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YoungLife pushed my son to suicide

17 Feb

Some of you might have read Mechanic Dude’s comments here at CA and picked up on the sad, sad story of his son’s experience with Young Life. Here is the whole story from the perspective of a grieving father who believes his son was pushed to suicide because of his involvement with Young Life.

Young Life Pushed My Son To Suicide

This is the story my son told me before his death at just 17yrs old. I have left it raw and emotional. The Young Life Organization is a Christian youth ministry with a special focus on public schools. In fact they are practically non existent outside of the public school system and their elaborate summer camps, usually located in very scenic and expensive areas of the US.

My son attended a public high school in Reno NV. My first knowledge of YoungLife was when he asked if he could go out with a friend that had a car. He said that he was older and a very nice person from his high school. At just 15 yrs. old I was skeptical and wanted to meet this person. A very young looking person shows up at the door and assures me he is a safe driver and that they were just…

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Opinion Piece: Young Life Is a Clique Hiding Under the Blanket of Religion

5 Feb

Interesting opinion piece written a few years ago about Young Life.  I believe this is a high school on-line paper.  You can click here to read the whole article.

A couple of highlights and then I’ll go back to my cave….

If you ask any student of Northwest who has not yet been brainwashed by this organization, they will tell you Young Life is as close to a cult as you get at the high school level. It’s a place where only the “popular” kids are welcomed.

Young life is a social organization hiding under the blanket of religion. After Young Life meetings every Monday night, you don’t see pictures posted by attendees of that night’s meeting of the worshipping they did, but instead of the wacky costumes they dressed up in and of the contests they held.

 

And from a comletely different angle, this review of Young Life was written earlier today at greatnonprofits.org :

 

February 4, 2014
I DO NOT LIKE WYLDLIFE FOR MY CHILDREN. As a mother I tell you why I do not like Wyldlife or Young Life. First, the leaders are very MANIPULATIVE with teenagers. They act COOL and Young even though some of them are in their late forties. Second, parents are not encourage to attend any event or group. For example, my daughter attended some meetings about Wyldlife in my neighborhood but of course I was not invited to stay. My daughter at that time she did not say much about it, so I stay out of it since she appreciated the time she shared with her friends form her school. However, after some time my daughter mention me how cool it was to have a counselor and a mentor that she could trust and have fun with. As a mother I did not like that idea and I told my daughter that she could not have any counselor unless I give her permission to have one. Another aspect about WYLDLIFE I DO NOT LIKE is that they get them to excited about camp….once my daughter told me “that’s going to be the best time of my life!”(Camp). CRAZY!!!! The leaders are not honest with parents because they do not tell about their religious influence on children. I think we need MOTHERHOOD for our children not random counselors playing to be cool with our kids to get them to like Christianity using their own theology without parents consent. THINK ABOUT IT. I DID. THANK YOU.

 

 

 

 

Reddit Young Life Thread

20 Nov

Interesting discussion about Young Life on Reddit.  You can see the whole thread here.

For the most part, the discussion mirrors much of the discussion that has happened here at the Christian Agnostic and Young Life Watch.  It vacillates between those who attended and think it was fine, mostly positive to those who didn’t like the tone or hypocrisy of some Young Lifers and their beliefs.

The comment I found most similar to my own experiences is below.  It’s interesting, although I attended Young Life over 20 years earlier than this poster, the dynamics and methods they describe are almost identical.  The bolded sentences are my doing, otherwise, this is the post in its entirety and unedited.

Past Young Lifer here. I was really involved in the program back in the early 2000’s when I was on the tail end of a really religious upbringing. I’ve been an atheist for over 10 years now, but I look back on this experience as a mixed bag of pleasant experience as regret.

