Young Life clubs across the U.S. are grappling with the organization’s noninclusive LGBTQ+ policies and are coming to vastly different conclusions about how to administrate its rules excluding queer leadership in conjunction with university inclusivity policies. Seattle University’s Campus Ministry has affirmed its commitment to allowing diversity of participation, in a departure from the actions of other schools.
The Chronicle, a student-run Duke University news organization, reported on Sept. 11 that Duke’s student government rejected Young Life’s reapplication for official club status at the university due to the discriminatory practices it holds. LGBTQ+ members are openly invited to join Young Life as members, but are not allowed to hold positions of authority according to national policies. Adult staff are also excluded on the basis of sexuality and gender.
The Young Life organization describes its official mission as “Introducing adolescents to Jesus Christ and helping them grow in their faith.” It hosted 384,000 youth a week at its clubs globally during the 2017-2018 school year according to their website. The Colorado- based organization has been a part of adolescent lives throughout the U.S. since its founding in 1941.
The group operates nationwide, from colleges to middle schools. Bishop Daniel Flores of Brownsville, Texas states that the organization works on “getting teens connected back to their faith tradition” according to Young Life’s Catholic Relations program.
For these reasons, the organization has long stood as a relatively uncontroversial institution committed to fostering the spiritual lives of developing individuals. However, the hiring and leadership policies of the group are now being called into question.
Local organizations are technically required to conform to the regulations of the national organization, though there is some unspoken room for individual branches to exercise their own discretion.
At-Large Representative for Student Government of Seattle U (SGSU) Graham Wielgos commented on the situation and went on to cite Campus Ministry itself, specifically its affirmation of queer inclusion.
“I think it is clear the beliefs of the local organization are separate from those of the national organization,” Wielgos said. “We will not tolerate discrimination based on sexual oreinataion, race, gender, or any other form of discrimination and this leaves little room for interpretation.”
This affirmation of LGBTQ+ participation and leadership in Young Life at Seattle U was echoed by Associate Director of Campus Ministry Erin Beary Andersen.
“We are fully accepting of all students from all backgrounds, identities, and experiences as members and in all positions of leadership in our student clubs.”
Beary Andersen, the campus advisor to Young Life, stressed the importance of inclusion in all Seattle U organizations, and distanced Seattle U’s chapter from the Duke controversy. She also pointed to the Campus Ministry “Mission and Commitments” document, which every student leader and off-campus club advisor must sign. This document specifically prohibits “proselytizing, soliciting, or putting pressure on students” for any reason, including identity issues.”
Rev. Victoria Carr-Ware, the multi-faith campus minister, added that she works to affirm the commitment to inclusion Seattle U and Campus Ministry have fostered.
“We’re making sure inclusion at Seattle U becomes a reality,” Carr-Ware said. “This is who we are and what we expect.”
Both campus ministers promoted the Queer Students of Faith quotation that can be found online, “Campus Ministry welcomes the experiences, tensions, and gifts of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons in the Seattle University Community.Wehonorourdiversityas people made in the image and likeness of God by offering hospitality to all.”
Seattle U’s chapter of Young Life follows policies Campus Ministry and Student Government created to foster inclusion rather than Young Life’s national rules. Young Life at Seattle U is open to all who wish to join as participants or leaders.
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