“I was already on the fence because of my schedule with work (I just got a promotion) and basketball season has started and I’m back coaching again…But the thing with [this leader] really irked me and really became the final push to my decision. Personally and in faith, I’m still praying and dealing with [this leader’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 that I come up short in my life…That’s why I need grace…but if we decide that sin disqualifies leadership then we would all be guilty. I know [this leader] still identifies himself as a Christian, not as gay…it hurt 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…I’m not saying that I support homosexuality (I believe the bible is clear that it is sin)…But I do believe that there is grace beyond our understanding and that God uses people that He created to bring glory to His name. [This leader] is one of those people. I feel that I wouldn’t have ever been there for the camp if it wasn’t for [this leader] reaching out and introducing me to Young Life. And for me to be on board and continue without him just doesn’t feel right. I hope you understand where I’m at with this and I didn’t feel like had peace about this until now.”
– An email from a former Young Life leader to Scott Didrickson, the Area Director of Bellevue Young Life.
Scott Didrickson’s response:
“This has been an incredibly difficult few weeks. I, like you, love [this leader] and want to extend grace and love toward him. And, I think we’ve done that. I’m sure there are some who would disagree, and I understand that.
There’s a lot in your email that deserves much deeper thought and conversation. I think you’re on to a lot of good thinking and reasoning, but there’s more to consider and think about when it comes to building your own theology on topics like sexuality, leadership, grace, etc…..
If you’d like to meet and talk about it further, I’d enjoy the good conversation.
This communication was completed after I was terminated from my volunteer position in Young Life on August 31st, 2015, and before I began requesting a written record of the termination. I received it after I had written and published the first draft of The Tides are Turning, in which you can read about the great lengths to which Young Life went to keep this love and grace quiet. If you read all my blogs and communications with Young Life staff, you can definitely notice that I maintained from the beginning that I was terminated and did not resign on August 31st, that there were several attempts made to manipulate me and prevent me from talking about the situation, and that when Young Life began denying and avoiding my request for a written record of the termination, I recognized right away what was going on- they were trying to deny it and come up with a better reasoning that would look better for them than the reality that they had terminated someone simply for being gay. If I had received this particular communication earlier in the process, there would have been absolutely no doubt or uncertainty expressed at all.
I’ll try to explain why this is so important to me.
There’s the surface level “this is unfair, he/ they lied, he/ they broke one of the Ten Commandments and took no responsibility or received no consequence, while I’ve been open honest and truthful, and I’m the one who got punished, blah, blah, blah, life’s not fair, woe is me, blah, blah, blah.” If I denied that was part of it, I would be lying, and I’m still trying to be honest. It’s both surface level and deep disappointment. When people are hurt by The Church, whether it’s when they come out or for some other reason, it’s really an illusion. The Church is an institution, and there’s definitely some real “blame” (for lack of a better word) that can and should be attributed to the way that the institution has mistreated marginalized groups and intentionally prevented its followers from exploring any education outside what is widely accepted as truth by its unwavering adherence to tradition. But an inanimate institution can’t really hurt people; it’s the people inside and representing the institution that are really taking the actions that affect others both positively and negatively. An institution or organization didn’t participate in lying to me and about me regarding the reasoning and timing of my termination; only people did that. Scott Didrickson knows the truth, and he was confident enough in that truth that he was able to discuss it over text and email with another leader, but not with me, with students, or with parents who inquired. Although I didn’t know that this communication had taken place while I was asking for the written record of my termination, Scott Didrickson was aware. Maybe he was surprised that it eventually got around to me, because he acted as if it didn’t take place, and not only supported but also participated in the deceitful efforts of Young Life as they fabricated false reasoning and timing of my termination in an effort to protect themselves and also slander me. That’s just the surface level.
Honestly, it’s what I expected and predicted, so I wasn’t surprised. The surface level “this isn’t fair” isn’t really my thing, because I realize that’s life, and I really don’t like whining, despite whatever can be implied from a religiously themed blog written by a gay Christian bitching and moaning like a disgruntled former employee.
To be honest, I don’t like abusing The Bible, theological concepts and especially the character of Jesus by dragging them all through disagreements with other Christians, but I think there is value in sharing my journey, experience, thoughts and beliefs as a gay Christian so that many who have never engaged with this perspective before can wet their toes.
On a deeper, perhaps more developed (but not superior) level, here’s what I really think.
We can go back and forth on almost every theological concept, but there are a few that are pretty much universally accepted and undisputed. One such concept is the idea that God and sin can’t coexist. Although we say that God is omnipotent- all powerful- there are certain things that God simply can’t do, things that are contrary to His character and outside the reality of His perfect love and grace.
If all good things are from God (Psalm 127), and God is love 1 John 4:8, then the way God shows and communicates love and grace can never coexist with any action that God has prohibited. So far, I think most theologians and scholars would be with me, even though everything written by a gay Christian historically is little more than laughable. I believe most people in the world recognize that “Do not lie, do not deceive one another, and do not give false testimony against your neighbor” are included in the Ten Commandments, which are foundational tenets of both the Jewish and Christian faiths (Leviticus 19 & 20).
If we put that all together, then the way Christians show Christ-like love and grace simply cannot coexist with lies, which are outside the limitations of God’s perfect character and not part of His original plan in creation of mankind.
