Made, Known, Loved is a powerful guide to LGBTQ youth-inclusive ministry

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April 20, 2021

GLAAD is celebrating with Ross Murray, the Senior Director of the GLAAD Media Institute, on the release of his first book, Made, Known, Loved: Developing LGBTQ-Inclusive Youth Ministry, a how-to manual for LGBTQ-inclusive youth ministry, sharing the best procedures and practices. Ross is an ordained Deacon in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, with a specific calling to LGBTQ advocacy, which he does through his work at GLAAD.

Made, Known, Loved shows congregations how to create a program that affirms LGBTQ youth in their faith and their identity, accepts and welcomes diverse sexual orientations and gender identities, and equips future leaders for the church and the LGBTQ community. The book focuses on keeping LGBTQ youth safe and helping them feel respected and see themselves as beloved children of God.

Made, Known, Loved draws on experience and wisdom cultivated through Murray’s nearly twenty years of experience with The Naming Project, a ministry and summer camp created at the intersection of youth, faith, and LGBTQ identity. Murray founded and continues to direct this safe place where youth of all sexual orientations and gender identities can be safe and affirmed in their identity and faith. 

We caught up with Ross to talk about his book, The Naming Project, and his calling to do LGBTQ youth ministry. 

Where did Made, Known, Loved come from? 

I've been an LGBTQ advocate for a long time, but my background is in youth ministry. I co-founded The Naming Project nearly 20 years ago with a couple ministry friends because, at the time, there was no settings for youth who were religious and LGBTQ. My straight peers didn't know what to do with LGBTQ youth, and we realized that we needed to have a ministry that helped youth explore who they were and how they related to God and the rest of the world. That's how we came up with The Naming PRoject.

Over the time that we’ve been running The Naming Project, we’ve been approached by a lot of pastors and youth ministers asking questions. A lot of the questions we received were about the logistics of including LGBTQ youth in youth ministries. By far, the most common question was about sleeping arrangements. I wanted this book to be a way to respond to the questions that we were getting.

I invite people to step back from those questions to look at the bigger picture. What are the overall values at play here? We want youth to be safe. We want youth to hear the Gospel. We want  youth to be comfortable with their roommates in a cabin, or a hotel room, or an event in the church basement. 

Our decisions about a logistical problem should be informed by the values of our church and our ministry. And once we start to really examine our values, it helps us to examine all our policies and practices. 

What sort of advice is in the book? 

The biggest piece of advice is to examine your values and do a really thorough assessment of your surroundings. Learn where there is support for LGBTQ youth, and where there is going to be opposition. If you want to be a place of support, you will have to proactively communicate that, because it will not be assumed.

The other big piece of advice is to listen to and believe what youth are telling you about themselves. We don’t have to understand everything to be good youth ministers, but we fill our gaps by hearing what youth say about themselves, their identity, and their experience.

How does the inclusion of LGBTQ youth change the ministry?

Once you start to recognize, welcome, and include LGBTQ youth, it will cause you to examine everything in a new light.

One of those reexaminations might be about your policies and procedures. Maybe you look at why you divide up small groups into boys and girls. There might be a perfectly good reason for doing it that way, but the presence of an LGBTQ youth can help you either reaffirm the practice, or help you think of a different way to do things. The same with songs with overly gendered language for God and people. In the book, I talk about some options for what to do with churchy language that hasn’t always included all gender identities. 

The big one comes when LGBTQ inclusion changes the way you look at scripture. Eventually, you’ll see passages and stories that are intimately relatable to LGBTQ youth that you may have never seen before. The scripture is the same, but the application to our lives changes, just because our lens has changed. 

After nearly twenty years of doing ministry with LGBTQ youth, where are some of your alumni now? 

I write this in the book, but the most bittersweet part of being a youth minister is seeing your youth grow up to become leaders in the wider world. I can’t take credit for everything The Naming Project alumni have done, but I’m so happy that many of them are still living out their faith and values. 

Some former campers have been interns at GLAAD. We once visited one who was producing a community theater production of BARE during the GLAAD Southern Stories bus tour. Another performed in the cast of Hamilton. And many continue to stay connected to our community. 

You are writing this book at a time when transgender youth are under attack by state legislatures all over the country. How does your book address this present moment? 

As I was finishing the book last year, I referenced bills banning transgender youth from participating in high school sports appeared in a dozen states, noting that the bill had been signed into law in Idaho. Of course, this year is worse, with more bills being signed into law. 

These bills are not being introduced in a vacuum. They are are filed because loud voices are drowning out the expertise of doctors, counselors, teachers, and social workers, and are instilling fear, confusion, and distrust about LGBTQ youth, especially transgender youth. Those who are leading the charge are claiming their activism is rooted in Christianity, even while they attempt to impose a very un-Christ-like rigid, black-or-white view of the world. 

Today more than ever, our voices as Christian ministers are needed to change society so that your LGBTQ youth can be safe when they leave the walls of their church. Our calling to LGBTQ inclusive youth ministry goes beyond protecting the youth inside our congregation.  

As a Christian Deacon, I believe my calling is to transform the world through the the love and healing work of the gospel, not just our youth group. From an LGBTQ perspective, transformation of the world is public advocacy. It means stepping outside of your congregation to condemn the danger of anti-LGBTQ bills and the need for protections for LGBTQ youth. 

Where can people get the book? 

The book is published by Fortress Press, but you can also get it at Amazon, IndieBound, or Barnes & Noble

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