The following is a conversation between Jun Love Young, founder of Beloved Arise, and Christ & Cascadia managing editor, Lauren Pattie. Lauren interviewed Jun about the creation of Beloved Arise, how the organization has innovated to support queer youth of faith, and what Christians in Cascadia can learn from this.
Lauren: Could you tell us what Beloved Arise is and what in your life led you to create Beloved Arise?
Jun: Beloved Arise is the first national organization dedicated to celebrating and empowering queer youth of faith. Our work focuses on telling the stories of queer youth of faith, as well as providing resources to help young people navigate the spaces between queerness and faith.
We also try our best to guide youth and young adults towards communities and relationships that are affirming of both their queerness and their faith. We are a multifaith organization, which means we aim to serve young people across religious backgrounds, but especially religious traditions where LGBTQ inclusion falls short.
We’re not here to tell young people what to believe or what faith to embrace. We’re here to support them in whatever faith journey they’re on.
I, myself, was a queer youth of faith. I grew up in a Christian church environment that didn’t really know what to do with gay kids. I never thought it was even possible for gay people to be part of the church. So, I just hid. I never talked about myself with anybody until I was in my forties when I was ready to come out. I spent my entire life hiding my queerness because I was taught that it would actually prohibit me from getting into the kingdom of God. Those are high stakes, for young people as well as for adults.
When I did come out five years ago, I felt excited about not having to hide who I was anymore. But my Christian communities weren’t as excited as I was. In fact, they were very troubled by it, and I ended up getting kicked out in a very public way from some high-profile Christian organizations here in Seattle. Within my church, I also felt marginalized.
It was a heartbreaking time for me, but it was also a time when I got to meet many queer people and families. I got to meet all these wonderful people at my church and Christian schools nearby, because they wanted to hear my story, and they wanted some encouragement in their journeys. I spoke with young people who had severe depression, anxiety, suicidal ideations. I met a young man who was so terrified about his sexuality that he checked himself into an inpatient facility. I spoke to a young woman who was kicked off her worship team and was traumatized by that—just lots of really heartbreaking stories. And I thought, gosh, it’s one thing for adults to go through this—adults have perhaps more resources, more connections, more community, more options—but for someone who is a teenager, that’s really tough.
I thought, we have to do something to support these young people. The leaders of my church weren’t open to that idea. So, I decided to start something outside of church. And I decided to go big and make this a national thing.
That’s how Beloved Arise began. It grew out of my own pain and struggle. But also as a dad of two teenage daughters, I felt a sense of responsibility to care for our youth.
We started out as a Christian organization, but in the last year, we expanded our scope because we just couldn’t tolerate the idea that we were doing nothing to support young people from other faiths experiencing similar, if not worse, oppression.
Lauren: This is a very new idea in some ways. How did you innovate this particular model and what were your influences when you created this organization?
Jun: Well, when we created Beloved Arise, I did extensive research to see what else was out there, and I found nothing—not a single national organization. There were some local organizations here and there. But nothing on a national level that supported the spiritual growth of young people who just happened to be queer.
We started on February 14, 2020—Valentine’s Day! And we didn’t know that a month later we would have to pivot. But that pivot was such a blessing because it really forced us to figure out our digital strategy. The adults that were working to put this together had no experience with Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and all that. We didn’t know how to use any of those tools.
But then we found a few young people from Florida, Texas, and the Pacific Northwest who were eager to volunteer and help get our social media off the ground. And that’s really when we figured out, oh, we’re here to build this with you, not for you. Our young people have guided us every step of the way since then, helping us to use the tools that young people use.
I think our innovation comes from the wisdom of the people who we aim to serve and the pandemic that forced us to rethink and retool. It was a blessing in so many ways for us.
Lauren: It’s kind of an innovative angle to think of building something with the people you’re serving, not for them.
Jun: Yes, at first I thought, let’s build this thing, and then let’s have social media to promote this thing. But we realized social media is actually the thing. Our followers on Instagram and TikTok became the community of Beloved Arise. That’s how young people found us because that’s where young people hang out. We went directly to youth. We didn’t have a building; we didn’t even have a full staff. But it worked. Young people found us in droves and helped us to build the resources that we offered back to young people. It was amazing.
Lauren Pattie: How has Beloved Arise had an impact for Christian youth in Cascadia?
