Why Young Life Is Evil
There was a Young Life group at my high school. There was also an FCA—Fellowship of Christian Athletes—but it was very small; just a handful of students praying before school on Wednesdays in the football coach’s classroom. And there was an emergent home church called Philia started by a few of my friends; I served on the leadership team of it (we called ourselves the Servant Team) for a year or so.
And the dark and dirty secret I never shared with anyone is I often felt left out. Philia was okay, I sort of felt welcome there. Most of the time. Especially if I tried not to think about the fact that I was fat and not exactly gorgeous. But I knew without even having to ask that Young Life was off-limits for me. No one ever said I wasn’t welcome, in so many words. It was just obvious. The kind of people who went were the ones who wouldn’t give me the time of day. They were the A-crowd and I was B or maybe C. But this remained my dark and dirty secret because who could I say that to who wouldn’t just shake their heads at me and say, “oh you’re just being silly.” But, it turns out I wasn’t just seeing things. I wasn’t off-base. Because at least one other person—Fred—sees it too.
Their Big Idea for youth ministry is scarcely hinted at in anything on the group’s Web site, so I can’t quote this in their own words, but it goes something like this: If you want your youth group and your youth ministry events to be popular, you’ve got to get the popular kids to come. So the popular kids should be your priority — the jocks, the cheerleaders, the attractive kids, the Heathers.
So basically, Young Lifers accept and adopt the stratified hierarchy and caste system of high school. A Young Life meeting — by design — looked like a casting call for the villains of every decent high school movie ever made, the richies or preppies or whatever you wanted to call them.
This seemed to me an inversion of the gospel, and a perversion of it — a betrayal of everything Jesus taught and demonstrated. The WYLIE rant started with a sarcastic preamble about how Jesus must have selected fishermen, tax collectors and prostitutes for his closest followers because those people were so popular. The lepers, Samaritans, perpetually unclean hemorrhagic women, slaves and the rain dogs of every kind — those were the cool kids, right? The winners? The in-crowd?
This was pretty mind-blowing for me, that Young Life was unavailable to me not because something was wrong with me, but because something was wrong with Young Life. I mean I kind of knew that intellectually all along—if I didn’t feel welcome, what kind of Christian group really was it? I doubt that people gazed in longingly at Jesus’ in-crowd, wishing that they could be accepted. Jesus was the kind of guy who accepted you no matter what, in fact, he was the kind of guy who’d seek out the ones who were left out by others. Life is hard for a fat person of any age but junior high and high school are particularly rough times to be a fat girl. All the normal teenage changing-body insecurities are combined with the actual social oppression that says that fat bodies are unacceptable and left me just grasping for meager straws of confidence or security. I was ignored, left out, and spent a lot of time feeling basically invisible. And the fact that I felt this way with regards to the Christian community was deeply troubling. That’s not how it was supposed to be. The story we all told ourselves was that Christians were so nice, friendly, and welcoming. The story was a lie, but it was a believable one considering the actual life of the man we were supposedly following, so it fed the idea that the problem was with me.
So Fred’s post brings me the Good News. Like water to my parched lips. God, as revealed through Jesus, accepted the high school me exactly as I was; it was Jesus’ followers that fell short. And God today accepts me exactly as I am; in this body, in its exact size and shape. God wouldn’t love me more should I lose weight, and God won’t love me less if I gain weight. I believe this in my head, and because of Fred’s post I believe it a little more in my heart than I used to. It is true for me, and it is true for you. We are enough. We are loved exactly as we are; our bodies are loved exactly as they are.
I’ll wrap up with a second quote from Fred, with the encouragement to go read the whole post.
Consider what this does to the kids themselves — not just to the kids who don’t “merit” your attention because they’re unpopular losers, but to the powerful and popular kids who do receive that attention. They’ve received that attention because of their status, not because of who they actually are. That attention is thus conditional, and if they are being told that this attention is an expression or extension of God’s love for them, then they are also being taught that God’s love for them, likewise, is conditional.
God loves winners, therefore God loves you, they are taught. So, what happens if and when you lose?
Yeah, that’s evil.