I know some of this will be repetitive, but I’ll try to recap the whole story.
A few days after returning from Malibu, I met with the Area Director, Scott Didrickson, to tell him that through counseling I had come to the conclusion that I was gay. He told me parents wouldn’t want me around their kids, I shouldn’t put a gay lifestyle on display, it would affect my business, etc. He said he had no idea what the next steps would be, but that he would have to discuss them with Young Life’s national Human Resources Department, which makes and enforces policies. Although he said he had no idea what to expect, he did know they would ask if I had been involved in sexual relationships with students. It’s interesting that that is the only thing he felt confident saying he knew had to be a part of this process, as if all gay people who work with minors are pedophiles and child predators. At my next meeting with the mission staff, Danielle Eylander, she said that was a requirement of all situations when a gay leader comes out, and they were required to ask this. Scott Didrickson brought up other examples regarding gay rights in the media and said he hoped I wouldn’t have to make this a “big deal,” which implied to me that he did know what was going to happen, and he didn’t want anyone else to know about it.
The meeting in which I was terminated was at Red Robin with both Scott Didrickson and Danielle Eylander. Scott Didrickson explained that the HR Department at Young Life’s national headquarters had determined that I had to be terminated from my volunteer position due to a clause in Young Life’s Faith and Conduct Policy, which states that anyone living “a homosexual lifestyle” is not to be included in the mission of Young Life. They were very upset that I had posted that policy on FB, because they feel kids and parents don’t need to know about it. They blamed me for “causing drama,” and “creating division,” and urged me not to make them “look bad.” They tried to guilt and shame me by saying that if I told people what was happening, I would be the one that was not acting like Jesus because I would be taking kids away from the ministry. Scott Didrickson asked, if not verbatim, something similar to, “Do you feel like you need to educate people about this?”
After I announced that I had been terminated, I heard from parents that when they called or emailed the Young Life office to inquire about the matter, they were told it could not be discussed. If it was a donor pulling their donation, they got the opportunity of a vague conversation. I wanted to make sure that it was clear to everyone that I was terminated and that I did not resign, so a couple weeks after that meeting, I emailed Scott Didrickson to request a record of the termination in writing. I received no response. After asking again via text, Scott Didrickson said he said he would check his email. A few days later, I got this response:
“I spoke with our HR department and they do not do letters of termination for volunteers.”
Interesting. An international organization that avoids requests for written records and has a policy not to provide letters of termination; an organization that revolves around serving minors but refuses to create, store or provide records regarding what adults are and are not currently approved to work with those minors, with the reasons why they’re not. I’ve never heard of that before.
I’m pretty mellow, and everyone knows I let things slide; I’m not one to share my opinions or participate in debates. On the rare occasions that I put my foot down, it doesn’t budge. On this issue- being clear with students and parents about why their Young Life leader can’t be their Young Life leader anymore- I put my foot down. I again asked for a written record of my termination in two separate emails to Scott Didrickson, and he never responded.
Finally, I posted on FB that I would show up to the next Young Life club with several news outlets to cover the story. After weeks of silent avoidance, it took less than 30 minutes to get a response from Danielle Eylander, who urged me to remove the post “since it’s hurting kids.” That is typical of these kinds of situations- the organization that discriminates against gay individuals and then shuns them, refusing to respond to communications, takes no responsibility for how their policies, actions and words hurt kids. It’s the gay individual who feels the need “to educate people about this” that is responsible for all the negative repercussions. It’s education about discrimination, prejudice and bigotry that’s the problem. My mistake.
Then the Regional Director, Mason Rutledge, took over, offering to meet. He said, “I’ve never done one of these docs, as it is not our usual practice, so we are working on it. I’m having to rely on others.” In “25 years with Young Life,” he had never done a doc like what? Never done a doc to terminate someone for being gay, without putting in writing that they were terminated for being gay?
Here are the exact words I had used to refer to this “doc:”
- “Can you please send me a written record of my termination from Young Life?”
