Trigger warning: youth suicide

At the Baptist Hui 2022: Ngā Mahi Whakamīharo, The spectacular Acts of God, Charles Hewlett and Kathryn Heslop spoke about our spectacular Jesus. When we fix our eyes on Jesus, we see a demonstration and calling to compassion. A significant question arose from this: What makes you weep? Zach Bartley, Youth Pastor at Petone Baptist Church, shares his response.

At Annual Hui this year, the prompt from Charles and Kathryn: ‘what makes you weep?’ resonated in my mind and spirit. In ministry, it’s often easier to roll with the punches, and while being aware of a larger narrative, we try to focus on the here and now, the situations before us. But in this moment of reflection at Hui, it all came welling up.

The time-after-time I have sat with a young person as they come out to me about their gender or sexuality, seeing the fear as they expect judgment and condemnation.

The time when I sat with a young person who had just come out in a camp setting and was then told by a ministry leader, “you’re not going to heaven”.

The countless times where I have seen young people leave faith because they can’t reconcile the love they have for their rainbow friends with a church that condemns them.

The way we are pastorally responding to our rainbow community is what makes me weep.

Now, this article is not a theological argument for one belief or another. I am neither qualified nor eloquent enough to write something of that nature. And as I write this, I recognise there is a breadth of opinions and viewpoints on the theology of sexuality and gender within our Baptist movement of churches.

What I do feel qualified to write about is my own experiences, my own struggles and how our pastoral response as churches to the LGBTQIA+ community has been lacking. A focus on pastoral response is important. When we get tied down in arguments about whether it is sin or not, it continues to dehumanise a community that has been dehumanised by society for generations.

New Zealand has some of the worst youth suicide rates in the world, and our rainbow community suffers even more drastically. The New Zealand rainbow community are taking their lives at a five times higher rate.

Studies have found that connection to faith communities increased suicidal ideation in the rainbow community. An American Journal of Preventative Medicine study found that gay and lesbian people of faith experienced 38% higher rates of suicidal ideation than their non-faith peers, with sexuality questioning individuals almost three times as likely to have attempted suicide recently if they reported that religion was very important to them.

Who do I weep for?

  • I weep for the youth too afraid to come out at home because of what their parents have said.
  • I weep for the youth who is contemplating suicide because they’ve been told God can’t love them.
  • I weep for the people who feel isolated in a place where they should find belonging.
  • I weep for the youth who just needs to be told they are loved.

Will you weep with me?

If you are wanting to engage more on how to respond to our rainbow community, please feel free to email me at [email protected]

This is our second “What makes me weep” story after our National Hui. The first one is: Melissa Wilson’s What makes me weep: The 1 in 4.

Spectacular Jesus Hui keynote recording

You can watch the video recording of the Spectacular Jesus Hui talk by Charles Hewlett and Kathryn Heslop.

Would anyone else like to share what makes you weep? Email [email protected]

Photo: supplied by Zach Bartley

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