So coming back to the Young Life situation. When I met with Scott Didrickson and Danielle Eylander at Red Robin on August 31st, they told me the truth. They even teared up a little as Scott explained that he had spent three hours on the phone with HR getting all his questions answered and confirming that his act of terminating me on that date was the only action that could be taken by the organization. Later in the conversation, Scott Didrickson literally said, if not verbatim, something very similar to, “This might kind of like, you know, because we’re saying you can’t be a Young Life leader, but maybe you can help kids dealing with similar issues.” I know for a fact he literally said, “you can’t be a Young Life leader,” so they can’t truthfully claim that they just explained the policy and let me make the decision. In my first meeting with Scott Didrickson, I told him very clearly that I would not resign based on Young Life’s policy, and he was checking with HR to determine their decision, not mine. They cannot claim that I resigned; they both know that I was removed from leadership that day against my wishes, and that the only reasoning they gave me was the policy regarding “a homosexual lifestyle.” If they have to lie to themselves and everyone else so that they can sleep better at night, that’s on them. When I requested that they put the termination in writing, he said they would not do it, but that I could call HR if I had any questions. I didn’t have any questions, because at that meeting he had already explained the result of having all his questions answered, and I didn’t expect any different outcome.
When I pressed for the written record of the termination, they eventually lied, and put in writing that I had been terminated for using kids at camp to process my sexuality, which is not true. Not only did I not use any kids to process anything at all, but that reasoning was never discussed during the conversation in which I was terminated. I know that, Scott Didrickson knows that, and Danielle Eylander knows that. We all know there was nothing that I could have said or done, or not said or done, that would have ever changed that. So I started a blog, and I said what I wanted- the truth.
So if that act was how Young Life extended love and grace toward me, before I requested a written record of the termination, how did that changed after I started requesting it? If they were confident that this love and grace were consistent with the tenets of The Gospel and God’s character, then why couldn’t they share that with students and parents? Why did they pressure me so hard not to talk about it? If Young Life is committed to living according to and demonstrating the whole Gospel, and this action of terminating me on August 31st was part of that, then why could it not be communicated directly to students and parents?
The love and grace of God cannot coexist with lies, and Young Life had to lie about this love and grace that they had extended toward me, the love and grace with which they understood some would disagree. Why? Because even they, somewhere deep down, in the bottom of their heart, soul, mind and strength, understand that what they did was inconsistent with the true love, grace and character if God. They knew that people involved with the organization are able to recognize that, and they thought lying about their Christ-like love and grace was better than telling the truth. Even conservative Christians are coming to understand that homosexuality is a sexual orientation and that the inclination to same-sex attraction in itself is not sinful. When it comes down to it, most would say the ACT is sinful, remember? I had already communicated verbally and in writing that I was committed to celibacy until marriage, so even by the standards of most conservative standards, the original basis of my termination was questionably Biblical at best. Young Life knows that, and that’s why they lied.
If their actions truly demonstrated Christ-like love and grace according to the full Gospel of Jesus Christ, they should have had no problem talking about it with students and parents, but they insisted the private matter could not be discussed until they had fabricated a false reasoning.
I understand why they wouldn’t want their actions recorded. Times have changed, and our culture sometimes makes it difficult to live according to the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ in some ways. Young Life rightly believes that they should not bend to the secular culture’s embrace of homosexuality and homosexuals, but they have definitely bent to the legal pressure placed on them and compromised their integrity by lying repeatedly to avoid recording the truth of how they extended love and grace toward me. The Bible is literally a written record about how God has extended his love and grace to mankind through Jesus and other believers, and although some disagree with it, Christians typically don’t shy away from its truth. If Christians take actions that they refuse to record, what better indicator do we need that those actions aren’t exactly Christ-like? Yes, times have changed, but please tell me more about how that argument is only relevant when it works in your favor.
As an extreme optimist, I recognize the lies as a glimmer of hope. The Church as an institution, run by people, is beginning to recognize that what they’re doing is not really Christ-like love and grace- not to the point where they will stop doing it that way, or apologize to the people they have treated that way- but to the point that they understand that they realize they have to lie about it because they feel the truth does not accurately represent Christ. It’s a very, very, very small step in the right direction, just enough to keep an extreme optimist like me hopeful.
Here’s what’s beneath surface level:
Young Life and its staff had to lie about the way they had extended love and grace to me. That pretty clear and indisputable. Even after all this, Danielle Eylander tried to keep in contact with me, until I told the truth in my blog The Tides are Turning. After I published that blog, I was completely cut off, and they never accepted my request to meet or made any attempt to reach out to me again. Christians are called to show unconditional love and grace. It is the most profoundly eye-opening and faith-challenging realization when you understand that the real condition of that unconditional love and grace is telling the truth about how and when that love and grace was extended. If Jesus is really the way, the truth and the life, then how can telling the truth about how Christians extend His love and grace not be the correct “approach?”
I believe telling the the truth is actually the only way to to extend love and grace. As I said, after they did that in the meeting on August 31st, I was ok with it, and things were cordial between us. When I heard that they were denying the truth and refusing to tell the truth to students and parents shortly after that meeting, I recognized right away that that was not extending Christ-like love and grace toward not only me but also students and parents. That is very, very important to me. I understand that Young Life’s bottom line is that Gay people are not to be included in the mission and work of Young Life, and I even understand the drive to do whatever it takes to maintain that bottom line. My bottom line is that students and parents deserve to know the truth about the organization’s beliefs, policies and actions, and I believe my efforts in educating them are an act of love and grace not only toward them but toward the organization itself. If they feel threatened and offended by their own beliefs and actions, that is a really good thing.