- “Just wanted to check in because I never received a response to my email requesting a written record of my termination.”
- “Can you please confirm in writing that I have been terminated as a volunteer from Bellevue Young Life?”
- ” It has been 7 days since I requested a record confirming whether I have or have not been terminated from Young Life. I believe that is a reasonable request of any legitimate organization.”
- “I’ll be happy to meet with you if you send me the document to review first.”
- “Please send the written document, I have requested it several times from several people, and the response is unacceptable.”
- “I’ll be happy to talk in person if I get what I requested, which is a written record confirming I was or was not terminated.”
- “I’ve requested from Scott and national hr a written record and they refuse to have any contact. That’s a reasonable request of any legitimate organization.”
- “If they can’t give me a written statement confirming that I have or have not been terminated then there’s a problem. Refusing to respond to anything is a problem.”
- “If they really feel they’re justified in terminating me that they should have no problem putting it in writing. Trying to cover it up this way makes it worse.”
- “Yes if I get the letter first, which is how I’ll respond in email.”
- “I will still come on Monday if I don’t have the written document.”
Scott Didrickson’s initial response stating that Young Life does not do “letters of termination” for volunteers makes it clear that he understood at that time that I had been terminated, since I was asking for a written record of the organization’s action. Mason Rutledges’s insistance that he hadn’t done “one of these docs” makes it clear that he also understood that I had already been terminated at that time. You can see from all these ways that I referred to my request that I did not specify that I wanted a letter of termination or any specific kind of “doc.” All I wanted was a formal written record of the termination, and anything Young Life had already created for its own records would have been sufficient.
I asked Mason Rutledge to send the document before the meeting, but he refused, insisting that we meet in person. Young Life trains its leaders not to put themselves in “you said- they said situations,” but that was the only way they were willing to communicate with me. After three meetings with Young Life staff had proved that they would not be honest about the content of our communications, I was no longer comfortable putting myself in that position, and I told him I would bring an attorney to the meeting. He promptly cancelled the meeting less than 16 hours before it was supposed to occur, claiming he’d be out of town during the day and time that he himself had set less than 48 hours previously. I later received a voicemail in which I was told, “Sounded like you wanted to have an attorney present. Young Life is not going to let that happen.”
Mason Ruledge had also written, “Obviously your request to have an attorney involved means more folks involved in our end.” How many folks does it take to create a written record of a termination?
My legal team advised me to remove all posts I had made on FB and my blog regarding the matter. We all knew Young Life would be looking for anything and everything they could use against me. I refused to remove or edit anything.
The day of the cancelled meeting with Mason Rutledge, the back end of my blog lit up. My blog provides stats on how many times my posts are read and where those readers access them. To nobody’s surprise, all of the reads on my blog that day came from those “more folks” in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where Young Life’s national headquarters are located. After reading my second blog, Coming Out, 37 times, they settled on the best solution:
“You used Young Life kids to process your journey in your personal sexuality, both in individual settings and in Cabin Times at 2 different camps.”
Maybe in all those 37 times they opened that blog, they failed to notice the date on which it was written- September 29th. I was terminated on August 31st, so it’s impossible that this reasoning could have been the cause for my termination. Another benefit of written records.
At Malibu this year, the speaker shared personal sexual information regarding her ex-husband’s addiction to pornography, which resulted in their divorce; a head leader shared testimony during club about how he had engaged in promiscuous sexual activity as a youth; a summer staff shared about how a sexual assault impacted her personal sexuality; and a work crew student shared his personal sexuality as he described a struggle with pornography. At many camps, including this one, an invitation is extended to students who want to meet with these people and further discuss their personal sexuality in a more private setting. In addition to all these examples at just one camp, I have witnessed other leaders share openly with students about their personal sexuality and struggles for purity within cabin time settings; this has even been encouraged during leader meetings. I have also witnessed head leaders come into cabins and share graphic details of personal sexual encounters in efforts to relate to students. Essentially what I shared would be equivalent to a straight leader telling students that they are attracted to the opposite gender. That happens all the time as leaders discuss boyfriends, girlfriends, fiances and spouses with students.
