: quite specific issues, it isn’t something you come across every day, and not something you can understand unless you’ve done it yourself, you can understand sexual attraction even if gender is different, but the concept that you wake up each morning and feel confused with your body is difficult to relate to. Biblical issues, some bits in Genesis, but nothing really specific (Mt 19:4, 12; Mt. 25; Isaiah; Deuteronomy; 1 Corinthians), a superficial reading of the Bible doesn’t help, have to look for dignity of the person, respect of others. It is not something that happens in isolation, one person going through transition, 40% will commit suicide attempts, 12% suffer sexual assault, 80% receive some form of sexual harassment, 10% leave school of which 50% becomes homeless, three times more likely to lose your job, of which 40% become homeless. Often need some practical help alongside spiritual needs – have to minister to the whole person. The Church often feels like it can’t offer them anything.
What one thing does the church and youth ministry need to grapple with?
Julian: church to say we don’t always have it right, we could think and process together.
Gemma: education as they have folk theology they can;t articulate where there theology comes form.
Samantha: listening, accepting, keeping the door open, letting them know hte door isn’t closed.
Andrew: as a hetrosexual he can’t understand LGBT, so literally go around the neighbourhood, asking questions, “I’m straight, I’ve no ideas what it is to be you, will keep making poor parallels so need to ask questions but not with malintent, or to be harmful, but I just need to know, so please let me into your story so I can have that education with the clear conceptualization that as a straight person I can’t understand – right from the gate you can’t relate.”
Books to recommend around transgender: Luna, Parrotfish.