Equipping Youth Ministers

This past week I had the opportunity to equip youth ministers in their ministry to LGBT+ youth. I was at the National Youth Worker’s Convention in Cincinnati. One session was a 5-hour intensive; the other was 1.5 hour workshop. Both were with my friend, Julie Rodgers.

The experience is unique in many ways. Youth ministers are in the trenches. They are on the front-line of ministry. In fact, it was through my experience equipping them 3 or 4 years ago that I first thought about writing a book on Gender Dysphoria. Many youth ministers at that time were asking questions about transgender and gender-diverse youth, and I began to realize that if these questions were being asked in youth ministry, the experiences of transgender persons and the topic of gender identity was going to soon become part of a larger, national discussion that evangelical Christian were not prepared for.

Another way in which the experience is unique is that we really do not delve into doctrine regarding sexuality and sexual behavior per se. The NYWC is a big tent that draws representatives from many churches, including conservative and liberal churches. So rather than make sessions about what attendees may disagree on, such as the moral status of same-sex behavior), we focus on improving youth ministry within the context of their doctrinal position.

This year we focused on a ‘map’ for ministry to LGBT+ youth. That map plays off of the metaphor that teenagers are navigating difficult terrain, a metaphor I developed in the book, Understanding Sexual Identity. We discussed the importance of parents (‘base camp’) and how the quality of that relationship is the best predictor of a teenagers well-being over time. We also discussed common ‘markers’ along the train, which, in our work are milestone events in sexual identity development. Milestones include first awareness of same-sex attraction, first sexual behaviors, first disclosure to others, first attribution (about what experiences of same-sex attractions mean to them), first labeling oneself (privately or publicly), and so on.

My sense from the audience at both the workshop and the longer intensive is that they were going away with a helpful metaphor that can be translated into a helpful posture toward LGBT+ youth. These were big-hearted, kind, and generous youth ministry staff and volunteers who absolutely love their kids. My friend Julie says that the most frequently asked question by LGBT+ youth in youth ministry is, “Am I wanted here?’ This is a group of youth ministers who wanted as a group to say, “Yes, you are wanted here. There is no where we’d want you to be than in our youth ministry.”

Ukraine Reflections – Part 1

book in RussianI just returned from a trip to Ukraine. I was part of a larger team that was there to train pastors in basic skills of counseling and more advanced skills associated with trauma care and sexual issues. The team I took taught all morning for the week we were there and then did several activities in the afternoon to get better acquainted with the city. We taught on sexual issues in counseling based on a textbook I had co-authored with Erica S. N. Tan. That book was actually sponsored by several organizations to be translated into Russian before our trip, so that students could get the most out of it. That was exciting to see.

We also participated in a conference on sexuality at one of the prestigious universities in Kiev on Saturday and Sunday. I offered a plenary address on some of the changes in approaches to sexual minorities over the years (kind of updating a 2002 publication that created a typology of sorts around this topic) and the convergence of the APA’s position on client-affirmative care and Sexual Identity Therapy. I also conducted a workshop on SIT in individual and in group therapy contexts. The co-director of the institute gave another plenary address and students led workshops on body image and female sexual addiction, as well as poster sessions on recent empirical work we have been doing. It was an extraordinary 11 days to be honest with you.

kievI thought I might offer a few reflections on my time there. My thoughts are a bit scattered today, however, so this may be of little use to anyone. I’ve never taught using a translator. That was an extraordinary experience. I’ve taught while someone signed my class to a deaf student, but I had not taught in another language and had to work out the pace of teaching and allowing for translation. You get roughly 1/2 of the time to move through the material. I learned quite a bit about my lack of patience.

It was also striking to me how hungry people are in Ukraine for training. You can forget that they are at war right now, and that any training that helps them, any training that is practical and skills-based can be immediately of help to them. We tried to keep things very practical. In fact, I turned more toward clinical demonstrations of skills toward the end of the week (whereas I had been more lecture-based and theory oriented toward the beginning of the week).