Young Life was meant to be really open and fun and unlike most traditional church groups, they knew how to not freak people the hell out with a heavy handed approach to faith. Basically, it would be weekly house party (albeit a really, really tame house party) at somebody’s place where kids would hang out, maybe smoke cigarettes in the front yard, play Frisbee, chat, flirt with the opposite sex,etc. Then everyone would head inside. A bunch of guys with guitars would lead the group in singing popular songs (lots of Goo Goo Dolls and U2 back then…. mostly any song about heartbreak, feeling alone or lost). There would be some sort of group game and then a 3 minute talk about how people sometimes feel lost and without purpose (these talks would slowly build on each other throughout each semester and ultimately culminate in a big reveal that there just might be a God out there who loves you and can make you feel better.) There would always be a super strong push to get kids to sign up to go to one of their summer camps.

What Young Life provided was a safe place for kids to have fun and be vulnerable with each other. For teenagers, that is a valuable commodity. It worked really well.

As a kid who grew up in the church, I already knew what the message was. I already knew what the summer camp was trying to do. I realized that this was just a watered down version of what I’d been doing my entire life, but I could see that it honestly seemed to be working on getting numbers up – it seemed like good marketing.

And so I was 100% bought it.

That’s when a few of my more fervent friends invited me to join in to a group called “Campaigners” – and this is where Young Life starts to get a bit weird.

Campaigners would meet at 6am every Monday at the Young Life Leader’s house. We’d sing Christian Praise songs, read scripture, eat bagels – normal youth group stuff. But then we would start talking about who we wanted to bring to the next group, how we should talk to them, why it was important to save their souls. It was mapped out to a creepy level of detail: Jake and I have the same class down the hall from you. I’ll start a conversation about plans for Wednesday in that class and then we’ll bump into you in the hall and we’ll ask them to come with us to the next Young Life. Someone else will ask them later that same day. Maybe a 4th person would contact our target as well – all with one very clearly stated rule: never give away that this was all planned. Unpopular kids looking for friendship and approval were very, very easy targets.

Once they came with you, your job was make sure they had the best time ever. You introduced them to all of your friends. You hung out with them afterward. You took them on family vacations. But then you’d check in Monday morning and report how all of this was going to your fellow Campaigners who would make sure they stayed on the hook. Each week at the open function, they’d be really encouraging them to go to camp this year. They’d bring photos of last year and all the cool stuff they did and tell them that they have to go. And for horny teenage boys, pictures of their crush in a bikini is usually about all it took.

So flash forward to summer camp each year, there’d be a mix of about half Campaigners and half non-religious friends up at a camp in Minnesota with sailboats, zip lines, the best food I’ve ever eaten, disc golf, games, music classes, attractive members of the opposite sex who didn’t have to act church-y, campfires, non-religious sing along….. It was basically a week of pure bliss. And each night after a somewhat ambiguous talk about needing “outside” help, they’d leave you alone for an hour with your thoughts. And in retrospect, it’s crazy how effective that is. You plant an idea and then give someone a quiet moment where that is the last thing in their mind- and then it grows. Kids were converting in droves and I felt like I was part of something important.

Unlike my super creepy church youth group that was all talk, Campaigners was like the Christian SWAT team.

But at the same time, this is the group that ultimately made my faith unravel because they made me see that to be an effective evangelical, you really had to get to know and love the friends in your life – and knowing meant listening and actively engaging. Those things have to come before your agenda. But if the whole reason you’re making friends is to serve an agenda, does that really even count as a friendship? If you are getting together weekly to chit chat about that person’s spiritual progress when that particular topic has barely even come up with them – it’s some fucking spy movie shit and your personality starts to rip. As I got to meet people outside of the flock, I began to realize that when we sang songs about being lost and genuinely bonded in our heart to heart talks that I felt every bit as lost as they did – that the cure we were pitching was every bit as empty as the drugs, drinking and pre-marital sex the prudish church had always been warning about.

We were just teenagers. Everybody felt lost and disconnected. The magic of Young Life wasn’t Jesus – it was creating a safe place where it was okay to be vulnerable.