Jun: We have youth groups throughout the Cascadia area: Northern California, Idaho, Spokane, Seattle, and Portland. And the original young people that helped us to get this off the ground are mostly from the Seattle area, many from the church that I used to attend. But your question about a Christian impact makes me pause.
Yes, we are absolutely a Christian ministry in Cascadia. And we’re also absolutely a Muslim ministry in Cascadia, and Hindu, and Jewish. Beloved Arise is a multifaith organization. I don’t see a lot of multifaith organizations out there. I see interfaith organizations, but not multifaith. And I use those two words purposefully because what we mean by multifaith is that we don’t want to pressure young people to believe in something that goes against their tenets as they collaborate with other religions. If there’s a Muslim kid who just wants to be Muslim, we want to honor that. We want to honor people’s faith, practices, and beliefs. But we do so in a way that’s collaborative.
Young people who find themselves in this very unique intersection of queerness and faith get pressure from both sides. They get pressure from their faith community saying, “What are you doing? No, you can’t be queer.” And then they also feel pressure from LGBTQ affirming communities or secular communities, saying, “Oh, yeah, if you’re queer, religion is going to be really bad for you, so you should just let go of that.”
The suspicion that exists within the LGBTQ community is founded, because religion has been unkind, if not cruel, to them. So, I’m not judging the sentiments. What I am wanting to do is create support systems for the young people who find themselves in the middle.
Think of it this way: in the midst of this culture war that’s going on, we’re here to care for the wounded. Those who find themselves between battle lines.
It’s actually my Christian faith that compels me to make Beloved Arise a multifaith organization. I believe that the love of God is for all of us, right? I’m not here to create boundaries. I’m just here to make sure that every young person knows that they are beloved.
Lauren: The kind of innovation that you’re doing here is so important for other people to consider in whatever ministries they have, because we really do need to bridge some of those divides. We’ve seen what happens in this country when we get in our camps and stay in our camps.
Jun: I agree. I think it might help us to be better Christians when we’re able to link arms with our siblings across various sectors. That said, it’s also been a challenge, because there’s some deep-seated animosity between some faiths. Sometimes it’s hard for us to hold people together. But that is our aim.
Lauren: One of the values of The Seattle School and the Center for Transforming Engagement is dialogue—bringing people together who are different in various ways, but saying that our humanity and our faith are more important than our differences, and we need to be able to disagree in love and figure out what that looks like. We talk about spaces that are safe enough—it’s not a space that is free of tension, but it is the place of growth.
Jun: Yes! And honestly, I want to show young people that we are a big community. When I talk at the faith level as opposed to breaking it down by religion, it shows that we’re a bigger group, right? I think that gives a sense of confidence to young people, especially in faiths that are not as popular in the U.S. It’s a similar strategy of innovation to whomever came up with this idea of “LGBTQ” and banding those identities together as opposed to focusing on one or the other. We may be different, but what binds us together is this devotion to our faith and our queerness.
Lauren: That’s a lesson that the Church could really use, too. We need that big umbrella, as opposed to dividing ourselves further and further down.
Jun: Well, you know, I believe that the extreme fragmentation that we see, especially in the Christian faith—which I would argue is the most fragmented of all religions—I think that is reflective of how boundaried we’ve made God.
We say, “Oh, you believe that you need to baptize this way versus that way? Well…God doesn’t believe that. So…” We keep putting caveats on the divine that don’t need to be there. And what it actually does is it makes everything more inefficient. It costs more. It takes longer. We have to have a thousand conferences instead of one. There’s just a lot of waste, and Beloved Arise can’t afford waste. We need to be efficient.
Lauren: What can Christian faith practitioners looking to innovate in order to love God and neighbor in this place learn from Beloved Arise? What lessons would you like to pass on to those trying to innovate here?
Jun: If we want to work with and reach young people, especially queer youth, today in ways that are innovative, we need to acknowledge that queer youth exist in our congregations. Even if we can’t readily see that, we should just assume it. Queer people are here, and it’s likely that there are young people who are already starting to have questions about their identity but don’t feel comfortable talking about it. As leaders, we can create safe places where we can talk generally about things in a way that affirms straightness as well as queerness, all in the same breath. Human sexuality is a gift, and it comes in so many different shapes and sizes and forms. It’s beautiful. It’s diversity, right?