NYWC in Atlanta

atlantaThis week I’ll be joined by Julie Rodgers to speak at the National Youth Workers Convention (NYWC) in Atlanta. We did this earlier this fall in Sacramento. In California, we provided a 5-hour pre-conference workshop titled, “Sexual Identity and the Youth Minister: Walking with LGBT Youth.” We’ll do the same in Atlanta. We plan to go back and forth explaining research conducted through the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity of some of the key considerations for Christian youth who are navigating sexual and gender identity questions. Julie will share from her own experience and connect the dots from what others tell us in surveys and interviews and the lived reality as someone who has been navigating this terrain for many years.

The developmental context is probably the most important thing I try to help youth ministers understand. There are specific milestone events that many LGBT adults identify as important in their own journey. We discuss those, as well as opportunities to explore meaning-making during this stage of life. We will also cover social support and healthy coping. We will try to stay practical and focused on the specific needs of those who are attending.

We also plan to open with a little data from a survey we conducted of youth ministers and how they approach the topic. There is a lot I could say about that study, but it was interesting the young people want to talk about sexual identity. They want to be able to approach youth ministers. As a youth minister, you don’t have to be a certain age or have certain life experiences or hold a certain theological position or have sufficient schooling/education for a young person to come to you. None of those things were connected to having youth come forward to share their same-sex sexuality or gender identity.

The second talk is an abbreviated version of the 5-hour talk. It is titled, “Teens and Sexual Identity.” This is a much less ambitious workshop that goes about 1.5 hours. We’ll discuss the conflict between religious identity (as a Christian) and sexual identity (in light of same-sex sexuality) that a percentage of young people experience. We will again discuss the context of identity development, as well as the messages that a young person hears about identity and community from their faith community and from the LGBT community.

Much of what we share comes from content published in Understanding Sexual Identity: A Guide for Youth Ministry (Zondervan). In fact, this book was written in conjunction with talks given at this same conference last fall. So if you are looking for information on the topic of sexual identity and Christian youth, you might find that book helpful.

APA in Washington, DC

DCThis week is the 122nd Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA). We are meeting in Washington, DC. I was just up there to work with the National Institute for Corrections on the various challenges that arise for incarcerated persons who are LGBTI. On this trip I will be co-chairing a symposium titled Integrating Identities – Spirituality, Religion, and Sexuality. The other co-chair is Joshua Wolff, a graduate of the Rosemead School of Professional Psychology and an emerging voice in LGBT studies in faith-based institutions of higher education among other areas of interest.

The papers presented here should be interesting. In addition to a study I will be presenting (co-authored with three students and research team members titled, “Experiences of Sexual Minority Students and Alumni in Faith-Based Higher Education”), Stephen Stratton (Asbury Seminary) and Janet Dean (Asbury University) will present a paper titled, “Identity Formation in Context: The Intersection of Sexual Identity and Religious Spiritual Identity.” They will be reviewing relevant themes from two previously-published studies of sexual and religious identity among Christian college students who are also sexual minorities.

The other two papers come from psychologists with expertise in LGBT issues. Glenda Russell (University of Colorado-Boulder) is presenting a paper titled, “Open and Affirming Congregation: Opening What? Affirming Whom?” Finally, Caitlin Ryan (San Francisco State University) is presenting a paper titled, “Beyond Either/Or: Helping Religious Families to Support Their LGBT Children.”

The two discussants (or colleagues who read the papers/PP slides in advance and comment on them and related themes they deem relevant) are John Gonsiorek (Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity) and Tamara Anderson (Biola University).

In addition to this symposium, we have two posters from the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity on Thursday and Saturday. (A poster session involves displaying research findings and discussing them with other professionals.) The Thursday poster is titled, “What are Helpful and Unhelpful Resources to Religious Parents After a Gay Child Comes Out?” This should be interesting in light of Caitlyn Ryan’s presentation noted above and her work directing The Family Acceptance Project. The data we are presenting comes from a collaborative effort with The Marin Foundation and is based on interviews of Christian parents whose children had come out.