These days, I’d be really wary of sending any kid off to a camp like that because it is run by really, really smart grown ups who have a pretty good system for indoctrinating kids. These guys are just as good at marketing as any other corporation in our country. Pretty girls in bikinis don’t have anything to do with that brand name t-shirt, but dammit I’m going to buy it because I don’t want to be alone and feeling ugly. Jesus doesn’t have anything to do with zip lines and being vulnerable with close friends, but I want both of those things and if this summer camp can make me feel this good – who is to say it wasn’t Jesus the whole time?

The whole thing was such a mind-fuck – on one hand pleasant, on the other hand just a giant trick that I helped perpetuate.

If I could recreate the Young Life experience I had and remove that religious component, we’d have something capable doing real good in the lives of teens. But that’s the shitty part: it’s hard to do much of anything without hidden agenda. If you aren’t “fixing” troubled kids, if you aren’t helping people see the light – then what you are doing is just a waste of time.

On some quiet days, I’ll sit and think about my time with Young Life – wondering if there isn’t some way an atheist can crack that experience and re-tool it to help kids grow up to be the healthiest versions of themselves instead of fucked up by religion.

So how about it reddit, anybody want to open a summer camp with a highly elaborate system of trained teenage counselors who make it their business that all the forgotten kids in their school feel safe and loved.

Major Young Life Donor Arrested in Prostitution Sting

13 Nov

Hedge Fund Manager, James A. Bisenius was arrested and charged for allegedly attempting to solicit a prostitute.   He is the founder of Oregon’s largest Hedge Fund and is also a prominent financial supporter of Young Life and it’s Washington Family Ranch in Oregon State.

An older online article, about Young Life in Seward, AK describes Bisenius as a former Young Life leader from Oregon and details how a donation from his Master’s Plan Fund helped their Young Life have the finances to move forward.

You can read the full  reports about his arrest below…

http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/news/2013/09/04/james-bisenius-arrested-prostitution.html

http://www.bizjournals.com/portland/news/2013/09/04/jim-bisenius-philanthropy.html

http://www.buzzfeed.com/mariahsummers/how-a-prostitution-sting-could-take-down-the-largest-hedge-f

Associate Pastor/ Young Life Leader Arrested for Sexual Relations with a Minor

23 Oct

Darin Evans (married with three teenage children), a former pastor and Young Life leader in Elmhurst, IL.  was arrested and charged with criminal sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault.  The  victim of the assaults was 16 years old when the sexual assaults started.  One report claims that the female victim was told by Evans, that he would kill himself if she ever ended the relationship.

Another report describes the assaults:

From 2004 to 2011, Evans allegedly sexually assaulted his victim on multiple occasions at multiple locations, including his vehicle, public places and on a church-sponsored youth retreat, according the State’s Attorney’s Office.   ABC News is reportingthose locations included cemeteries and restrooms.

Evans has confessed to the relationship and now faces a possible 47 years prison sentence if convicted of all the charges.

You can read more about this tragedy by clicking on the links below.

http://elmhurst.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/former-associate-pastor-elmhurst-west-suburban-church8fb6b85907

http://elmhurst.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/former-associate-pastor-of-west-suburban-community-ch52bad206ea

http://elmhurst.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/new-details-emerge-about-associate-pastor-s-alleged-s743d820151

http://elmhurst.patch.com/groups/police-and-fire/p/young-life-volunteer-says-many-are-praying-for-healin4a5ae831a2

http://abclocal.go.com/wls/story?section=news/local&id=9033271

Young Life Tactics-Cultic or Legit ?

16 Apr

Eric asked a good question that I didn’t want to get lost in the comments of Is Young Life a Cult .

He asked

“does Young Life employ cultic tactics, or do cults and cultish organizations instead use legitimate techniques and manipulate them to accomplish what they want to do?”

The short answer, is that Young Life employs tactics common to cults in many (not all ) instances.  Of course, this is just my own opinion. But it is how I see the issue.

Befriending a vulnerable demographic (teens who are minors) without consent and without being up front about motive is cultic. It’s similar to the tactics of the Boston Church of Christ and Amway.

Friendship, enmeshment, and then indoctrination.

It’s a cultic tactic no matter how you slice it. It doesn’t mean that you or other leaders are not good people or that you don’t really love teens (I’m sure you do).

