Zoe Phillips shares her takeaways from the annual Youthscape and St. Mellitus lecture, Marooned on Love Island.
Recently, I attended the Youthscape and St. Mellitus lecture, Marooned on Love Island, with 250 other youth workers, students and others passionate about young people. There were two seminar-style talks, an excellent spoken word and a panel discussion. It was a great evening that presented some excellent insight regarding how we talk about sex and sexuality with young people. Rachel Gardner pointed out that young people did not invent Love Island, porn, sexting or social media, yet it’s the air they breathe; it has formed their sex education. I think many of us gathered for this lecture because we want to say young people deserve more than this. There must be more to say, but how do we say it? The evening’s narrative posed one question:
Has the church lost its way?
This is the main question we were exploring in each of the seminars. At one point, Sean Doherty asked the 250-strong audience to raise our hands if we grew up in a Christian environment. 90% of the room raised our hands. Then he asked to keep our hands raised if that environment gave us a positive framework for sex and sexuality. 90% of hands went down, with most of the remaining hands doing that “unsure” hand gesture.
That, for me, summed up why we were all there: we want to do better. We want young people to have a more holistic and positive view of themselves as sexual beings.
Doherty went on to present a theology of sex, outlining ‘the better way’ than the two options we usually defer to: the starvation diet (don’t talk about, think about or have sex); or the junk food diet (have it all in unhealthy excess). Instead, Doherty challenged that our culture’s positivity and openness, albeit veering into obsession with sexuality is a truer way to engage; whilst a lot becomes distorted by culture, at least sexuality is seen as good. Doherty put forward that as Christians, we can hold to the following when we begin to explore theologically:
Sexuality is theological first, then biological. Our bodies are good; they proclaim the gospel. We are made sexual beings. We are made in the image of God.
Shame is not intended theological design
Marriage is good; it proclaims the gospel.
Sex is good; it proclaims the gospel.
Singleness is good; it proclaims the gospel.
Sexual drive is good; it proclaims the gospel.
How we could engage young people differently on sexuality
Rachel Gardner picked up where Sean finished, to outline how this good news could impact the emerging sexual ethics of young people. What stood out most to me, was how Rachel impressed on us to be a prophetic voice; to challenge culture when we come up against its distortions of sex and sexuality. To ask the question of young people when they’re watching Love Island (or equivalent): “Do you think something is missing?”
When wrestling with distortions in our culture’s sexual ethics, don’t jump straight to calling out personal sexual sin in young people. Instead, identify the sin systems in culture that oppress people, ones that are deeply damaging and sinful. This is because the idea of personal sin is not the starting point for Gen Z. Young people today are growing up in the middle of the #MeToo movement. They understand social constructs and they want to (and do) stand up against unjust powers. This requires us as youth workers to do our homework, to research and start honest conversations. For example, how pornography is more than just something young people should not look at, but the result of social injustice, gender inequality, oppression, violence and slavery.
When we join with young people in holding culture to account, young people will be better equipped to know what things in culture are fruit of the poisonous tree; not as innocuous as they may seem. The youth worker can stand with young people in living for more than personal ‘purity’ as a badge of honour, helping them become discerning leaders of what we engage with and resist in culture. Building on a sexually positive theological bedrock, this is a vision that young people are well placed to lead in.
The first step, we were all reminded of, is to be bold enough to make sex and relationships part of normal conversation.
Zoe Phillips joined Christ Church W4 in 2016. She is passionate about discipling young people and seeing faith become real and relevant to their daily lives. She studied Theology and Youth Ministry at St. Mellitus and a Masters in Christian Leadership. She also is the Church Liason Officer for the Youth Minster and Youth Advocate for the Diocese of London.
Levi is the Creative Lead for Growing Younger, a priority of the 2030 Vision for churches in the Diocese of London. Levi is part of the Children & Youth Support team, volunteers in youth ministry and leads worship at his local church. Levi completed a degree in Applied Theology before working in marketing and design in the corporate space, bringing both worlds together in his current role.
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