And then the second thing I would say is you have to learn the tools of the trade. You have to speak the language. You have to use the devices and applications and services that young people use. And if you can’t figure out how to, then talk to young people. Maybe they’ll be kind enough to teach you. You have to talk about the causes that young people care about, not just the ones you care about. If your favorite cause is this or that, you might also want to add in environmental justice and social justice, and K. Pop. You have to be willing to meet young people where they are. That’s how we find opportunities to innovate and not just recreate what we’re comfortable with.
Lauren: What can the church in Cascadia learn from queer youth of faith?
Jun: As I’ve worked with Beloved Arise for four years now, what has inspired me the most are the stories of these young people. They are so brave to talk boldly about their faith and their queerness. I sure wasn’t that brave at their age. I waited until I was 45. They have this sense of confidence which is so inspiring.
I’ve met so many Christian youth who have been pushed down, pushed out—and I wonder, why would they want to stay Christian? And they are able to articulate a profound reason: They love God. They’ve been transformed by the kindness and compassion of our Lord. And in their darkest days, Jesus is there.
That always sends shivers up my spine because how many of us in our comfortable pews ever have to be questioned in this way? How many of us have really had to defend our faith from within our faith community? We don’t get called out. We don’t have people say, “you’re not really a Christian.”
Let me be very clear that the Church’s problem with queer youth is not that they’re queer. It’s that they’re Christian.
These young people have the audacity to raise their voice and say, “I am a beloved child of God! I’m a queer, beloved child. I am a Christian.” That’s the problem.
These young followers of Jesus are being persecuted by their church friends, their youth pastors, even their parents, because of their faith in Christ! So, what can we learn from queer youth of faith? We can learn the cost of discipleship!
If you want to study strong faith that withstands brutal opposition, look to the stories of queer youth. Each story is such a miracle.
We have a storytelling series we call Living Proof. It’s just young people sharing their stories: How they became Christian or Muslim or whatever faith background, what their struggles have been, and why they hold on. That’s it, that’s all it is. They’re just sharing their stories. And each one to me is living proof that faith thrives in the LGBTQ community.
A lot of Christians assume that when someone comes out they are letting go. They’re prioritizing themselves. They’re saying my queer identity now is more important than my faith. That couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least not in my experience.
When I came out, it was such a deeply spiritual experience. What I was coming out with was a proclamation of the boundless gospel of Jesus Christ. That was my coming out. And it was met with: Nope.
It was difficult, but it led to beauty, not ashes. So, to me, when a Christian comes out as gay, trans, non-binary, whatever, it is a testimony to the gospel of grace breaking the chains of religion and religiosity, and a rejection of this assumption that you have to do something in order to receive God, that you have to find a bridge in order to be close to God. If you read the Bible, all that’s done. Christ’s work on Calvary is absolute and complete.
So, when a Christian comes out with their faith intact, what they’re saying is, “I break the chains of shame and doubt, accept God’s boundless love for me, and find my rest at the feet of Jesus.” They are testifying to the fact that the same power that raised Jesus from the dead resides in us and can set us free!
To me, coming out is a spiritual celebration. It’s a spiritual awakening. A sacred, queer ritual that is actually for everyone.
Because the truth is, we all get stuck in some sort of closet that we’ve walked into and locked ourselves in, telling ourselves that we’re not good enough for God because of x, y, or z. And many of us suffer in shame and silence and self-hate for decades, maybe for all our lives. And I think that there’s an opportunity for all of us, regardless of our sexual orientation or gender identity, to open our eyes and see if we are stuck in a closet of some sort, and have some coming out to do.
It’s like the story of the prodigal son. The dad is there to welcome him with open arms, but the son is caught up in shame. “I’m so sorry; I can just eat with the pigs if you want.” And the father says, “What are you talking about? We’re gonna throw a party in your honor!”
The father doesn’t tell him to feel shame for leaving home. Instead he says, “Welcome home! I’ve never forgotten you. I thought about you every single day you were gone. I’ve just been waiting, and when I saw you on the horizon I ran to you because I was so excited to see you!”
All that really needed to happen was for that son to come home. And I think that coming out is a coming home, a homecoming for all of us, especially for all of those who have kept ourselves separate from God, who have not lived into the name of Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.
My hope for the Christ & Cascadia community is that we would be bearers of this good news—the boundless gospel of Jesus Christ that welcomes us home and gives all of us the name, Beloved.
Cover photo credit: Helena Lopes