But, it is dishonest if you are not upfront with someone about your motives for befriending them (in Young Life’s case-to share Christ’s love and present the Gospel from an Evangelical/Fundamentalist perspective).

Is Young Life A Cult?: A Parent’s Plea To Their Son

5 Feb

 

Letters to Aussie MPs - No Clean Feed Please.

Letters to Aussie MPs – No Clean Feed Please. (Photo credit: kattekrab)

It’s funny…but when I wrote my original post, Is Young Life A Cult?, I had no idea how much interest and activity it would generate on this blog.  It eventually led me to start my secondary blog, Young Life Watch, to serve as a single resource for anyone wishing to know more or discuss Young Life.

Another recent trend, has been a lot of comments from Young Life leaders (past and present) that think its unfair that I even raise questions about Young Life’s methods.  Many say that Young Life does not hide it’s agenda and that any parent can find out for themselves what Young Life is really about….

But in the midst, there are real families that are forever changed when their teen gets involved with Young Life.

One of those parents shared a letter they wrote to their adult son and I’d like to share it here as well.  You can see Don’s orignal comments here.

Here is a letter I wrote to my son. It would not surprise me if others can seriously relate to it in many aspects.

As I said in the text, I was not worried about the 60,000 kids that were in Atlanta. I am only worried about you and how your progression into adulthood seems to have been hampered by your participation in YL activities on a regular basis.
It baffles me as to how you can support an organization with members that bash or have bashed your brother and sister on a regular basis because they choose to not be involved in it. It seems to me that the members of such a Christian organization would be respectful of another person’s wishes and feelings and be understanding of them. Do you ever wonder if their choice to NOT participate in it is because of how they have seen it change you or other kids they have known and the decisions you have made based on YL or based on the fact that they regularly see how these members harass people that choose to not participate? You left our house because of YL. There is no denying it. You did not like our concerns and you ran straight to the house of a YL member. Now, you still live there despite their son having moved out? Does it ever bother you that you have never shown us where you live or the fact that we do not even know where you live and who you live with other than by name? This really concerns me in the event of an emergency. Does it bother you that at the age of almost 21, you do not have a place you can show us as yours? Does it ever strike you as odd that those parents would allow you to stay there after their own son has moved out? This is not healthy for you. How much do you pay in rent or groceries or other household stuff? I am fairly certain it is little to none. In that case, how much have you saved towards getting your own place then? It has been 15 months and I know you are no closer to that today than you were the day you chose to leave. What are you going to do/have when their graciousness runs out? I see you doing this and it makes me wonder if I raised you wrong. It looks like you are a moocher that just sucks off of other people to get the easy way through life. You do not want to work hard to get anything and you feel as if you are entitled to the nice things you have. You have never had to work hard for anything you have and I guess that is my fault.
Please do not get my dislike/concern for the YL organization as a dislike for you wanting to live a Godly life. Nothing could be further from the truth. I am in full support of you if you choose to live like that and I always have been. My concern is the “material” approach to life you’re your YL/religious lifestyle seems to revolve around. Everything about it, that I have seen, is based on the “coolness” or “niceness” of a place/thing. Look at Atlanta (Hyatt hotel downtown), your camps (Rockbridge, Lake Champion, Crooked Creek, etc). They are all held at beautiful locations but have astronomic attendance costs. I know many kids get scholarships but that is just a way for them to maintain their “awesome” status. I am remembering $600 and up and I am certain it increases every year. I bet some are over $800 now. All of the kids I see involved in YL are always dressed to the nines with the newest styles and coolest shoes, cars, etc. I do not recall Jesus needing stuff like that. He was a very basic man (robes and slippers) and chose to let his actions define Him. Am I correct? How come a YL camp never involves a trip to somewhere desolate, destitute, and/or downtrodden? These trips to “lead teens to Jesus” always involve getting the wealthy teens, as opposed to those in more dire situations that may need it more than anyone. I think it is because NO ONE in YL, from top to bottom, can relate to anyone in a situation like that. Does YL ever talk about tithing? Or do they just worry about how much people can give to them so they can continue their ministry? I see links to give to them all over their websites but no real mention of what should be happening in the church. All of this lavishness flashes me back to the Jim Bakker scandal of the late 80’s. I’d recommend you Google that phrase and see what comes up.