No gay person tells people they’re gay until they’ve fully processed it themselves. The process of “coming out” is the result of a lot of previous processing- in my case, 26 years of life, 11 years in the Christian faith, a degree in Pastoral Ministry and Biblical studies, several months of counseling with a licensed medical professional, and endless internal processing. Before I told anyone I was gay, that licensed medical professional had suggested that we reduce our sessions from twice a week to once a week, and then once every other week, because in his professional opinion I had already sufficiently processed the matter. That licensed medical professional is also a mandatory reporter, and would never hesitate to report anything inappropriate or to remove me from any situation that put any minor at risk. No one in a position like mine would “use” kids to “process” the difficult journey of understanding and accepting personal sexuality. Telling kids that you prefer the same gender is not processing anything, it’s sharing the conclusion of the processing that has already taken place. It’s like telling them you prefer Coke over Pepsi- they don’t care, it’s a non-issue. I didn’t share anything inappropriate or anything that made anyone uncomfortable. None of the parents of any of those kids had a problem with it, and they did their best to support me, sending letters and trying to get me reinstated as a leader.
The letter was dated was dated October 16, 2015, with my termination “effective immediately.” Before this date, shortly after the meeting on August 31st, I was removed from all communications among Young Life staff and leaders, including email chains, group texts, and Facebook messages. They held several meetings with adult and student leaders and explained that I was no longer a Young Life leader. My leader login to the Young Life website was disabled. On October 15, 2015, Danielle Eylander wrote, “I haven’t seen anything but Scott said HR gave him something.” When I responded that Scott Didrickson had not provided anything, she wrote, “No, he has something. He told me he did and that he told you and never heard back.” If there was something written previous to October 16th, the date on the only letter I received, then why would it have been altered? If there wasn’t, then it proves the lack of communication extends far beyond just little old me. If my termination was “effective immediately” on October 16th, does that mean there was an openly gay adult volunteering in Young Life for approximately a month and a half? Or was I removed from all communications and blocked from my leader profile on the website before those “more folks” read my blogs in an attempt to find a different reason to put in writing in order to prevent educating people about their damaging discriminatory policies?
Let’s not forget, they originally refused several times to make or provide any written record regarding these “several recent events,” so they really couldn’t have thought they were that serious. If it was serious enough to justify permanent termination with no chance to return, they should have taken the initiative to document it without being asked several times. Even if they had, it shouldn’t have required so many different folks to be involved in that process. Every staff and volunteer within Young Life is a mandatory reporter, so it would be illegal for them not to report things that cross a certain line. That line was never crossed, and that’s why this was the best they could do when searching for a reason to terminate me that they thought would look better for them in the media or in a courtroom than their original reasoning of me living “a homosexual lifestyle,” which was the only reasoning provided in the conversation on August 31st. In that meeting, the fact that I shared my sexual orientation with students in private settings and at camps was never discussed or used as a reasoning for my termination. Again, that reasoning was just Young Life’s attempt to backpedal and cover up the reality of their homophobia, bigotry and prejudice.
It was only after the letter of termination had been created that they invited people to call and actually discuss the matter, which they had previously said could not be discussed.
Before the letter was written, I received a text saying, “There may be disagreements, and ones that are personal and hurtful,” but we had never had a disagreement about my telling students that I was gay at that point. I had told Danielle Eylander about the time when I told a student at Chipotle that I was gay, so she was aware of that, and it was never discussed in the meeting in which I was terminated. Even if we had disagreed on that issue, I wouldn’t consider that kind of disagreement personal and hurtful. She must have been referring to the only personal and hurtful disagreement we had ever had- whether my sexuality should or should not limit me from leadership.
