September 10, 2014

Rolling Stone: Homeless Gay Teens

Every church leader in America must read Rolling Stone's recent article about the rising number of homeless gay teens. This rise, rooted (partly) in religious parents cutting off gay children, leaves youth struggling to find shelter in even America's most progressive cities. Homeless shelters do not always know how to house gay teens - or else they are not safe for gay youth.

Really? In 2014? Tragically, yes...

Our socially connected world is enthralled with the pseudo-reality of "online living." This facade fuels constant-connectedness to mobile media where acceptance of LGBTQ youth is slickly rolled out. As teens devour online news, blogs, sitcoms, music downloads and a pipeline of coming out success stories, it "seems" safe to be gay. 

This glossy version of reality convinces more and more gay youth to come out at earlier ages. When they do, many find that the real world is not so safe. They are exposed to bullying, teasing, exclusion, judgment and even family rejection. 

If you want to do justice now, give $5,000 (or $50,000) to a local shelter that houses homeless gay youth. Or give generously to Dr. Caitlin Ryan's research. Caitlin is a highly credentialed social worker who has led the way in chronicling the challenges gay youth face for several decades now. You could also send a volunteer work crew to help a shelter improve their facility.

Within the evangelical world, Lead Them Home has spent the last nine years creating church leader training resources to eliminate anti-gay bullying and lower suicide risk factors for gay teens. The two biggest factors are bullying and family rejection. You can contact us to learn more.

Right now, though, I ask pastors to publicly address their congregation over the next few Sundays with this simple message... 

No matter what you believe about biblical sexuality, God calls you to love your child regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. The Bible never instructs you to disown your child. The church of Jesus Christ must lay down our lives to love gay youth. Parents, you have permission to love your kids whether they are gay or heterosexual. Jesus calls you to love well.  

I meet parents who think their church expects them to respond harshly when a teen comes out. I talk to pastors who are utterly shocked to learn of this perception. This "perception gap" results from pastors discussing homosexuality as an issue about people "out there" and parents who are afraid to share that their own child has come out "in here" (in the church). We must close this gap.

I take responsibility for the wider conservative church and call it to act in justice upon this sad trend. However, it must be stressed that some pediatricians, counselors and LGBT community leaders also create problems when they encourage gay teens to demand that parents change their beliefs. When parents refuse, I know teens who have been advised to cut off their parents.

I neither question nor minimize the Rolling Stone story. Yet those who advise teens to disconnect from loving parents over "the belief gap" do real harm. Caitlin's research is clear: family disconnection and/or rejection - whoever initiates it - increases suicidal risk factors for LGBTQ youth.  

In this kind of crisis, it is critical to put "the belief gap" on the side. We must cooperatively address the root causes of gay teen homelessness. We cannot define love as unity in belief, but rather as tangible actions, attitudes and words. I know many conservative parents and pastors who "radically love" their gay teens. This unconditional love is critical: it should not be criticized in a manner that strips teens away from parents - and their church.

At the same time, some conservatives only see homosexuality as an abomination - and they are not about to increase care. One high-level church leader told me privately: "Your focus on gay teen suicide prevention promotes gay marriage." I could only drop my head in deep disappointment. Thankfully, for every church leader like that, there are hundreds highly committed to increasing care and inclusion for LGBTQ youth. 

Let's get to work! Donate generously to Caitlin's work. Support local shelters that house gay youth. Pastors, address your congregation over the next few Sundays. We are the church of Jesus Christ. We can reduce the occurrence of these tragic stories.     
   
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August 8, 2014

The Hallway Don't Care...

Everything is theological and theoretical until you step across the lock-down threshold of a psychiatric hospital. No easy answers here. White walls. White floors. White ceilings. White bedding. And pale white Jacob. Seventeen. Blank stare. Scarred wrists. 

Alive following a third suicide attempt. Curled up. Shallow in breath. Rigid. Parents looking down. Exhausted from endless attempts to save their son from himself - and the memories that haunt him. 

Bullies. Judgment. Exclusion. Rejection. Pain. Crippling pain.

When people suspiciously question Lead Them Home's compassion - what's the end game here? - I hurt. For Jacob. Lesli. Jackie. Daniel. Zachary. And dozens like them over the years. And their parents. The invisibility of their pain screams to be heard, but quickly fades down vacant hallways. 

It's easier to look away. To walk away. To stay in theological and theoretical realms where parables and psalms make perfect sense. But one brave visitor crosses the divide between here and there and the rubber of God's love meets the hallway that don't care. 

It's Pastor Mark. He did not have time to come. But he's here. In a split second. To enter into the agony. Listen. Comfort. Pat Jacob on the back. Whisper to him how much he is loved. Hug his parents. Sit with them. Wait in silence. Pray.

Do you know a gay teen who is struggling? Don't wait to reach out until you have to cross the lonely threshold that separates rainbow sunsets from whitewashed hallways. The rubber of God's love best meets the road when we reach vulnerable gay teens this side of the hospital.

The hallway don't care, but I do. I do...  

NOTE: To learn what you can do, request information on The Church That Saves Lives.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Simply click the red comments link below. You may elect to comment as "Anonymous." Share this article on Facebook, Twitter, Buzz or by email. Reach Bill at (978) 212-9630.

August 7, 2014

8/21 - Posture Shift: Chicago

LTH presents Posture Shift in Chicago on August 21, 2014 (private event). Other events can be booked on August 22. To inquire, request a proposal today.

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August 6, 2014

9/5 - Posture Shift: Denver

LTH presents Posture Shift in Denver on September 5, 2014 (private event). Other events can be booked on September 3-4. Request a proposal to learn more.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Simply click the red comments link below. You may elect to comment as "Anonymous." Share this article on Facebook, Twitter, Buzz or by email. Reach Bill at (978) 212-9630.

August 5, 2014

10/4 - Posture Shift: Dallas

LTH presents Posture Shift on October 4, 2014 in the DFW area (private event). Other events can be booked on October 2-3. If your church is interested in Posture Shift, contact us to obtain a proposal.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Simply click the red comments link below. You may elect to comment as "Anonymous." Share this article on Facebook, Twitter, Buzz or by email. Reach Bill at (978) 212-9630.