Why is it that whenever I talk about these concerns you have NEVER been able to even SEE/HEAR my side of it? It instantly becomes an argument because you think there is NO WAY I can be right on this and you sit there with a disgusted look on your face like you are annoyed or inconvenienced by my thoughts. Why do these “leaders” or regional directors/area directors have to be involved in everything? I was only nice to that leader guy because we were in public. He has no idea what I wanted to say to him but I know you can imagine. It is very strange, to me, that these 35-45+ year old guys want to hang with groups of guys your age. If you ask me, it is because it is their job to make sure no one that disagrees with YL has a chance to get you to see what is actually happening. I guess their plan is working as they want it because that is exactly what is happening. You never want to hear it. A perfect example of this was the other night when we were texting. All you wanted me to do was watch a live stream of what was going on and hearing “your favorite artist”. You did not even reply that you would read my email to you. It was all about what I needed to do to “see what you were doing there”. Do you know how many times you have told me that? It is the exact response I get EVERY time I say anything about how I feel about it. You actually pleaded with me.
YL has had a direct impact on how much you work. I cannot figure out how you manage to maintain a job despite how much time you are able to take off for these activities. There is fall weekend, the summer camp and the Atlanta thing (even though it is not a direct YL happening) this past weekend. I know that since your first job, many of your jobs have been given to you through a connection to YL so maybe that is how and no one there cares as long as it is because of a YL activity. It amazes me that you continue to pass up opportunities to work full time hours so that you can attend their functions. This Atlanta thing REALLY confounded me. You had just gone to your mom’s for 5 days unpaid and then you throw on top of that another 3-5 days unpaid to go there. How do you function with that much unpaid time off? I cannot grasp it for the life of me.
I wish I could explain to you how heartbroken and distraught I have become over this. I have lost my son and I am scared (but basically have seen enough to know) he is never coming back. I hope you get that and understand that and that you care. I have told you what my other feelings are on it. I cannot be around you and have you involved in it because every time you participate in a YL activity I get nauseous and angry because they disgust me so bad. I am at a loss of what to do other than that. That does not mean I do not love you. I hope you get how serious I am about this, buddy. I cannot have that stress in my life. What happens between us from here on out will be your decision.
I have decided to type this as it affects me so I used the word I a lot. I did that on purpose. That way you could not think that I was influenced in anyway by how your other family members feel about it. They each have their own opinions and feelings. I felt I should only type this from the aspect of how I feel, what I see, and how it affects me. They can each share their views on it with you at their own time if they choose to and in their own way. I will also let you know that YL-(enter your city here) may be saying something to you about an email I sent them. I am sure they will recognize my name as the same as yours. I basically let them know what I thought of them. I asked them to pass on to their “leaders” to leave your sister alone. I am tired of her having to vent how frustrating it is to be repeatedly hounded about becoming a Young Lifer. It is also creepy to her that a college age leader(whose name has been removed) sits in the student section at sports events. It really bothers her and eliminates a lot of the fun she goes there to have. I am certain she is not the only one. On top of that, YLers seem to always want to give their testimony to her at sporting events. She did not pay for a sports pass to hear that only to watch the same girls be some of the nastiest ones in all of her school. Actions speak louder than words. I am sure the same can be said for kids at other schools you guys get placed in.
I know that making a change like this is a HUGE step and it may be impossible for you to see that it can be done. I completely understand how easy it is to trust and believe in people that much, especially at your age. It happens in society every day. Your entire life revolves around/in it. All I can tell you is that I’d be there every step of the way to help you however I could. You do understand and know that right? Like I said before, it does not mean I do not love you. I just cannot have the stress of it in my life.

Love,
Dad