When I first heard about this book published by The Youth Cartel, I had three basic questions before reading it that I suspect most others would ask as well. Will this book give me practical advice? Will this book challenge my theology? And will this book slant toward liberal or conservative theology and practice?
I was surprised by its size. Not counting the introduction and appendices (which are very helpful), it is just over a hundred pages. With four views to be expressed, that leaves about twenty-five pages for each, with responses written by each author. In spite of its brevity, the work has many admirable qualities. First is the unified commitment of the authors to minister to LGBTQ teenagers who understand the severity of the situation. Statistics are frequently employed to show how vital it is that LGBTQ teenagers be a part of a welcoming community that cares about their whole spirituality—not just their sexuality and gender. Second is that all the authors readily admit that this is a complicated and, for many of us, uncomfortable issue. This is done in part by the authors sharing their own experiences and how they are still growing and learning. Such frankness gives all of us permission to be unsure of how to proceed, as long as we proceed in love for the teenager in question. However, this familiar style leads to unclearly structured chapters. For example, the “My Journey” segments within each chapter seem out of place to the over all flow of the chapter. They would have fit better as chapter prefaces.
Much of the practical advice given in the main chapters is general in nature. Again and again the authors remind us that when building relationships with individuals it is unlikely that procedures will ever be one-size-fits-all. Donaldson does direct the interested reader to further resources that will add to the conversation. Woods encourages his readers to seek and celebrate any spiritual growth within an LGBTQ teenager, not just growth in terms of their sexuality and gender. Other than that, the advice is to express love as often and as well as you can and to be open to deep, vulnerable conversations. The appendices give more specific, practical advice— especially in terms of transgender teenagers. But here too they are quick to point out that each church will likely need to discover their own best practices, and that those practices will likely be customized to each individual situation.
Theology is hardly touched on. The introduction specifically says that holding a theological discussion was not the intent. Rather, the goal was to move beyond theological musings into real life issues. That is, of course, necessary and valuable. However, without the underlying theology, the four views appeared very similar. We ought to love all teenagers and point them toward Jesus no matter what. The views seemed only to vary based on the primary motivation in pastoring LGBTQ teenagers. For example, one author believes it is how we recognize the Imago Dei with integrity while another thinks that healing deep wounds in the LGBTQ community is what’s at stake. When authors wrote responses to others’ chapters, half of the responses werein agreement to the chapter. The disagreements were not based on applicable practices but on tangential issues to the ministry in place. And the two authors who seemed to be least in agreement weren’t even put into conversation with each other. Ultimately, I think the “4 Views” format was the wrong approach for this work. Instead, the authors should have collaborated on presenting their unified message of how to minister to LGBTQ teenagers. Then the agreed view that LGBTQ teenagers ought to receive our love and welcome could be stated once and clearly. Then space could have been dedicated to more complicated aspects.
I think that liberal and conservative readers alike will feel this book has a liberal slant. However, I hope that if conservative readers choose to read it, they will find the same value I found in it. I also believe that anyone who has decided that liberalism versus conservatism needs to take a back seat to the needs of real teenagers in their community, will be able to do just that.
This is not a book to find pat answers to your complex questions. It is meant to get you thinking and discussing within your church community. And while thinking and discussing in the abstract is only so valuable, I wouldn’t want to wait to think about this issue until the moment one of my teenagers tells me they identify as LGBTQ.
Andrew Hall is a youth pastor who has spent over seven years helping young people make a life-long commitment to Christ and his Church. In the fall of 2018, Andrew received his masters in Systematic and Historical Theology from the University of St Andrews in St Andrews, Scotland. He now resides with his wife in the Washington, DC area. You can reach out to him on Facebook and Instagram by searching for Anjroo Hall.