At no point in the three meetings I had with Young Life staff, or any communications at any time, did they offer any sort of plan to help me come into alignment with their religious beliefs and convictions, as should be offered in any situation regarding church discipline. In fact, when I texted both Scott Didrickson and Danielle Eylander months earlier to let them know I was struggling personally and needed to find a way to better balance, neither of them ever responded at all, and certainly did not offer any sort of assistance as is promised in their core value statements. They only texted me when they wanted me to do stuff for them, and never showed any interest in my personal well being. I am not blaming them for any of that; I am just clarifying that they did not follow through with what they say they will do to support leaders. They have made a point to emphasize that everything I have done in this process was against their standards, which I feel is true of their actions. In fact, they voided their Agreement by failing to respond or attempt to provide any assistance after I expressed several times and in several ways that I was struggling personally (with depression, stress, anxiety, etc.)
If I haven’t provided enough evidence to prove that the issue of me telling students was not included in my termination on August 31st, hopefully this will help: On October 15th, 2015, Mason Rutledge wrote, “I have also had new information come to my attention on Tuesday evening.” I had only requested a written record regarding my termination on August 31st, so any information that came to anyone’s attention after that should not have been included in that letter.
The day after I was terminated in the meeting with Scott Didrickson and Danielle Eylander (September 1st), I posted a Facebook status in which I wrote, “After receiving the official word that Young Life as an organization has decided to end its relationship with me as a faithful volunteer of many years, I decided to sleep on it before posting this…I cannot in good conscience put others at risk of one day being excluded as I have been by supporting an organization that discriminates based on sexual orientation, ignoring the fact that all psychological associations agree that sexual orientation cannot be changed and that Americans have voted to recognize gays as legally equal.”
In a response to a comment on that status, I also wrote, “The definition of discrimination is ‘treatment or consideration of, or making a distinction in favor of or against, a person or thing based on the group, class, or category to which that person or thing belongs rather than on individual merit.’ The only reason for my termination was my sexual orientation, or belonging to the class of homosexuals. I believe most would accept this as discrimination.”
The day after all that had been written, on September 2nd, Danielle Eylander texted me regarding the post, saying, “Just saw your post. Thank you for taking to heart the things I said.”
So I already had an informal confirmation of my termination. It was clear that this had been the “official word” from Young Life, and that the only reasoning understood by all parties at that time was my sexual orientation, not any act of sharing about that sexual orientation with anyone in any setting. Danielle Eylander confirmed that Young Life as an organization had “decided to end (synonym for terminate) its relationship with me as a faithful volunteer of many years.”
Before Young Life issued the official termination letter, another leader tried to defend me, writing, “But the thing with [this leader] really irked me and really became the final push to my decision. Personally and in my faith, I’m still praying and dealing with Mikel’s decision to come out as gay… I’m not a fan of it, but I do love and support him because he’s a good friend. He’s got a heart for others, but if this decision can disqualify him I’m not sure we are showing Christ-like grace…I know [this leader] still identifies himself as Christian and not as gay…It hurts me to see someone who gave so much of his life/ time to an organization and lived a life of serving just to be cut out like that.”
Scott Didrickson responded:
“there’s more to consider and think about when it comes to building your own theology on topics like sexuality, leadership, grace, etc….”
Once again, this proves that it was clear to me, staff, leaders, and everyone involved that I had been terminated before the letter of termination with the false reasoning was provided. If communication had really been an issue, Scott Didrickson would have responded with something like “there’s more to consider and think about when it comes to using Young Life kids to process a personal journey regarding a personal sexuality both in private settings and in cabin times at 2 different camps.” But of course, that wasn’t the real issue.
