UYWI Interview around GLBT Issues and the Urban Church (#1)

John Lewis, of UYWI asked one of the UYWI07 workshop trainers, Andrew Marin of The Marin Foundation, a few questions. The intent is to inform and encourage our urban leaders who may be dealing with youth or adults in their churches and communities who may identify themselves with a GLBT lifestyle. These are the first few questions followed with Andrew’s answers (and feel free to respond and comment with your opinions, questions or concerns). Andrew will check this and future posts and would love to respond to your questions:

1. What led you to becoming actively involved in ministering to the GBLT community?

2. What steps can a local youth worker do to embrace teens that are wrestling with these issues?

1. What led you to becoming actively involved in ministering to the GBLT community?

I was raised in a Caucasian dominated, upper middle class suburb of Chicago. I never actually remember the topic of homosexuality ever being brought up to me in my youth; but growing up in a conservative town and attending a conservative church I quickly figured out what I was supposed to think about the GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender) community. I can honestly say that I was extremely homophobic. I was scared of what I did not know, and at that time in my life I believed that gay was just a word on a sheet of paper. It was not real to me, nor did I ever want it to be real to me.

That all changed the summer after my freshman year in college at the University of Illinois at Chicago when my three best friends all ‘came out’ to me on three separate occasions! What do you say when those closest to you confide that they aren’t totally who you think they are, that there is a huge, hidden part of their life you’ve never known about? How do you respond when they risk telling you that they are what you’ve been taught to despise? How do you deal with that ripping feeling in your heart, and the swirl of questions you don’t want answered – and yet so desperately do?

At that moment the GLBT community was no longer something I could not put a face to; it was my best friends. At that time I was faced with a choice, continue to live my life how I always had or completely step out of everything I ever knew and be loyal to my best friends. In my mind my only choice was to fully immerse myself, as much as a straight male could, into the large GLBT population in Chicago with my best friends as guides. Out of that six-year commitment The Marin Foundation was birthed.

2. What steps can a local youth worker do to embrace teens that are wrestling with these issues?

The first thing I always say is love. Now the important part to understand is that my definition of love is different than other people’s definition; as mine is not just a nice, conditional Christian word that should be said. Love then, is a tangible expression of an unconditional behavior. This means that someone can say “I love you” until that person is blue in the face, and it will not matter one bit unless there are measurable, unconditional behaviors attached with to the word. The broader Christian community has unfortunately lost control of the word love within the eyes of the GLBT community; because ‘love’ has been relegated to a conditional love. I will love you if I see you do…, or act like…, or change…

My friends (gay and straight), my family, my fiancé; they will always know that I love them regardless if I tell them “I love you” ever again. They know this because of my measurable and unconditional behaviors that reinforce my feelings no matter who they are, what they do, or what they say. It is important for youth workers to understand the gravity in the situation regarding a youth dealing with same sex attraction (SSA). Research shows that the average age of someone who has SSA is 13 years old, and the average age of someone who ‘comes out’ and declares their sexual orientation is 15 years old! Think back to who you thought you were when you were 13 to 15 years old, and then add onto that a scary secret that you feel that you cannot tell anyone. What if the secret gets out? What will my church think? What will my friends think? What will happen to me? These are real questions, and things that prevent any willingness to get help in dealing with these feelings. Therefore, at this overwhelming moment in a youth’s life words just cannot do the job. It is rather the measurable, tangible, and unconditional behaviors that speak for themselves; louder than any word could be repeatedly shout-out.

What does a measurable, tangible, and unconditional behavior look like? It is a non-judgmental safe place that proves to be a trustworthy environment for a youth having SSA. It is a walk, a hug, a dinner, an ear, a fun trip; all unassociated with the condemnation and ostracization that the youth “knows” is coming. Please do not confuse this with an affirmation of the same sex feelings, but I will tell you that from years of experience it is truly amazing how open and receptive youths are to fully receiving what the Bible has to say about one’s sexuality only after a long period of unconditional behaviors that show the true meaning of the word love.

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