by Rev. Dawn Bennett
Greetings, beloveds! I’m honored to address the Church and its service to queer youth. I’m also honored Pastor Carla thought of me to answer. The Table, where I pastor, is located in the Deep South. Therefore, I serve in the Bible Belt, right smack dab in the crosshairs of religious-based bigotry, Fundamental Evangelicalism, and a Legislative body who earns its nickname, “#SlateOfHate.” At T
he Table, our tagline is ‘grace and a place for you.’ I’ll use that line to synthesize my answer to your reader’s question:
How can we as the church better support queer youth? I encourage you, dear Church to face your FEAR.
FEAR is an acronym I use to address Feasibility, Evangelism, Accountability, and Restoration. What our youth need is meaningful and effective service. They need outreach and inreach that affirms their whole being and allows them to engage in the full life of their church family. Each congregation is poised to provide something, your homework is to spark and investigate conversation to discover what it is. So, feasibility.
Make sure your service to queer youth is Feasible. Please remember, queer youth are used to having privileges removed based solely on their identity, orientation, and who they date [or maybe, it’s their sibling who is queer…just a thought]. They are used to an education system that whitewashes their curriculum, leaving them hard pressed to see themselves in the story, particularly if they are a person of color and LGBTQ+. So, feasibility. Be intentional, that way nothing has to be taken away later.
Evangelism. We need to hear Good News, especially after this past election season and the Covid-19 pandemic. Families are itching for community. Rainbow Families have been cooped up with the double challenge of isolation and depression which threatens LGBTQ+ youth two, three, and four times as much as their non-LGBTQ+ peers. The Gospel message is an area where churches have great opportunity to be places of Good News. Make sure, to the best of your ability, scripture is read with a wide gender lens, God was a kid once. And Jesus probably had a queer friend.
Accountability. As adults we talk a lot about being responsible for what we do and say. We teach our children to be kind with their words and helpful with their actions. If they falter, we hold them accountable with the intention to turn discipline into a teaching moment. Today’s queer youth hold parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, pastors, and the public accountable for their words and actions. With the cards of homo/transphobia perpetually stacked against them, you’d better believe queer youth will hold churches accountable to their efforts of “better service.”
Restoration. There is a grave misnomer that churches are places for the cleaned-up, well-behaved, and Bible-reading. We know differently. We know churches are hospitals. The Church was originally established as a place to go to get well, a place for orphans to be cared for and a place for the poor to find solace. It is where we shaped the word hospitality. Queer youth today need places they can come to as their most authentic self in whatever stage of faith or belief they are at. To better serve them, churches may begin by asking two powerful and fundamental questions which shape and mold my ministry at The Table. First, what do you need? Second, how can I help? We cannot assume to know these answers until we ask. We cannot be a place of restoration until we know what is needed.
Face your FEAR, dear Church. Amen.
Rev. Dawn Bennett is a Pastor Developer serving The Table in Nashville, TN. The Table centers the voices and lived experiences of LGBTQIA+ youth and families and those vulnerable to incarceration and poverty. Pastor Dawn recently received a cast of St. Francis as a gift from a friend moving to the Dominican…lucky chap.