The Bible provides guidelines and standards for removing people from positions of leadership in ministry. All of those standards and guidelines require open, honest, clear addressing of the issues at hand, not only with the individual receiving the consequences, but also with the entire church leadership and church body. Issues of disciplinary actions within ministries are supposed to be used “to educate people” about the core beliefs, values and convictions of the ministry, so those who participate in them can determine if their personal beliefs, values and morals align with them. Young Life’s consistent refusal to be open, honest and clear about its actions regarding my termination are the result of them formulating and practicing their own theology on topics like sexuality, leadership, grace, etc…
Everything was clear up to that point, and I was very clear that I understood and respected the beliefs. Everything was cordial until I had a problem getting them to put the termination in writing, and instead of telling the truth they decided to take the predictable route of denying, lying, covering up, and attempting to slander my character by implying to parents that I had been involved with inappropriate communication with minors.
The reasoning is inconsistent with everything that happens at Young Life camps, but I’m sure Young Life thought it would sound better for them in the media or in a courtroom than their policy regarding “a homosexual lifestyle.” Ultimately, what sounds best in the media is scandal, and what sounds the worst in a courtroom is inconsistency. The media loves to uncover large organizations in outright lies, and lawyers love to highlight inconsistencies, especially when the evidence is as air tight as mine.
When I asked Scott Didrickson to apologize for implying that my sexual orientation made me more likely to commit sexual felonies against minors, he responded, “I would like to acknowledge that you are hurt, and that saddens me.”
My repeated attempts to participate in a reconciliation process that follows Biblical standards of all parties admitting to their offenses have been repeatedly met with this response:
“As I said in my previous email, I don’t see a resolution to this, given the approach you’re taking.”
It seems Young Life has prohibited its staff from acknowledging any of the homophobic remarks they have made toward me, from telling the truth about my termination, from admitting fault in any way, and from apologizing for anything. But of course, it’s my approach that prevents a resolution. It’s the way I have “represented Young Life’s response” that keeps us from moving forward.
A volunteer in Bellevue Young Life named Micah Humann recently wrote to me, “The decision was made. Get over it, and move on.” He also urged me to “suffer in silence.” Although I’m sure this wouldn’t be approved by the Almighty HR, it’s the sentiment I feel is present within the entire organization. Get over it, move on, stop telling kids that it really is OK to be yourself, that God’s love really is limitless, that there’s a problem with discriminating based on sexual orientation and then lying about it. “Suffer in silence” so that we can continue discriminating in silence. I’m over what happened to me, but I’m not over what the policy does to the many closeted students, volunteers and staff within Young Life.
This year, there was a male leader in Bellevue Young Life who was found to have been communicating with one or more female students via texting and/or social media in a way that Young Life determined was inappropriate. They believed that this leader’s actions displayed a lack of discernment in determining appropriate boundaries for an adult entrusted with the care of minors. Was that leader terminated? No. He was removed from leadership for a short period of time, missed summer camps this summer, and returned to leadership. If the problem in my case was really a communication issue, don’t you think I would have the same opportunity? No, I didn’t. That’s because it was never about a communication issue. I was terminated because I am gay, not because I told anyone I was gay, or because of the setting in which it was done. I wonder if there’s any written record about that leader’s incident and disciplinary process…Maybe you can ask. I wonder if you they would respond, or if you would get the truth. It sucks that we have to wonder, doesn’t it? (After this blog was posted, contact information for the local Young Life staff was removed from the website. The phone number was replaced with a number to the national headquarters so the local staff doesn’t have to handle these questions. The only place on the website where the Area Director’s phone number can be found is on the page asking for donations.)[After they read this update, the number to the national headquarters was replaced with a landline number for an address that the website claims is their “mailing address only!”]
Since everything I’ve predicted so far about this process has come true, here’s my next prediction: YL and its staff will say nothing. They can’t continue to lie and be called out for it, and they can’t apologize or tell the truth without creating even more legal liability than they already have. They can’t say that I wasn’t terminated on August 31st because that would set legal precedent to not terminate other gay leaders. They’ll go back to saying nothing, and what is that called? Shunning, or ex-communication. Yes, that still happens. (Three months after writing this blog, time has unfortunately proven this prediction true. My last offer to meet with the local mission staff was not accepted, and I have never heard from them since.)