The Saturday poster is titled, “Youth Ministers: Attitudes Toward and Experiences with Sexual Minorities.” This poster presents data collected at two youth ministry events where attendees were invited to share their experiences with their churches and with sexual minority youth. This poster is one of several presentations we hope to have out in the next year or so on youth ministry and youth ministry education and LGBT issues facing the church.

There are many other exciting things happening at APA, but these are a few highlights of things I’ll be involved in.

 

 

National Youth Workers Convention

Later this week I will be heading out to Nashville to speak at the National Youth Workers Convention. I had the opportunity to speak earlier this fall in San Diego with the same team and organization and to what we might think of as the west coast youth workers. They are an incredible group. Not only are they full of energy and a passion to serve Christ, but they love the kids they work with and have a heart for the church in this next generation.

When I was in San Diego, though, I participated in several activities outside of the convention (meetings at churches, meetings at universities), so I was away from the convention more than I was there. In Nashville, I plan to sit in on some of the sessions with folks who are showcasing their talents. It would be great to hear Amena Brown bring spoken word to the stage, as well as Rend Collective Experiment and Propaganda.

Before we go on, let’s take a moment to check out Amena Brown:

That’s pretty good spoken word.

The other treat for me is the opportunity to present with two former students who are now developing their own careers as psychologists. Experiences like this highlight one of the real blessings of being in academics for a little while; you get the opportunity to see students excel in the field and in their own sense of purpose and calling. There is not much that I enjoy more than looking over and seeing a former student making a presentation that truly enhances how people are going to work with youth in the weeks and months and years to come.

zondervanWe will be presenting 7-hours worth of material in two pre-conference workshops on sexual identity and youth ministry. These presentations will draw in part from my book, Understanding Sexual Identity and cover what we know and do not know about sexual orientation, particularly in the areas of etiology and change, as well as research on sexual identity development and synthesis, working with parents (and some of the unique challenges they face, including evangelical subculture shame), addressing co-occurring issues for youth (for example, depression), how to foster coping skills in teens, and so on.

We will also participate in a panel discussion the one evening. In San Diego, that was a good experience with several interesting questions for each of us, and that provided a more relaxed atmosphere for us to think through some things together and with those who were hungry for more. Then we will do a breakout session for those in attendance who did not do the pre-con. That session provides a kind of general overview of research on sexual identity, milestone events, and the challenges young people in the church face as they navigate various messages from the church they are raised in as well as from the mainstream gay community. In any case, it promises to be a great couple of days in Nashville.

CAPS National in Portland

imagesThe Christian Association for Psychological Studies (CAPS) National Conference is in Portland this week, April 4-6. The conference theme is Cross-Cultural Care & Counsel. A couple of grads from our program who worked with me at the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity (ISSI) are presenting on their work with gender variant clients.

On Thursday I am going to participate in a panel discussion with three other psychologists as we discuss examples of how Christians translate their faith and associated concerns that arise with the broader profession. I will discuss our research on sexual identity development and synthesis. On Friday, I will also do a workshop and demonstration of  Sexual Identity Therapy.

In a couple of weeks I’ll be in New Orleans to speak to Chief Student Development Officers at CCCU institutions. The CCCU is the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, and they are hosting a conference in New Orleans focused primarily on student development issues and concerns. Where do I fit in? Several years ago I was named senior fellow to conduct a study of sexual minorities at Christian colleges. That study was a collaborative project with Steve Stratton and Janet Dean (Asbury). It was published in 2009 in the Journal of Psychology and Theology.

Our research group got together again and joined with Mike Lastoria (Houghton) to conduct a similar study at more institutions. That study is currently under review, but I will present some of the findings from it at the CCCU event in a couple of weeks.

As a frequent consultant at CCCU-affiliated institutions, I will also provide addresses on concepts that have seemed relevant to those consultations – concepts like stewardship of sexuality and relating to others with “convicted civility.” it should be enjoyable and much better than the last trip to New Orleans (a symposium at the American Psychiatric Association that dealt with the sexual orientation change debates).

I was told by a friend to look for a New Orleans staple: alligator on a stick. (Frankly, I think I’d rather face the psychiatrists again…)