March 27, 2009

A Response to Fred Phelps

Tonight, Lee's Summit North will be picketed by Fred Phelps' "church," protesting their production of "The Laramie Project," a play about the 1998 killing of Matthew Shepard.

The youth ministers of Lee's Summit have joined together to form this response to Mr. Phelps and his message of judgment, condemnation, and hate.

Dear Friends, Family, and Mr. Phelps,

We believe in teenagers. Teens are amazing creations of God, full of energy, wit, questions, laughter, love, and hope.

Today’s suburban teenager is under a tremendous amount of pressure and stress. Waking up before the sun rises to physically prepare for 8+ hours of school (they’ll mentally wake up a few hours later), they face the pressures of peers, parents, teachers, administrative staff, coaches, and culture. From games to grades and GPA’s, today’s teenager has 12 hours less free time per week than the previous generation. After school, they’ll quickly consume a few thousand calories and send a few thousand texts in between lessons, practices, a couple of hours of homework, and bedtime.

What teenagers need most at this critical age is the presence of encouraging adults. Teenagers often report feeling abandoned by the adults in their lives—parents too busy with work, classes too big to be noticed by teachers. More meals are eaten on the go than around the family dinner table answering silly questions from Mom and Dad. It is imperative that teens have many loving adults who will listen, coming alongside them in their struggles, stresses, and successes.

The youth ministries of Lee’s Summit emphasize that each person is wonderfully created, incredibly unique, inimitable, matchless, and irreplaceable. In the words of Paul, “We will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original” (Galatians 5.25).

The youth ministries of Lee’s Summit follow Jesus as we make friends with all teens. Jesus became fully human, that we might see and know and understand the Life and Love of the Father. We, then, are called to walk alongside youth—in their sorrows and suffering, in their joys and triumphs, and in the ordinariness of everyday life—truly sharing life together.

The youth ministries of Lee’s Summit know that the relationship is the ministry. Not the programs or the project, but the person. We are learning to love one another and to serve one another. As we do this, we are learning to welcome Christ into our presence.

The youth ministries of Lee’s Summit exist that teenagers may know the incredible, life-transforming Love of God, and allow this Love to redefine their lives, living in God’s Story instead of a story that revolves around them.

It is the calling of each generation to pass along wisdom (and wit) to the next generation. It has been said that it takes ten positive comments to counteract the effects of every one negative comment. Convinced that the most powerful force in the universe is Love, the youth ministers of Lee’s Summit are trying to teach today’s teenager to live in radical love, hope, and a grace beyond imagination. And the question for each generation is: Can we learn to love each other enough?

God is especially fond of teenagers. David was but a teen when he killed Goliath. Many of Jesus’ first followers are thought to be teenagers. And, most importantly, Jesus himself came into this world through a teenager who dared to whisper a risky “Yes!” to God’s call.


The Youth Ministers of Lee’s Summit

Ethan Bryan—Cornerstone Church

Eddie Garlich—Deerbrook Covenant Church

Pam Hustad—ClearPoint Church

Curtis Privett—ClearPoint Church

Joe Gabbard—Christ Triumphant Church

Jamie Roach—Lakeland Community Church

Jason Lahey—Lakeland Community Church

Hattie Cummings—Young Life of Lee’s Summit

Justin Roach—New Beginnings Church

Jeff Arnold—First Baptist Church of Lee’s Summit

Andrew Collins--Raintree Community Church

Rebecca Grocott—Lee’s Summit United Methodist Church

Brian Swanson—Woods Chapel United Methodist Church

Phil Rayson—Aldersgate United Methodist Church

Ryan Schreckenghaust—Lee’s Summit Community Church

Leslie Snyder—Kansas City Parent Network


Jennifer H said...

Well said, friend(s). I'm proud of the efforts Lee's Summit churches are making to care for teenagers -- and all people. Way to be the light of Christ in a dark and scary place (meaning Earth/life, not Lee's Summit in particular!).

Serena said...

I passed the demonstration this evening with no prior knowledge it was to occur, though I have seen this "church" represented elsewhere. It sickens me to think that human beings could act that way toward each other.

Thank God for you all, who are indoctrinating the next generation in the love of God, rather than the hatred of men. God bless you!

Ethan said...

Thanks for the encouraging words, friends. I submitted a copy of this letter to the LS Journal. I'm pretty certain it won't get published, just like my other letters to the editor.

Sarah Rachelle said...

As a student at Lee's Summit North, and a cast member of The Laramie Project, I would like to thank you. Thank you for supporting us and showing the community of Lee's Summit who God truly is and not what "they" want to protray.The society today needs more people like you to just listen and be there for our generation. Thank you so much.

Ethan said...


It is a joy to work with the teens of LS, to encourage them, empower them, and teach them to imagine and live in the present Kingdom of God.

Small things, great Love!

Brian said...

Great letter. After posting a link on our blog, several folks have expressed appreciation for your courage in presenting an alternate view of God. I think you have the tone just right in your letter. There is no sense in throwing mud at Phelps as that is what his group thrives on. Instead, you have offered a different way of seeing the world of faith. Keep up the great work!