I once thought that their actions proved that being gay is the ultimate sin in their eyes. Turns out that revealing the truth of their policies, beliefs and actions is the ultimate sin, from which there is no coming back. That’s what you have to do when you want to continue living above accountability instead of above reproach.
When you compound religious policy with religious lies with religious denial, you dig yourself into a pretty religious hole. If I was in that kind of a religious hole, I wouldn’t know what to do or how to handle it either.
The reason they can’t be honest about their policies boils down to fear. They are fearful of the repercussions that would result from everyone knowing that Young Life discriminates based solely on sexual orientation. If everyone knew that, they would lose students; their ministry would be less effective; they might lose some of that green stuff that pays the president of their not-for -profit’s salary, which is well over half a million dollars per year. They are fearful of how the tides are turning, and what this means for them in the long run.
It is no longer the volunteer pastor, formally trained in Biblical interpretation, theology and Pastoral Ministry, through whom God has effectively worked to successfully minister to hundreds of unchurched families in one of the most “exclusive” communities in America and happens to be gay that has to be afraid to share his beliefs. It is the organizations that have to be afraid to say what they think when their beliefs include discriminating against perfectly capable Christians that God wants to work through to reach more people. It is the organizations that don’t want records of their actions because they fear the shame of the public spotlight. Instead of the gay individuals shrinking away in guilt and shame, embarrassed to talk about what’s really going on, it is now the organizations. They’re realizing that the majority of Americans don’t agree with what they’re doing, and questioning how far they can continue like this in a world that’s becoming more and more educated, more and more unsatisfied with self-righteous denial of accountability from outside sources. People will no longer accept responses like the one Young Life made to every parent who wrote a letter of support on my behalf:
“We ask that you trust those in leadership to make decisions about volunteer leadership in a way that is appropriate for the circumstances and in the best interests of students, fellow leaders, staff and the our common purpose.” (I’ll let you catch the error in that sentence.)
The parents who wrote support letters recognized immediately the predictable, bigoted attempt to deflect responsibility and defame my character when Young Life responded, “we regret the choices he has made both in his communications with students as well as the way he has represented Young Life’s response.” They saw right through it, recognizing the “prehistoric techniques” and “cowardly cop-out.”
The issue of fear is the most commonly addressed issues in The Bible, with well over four hundred related passages and verses. The Bible teaches that although what God calls us to do may cause repercussions that we could fear, our confidence in who God says He is and who He says we are enables us to overcome that fear. I see Young Life’s words and actions as a result of fear, which demonstrates a lack of confidence in their policies, which are a result of their theology and Biblical interpretation, which are a result of their relationship with God. It took me a long time to allow God to lift me out of the religious hole I had dug for myself, and it will take Young Life a long time too. I do not rejoice in their fear or condone the actions that their fear has driven them to take; I simply recognize it as an indicator that the tides are turning in favor of increased rights and inclusion of the LGBTQ community within the universal Church. If the way an organization punishes good people creates fear for themselves, that’s a good indicator that what they’re doing is not love, and it’s not from God.
Shortly after this blog was posted, revealing their policies and unethical business practices, Young Life doubled down on their Confidentiality Agreement, further prohibiting staff and volunteers from disclosing to parents and students any information within the Faith and Conduct Agreement, Conflict Resolution Guidelines and regular practices within Young Life.
Protecting Personal and Confidential Information
In February Risk Management and HR developed a new Employee Confidentiality and Non-Disclosure Agreement that Employees were required to sign when we logged into staff resources.
Leader Screening updated by October 31
New this year is the confidentiality agreement that we will need all volunteer leaders to complete on staff resources. It should pop up on the first screen when they sign in. Please look at your staff volunteer rosters and see if screenings have expired or still need to be completed by current leaders. Please also go to your volunteer manager and expire any leaders who are no longer serving in the area. You just click edit at the far right of their name and change the expiration date to tomorrow.
The original policy while I was a leader:
An updated version of the policy: