Exodus from Young Life

by Jade Doerksen, Editor in Chief

A few years ago, one might see dozens of Shorewood students at Young Life (YL) events. Now, there are far fewer members. Though coronavirus played a part, YL’s opinions on homosexuality have been under scrutiny, and some formerly dedicated members have left. According to their website, YL is “a Christian ministry that reaches out to kids with the gospel of Jesus Christ.” There are hundreds of chapters internationally, and Shoreline has its own. 

Sophie Galley, senior, has been involved in YL for most of her life. Her family was considered a “Young Life family” and she tagged along to YL meetings and family camps for as long as she can remember. Her parents met through YL, and both had regional leadership positions. Roles that, unbeknownst to Galley, she would never have the opportunity to participate in.

Galley came out as a lesbian at the end of eighth grade, and says she knew her family was going to be supportive. She assumed the same for her YL leaders, even though there were few openly queer youth in the organization. One of her leaders, who has since quit, was affirming. “It was a great conversation, she said all the right things, except she didn’t disclose to me that [queer people couldn’t be leaders],” said Galley.

The conversations got more difficult. When she came out to her other leader, it didn’t go as well. “It was a slightly more awkward conversation, I didn’t feel totally comfortable and I didn’t bring it up around her again,” Galley said. 

That discomfort went deeper than she initially realized. According to Galley, the next year and a half she happily attended meetings and camps, while others knew that due to her coming out, her time within the organization was likely coming to an end, even as she discussed her desire to be a leader.

Learning about the Policies

In the fall of 2019, Galley and her mother had a difficult conversation about YL’s policies. “[My mom] started bawling and sat me down and told me that I wasn’t allowed to [lead],” Galley said. The first thing that Galley asked was, “‘Do my leaders know that’s the policy?’” The answer was yes. “They’re just not upfront about their policy…I had no idea that my expiration date was coming up soon,” she said. 

Nick Davenport, Young Life Shoreline’s area director, said he does share YL’s policy.  “Usually when [queer youth] are taking steps into leadership. I let people be aware of what the larger policy is,” Davenport said. 

After their conversation, Galley explained that her parents left the organization, withdrew their funding, and sent a letter to YL detailing their family’s struggles with the policies the organization had adopted. Galley continued to be in YL Shoreline. “At first my thought process was, ‘well I’ll keep doing Young Life until they force me out,’” she said. 

However, those feelings didn’t stay for long. “You have to be okay with knowing that you’re not truly accepted to keep being in Young Life,” she said. “[They’re] asking kids to accept that a part of them is wrong by asking them to stay while they can,” Galley said. Thus, she knew it was her time to separate from YL. 

“It was a soft quit. I just stopped going to stuff. I was getting to hide behind Covid…I had an excuse to continue not doing it,” she said.

It was an incredibly difficult decision, though. Most of her friends were in the organization. “My entire social life revolved around Young Life,” Galley said. The YL community was why some lingered while still agreeing with her. Ada Franey, senior, was one of these people.

“[I thought] ‘that’s just not fair,’ but there was already a community I was wrapped up in at Young Life so I didn’t think it was a reason for me to leave right away,” she said. According to David Lin, senior and current YL member, Shoreline YL sent statements to the larger organization in hopes of changing the rules. “There was a massive push to petition. I was certainly expecting some change,” said Lin. 

The “Further Clarity” Document

So, some left and some stayed. But the story continues. The “Further Clarity” document was leaked in the spring of 2021. The document, originally sent out by YL to its leaders, stated that “Young Life is committed to sharing the gospel with every young person, whatever their sexual or gender identity, attraction or behavior.”  The document continues to state that “in the event of behavior not keeping with our expressed position on healthy sexuality, a person may need to step away from Young Life leadership.” In terms of this document, healthy sexuality “affirms that marriage between a man and woman is the place for intimate sexual experience.” 

Luca Fenlason, senior and current YL member, believes the Further Clarity document wasn’t created as thoughtfully as it should have been, but readers may not have focused on the theological elements of the document. “They didn’t word it in their best way possible…[but] it’s a theological document and a lot of people don’t fully understand how to read those kinds of papers,” said Fenlason. Galley stood firm in her opinions. “I understand that it’s a theological document, but that’s not the type of church I want to belong to,” she said. 

Other Shoreline YL members were totally shocked by the document. Lin was especially taken aback. “I’ve scoured that more times than I can count…[I was] absolutely shocked, horrified, sad, distraught, [and] angry,” said Lin. 

Some were rethinking their involvement, Lin included. “I considered leaving…at first I stepped back for a few months,” Lin said. Fenlason didn’t fully consider leaving but did have a moment’s pause. “There was a moment where I was like, ‘is this right for me?’” he said. Franey had this question as well, so she reached out to Anna Ertsgaard, senior, who was also involved and they discussed it together. “We talked about [leaving] a lot. [Young Life] was such an integral part of when I was growing up,” she said. 


Amidst this uncertainty, according to Franey, Davenport put Ertsgaard, Franey, and Keegan Sherry, another senior who was involved, in a group chat hoping to discuss the document with them. Sherry decided to leave the chat because she didn’t believe one could change YL as a member anymore. “My mind was made up already!…From the moment the document of policies came out…the organization as whole was not listening and it [was] impossible to make change from within,” said Sherry. Franey and Ertsgaard were thinking a similar thing but wanted to tell Davenport in person that they were leaving. “Our plan had been to go to him [and say] ‘we’re done,’” Franey said. 

The conversation didn’t focus on this though. “I expected the meeting to be ‘here’s why we’re leaving’ but instead, it was [Davenport] trying to tell us why we should stay,” Franey said. In his explanation on why they should stay, he said that Shoreline YL was “open and affirming” though the larger organization is not, according to Franey. Shoreline YL being “open” has been echoed by Lin, Fenlason, and Davenport. 

Franey explained that “he made points that sounded valid…but then if you thought about it for a couple more seconds [it seemed wrong].” She continued by saying, “if we are genuinely trying to fix Young Life, that would be something I would want to be a part of, but to do that by actively participating doesn’t feel like it makes sense…if I’d had a closer relationship to [Davenport], it would’ve been a lot easier for him to get into my head.” Franey was bothered by Davenport’s future plans for YL. 

According to Franey, Davenport said they wouldn’t do as many publicized events and would keep it to small groups without social media posting. This felt very secretive to her, so she knew she had to step away. “If [you] have to do something in secret, then you know something’s wrong with it,” she said. 

Davenport explained this alleged secrecy is to protect YL youth. “We don’t post pictures at certain events anymore because I don’t want kids to feel like they are going to be made fun of or targeted,” he said.


Around this time, Galley took to her Instagram account saying in part “Either you’re an ally or you’re in Young Life.” This caused quite a stir. “It was kind of hard to take in…I could tell she was going through a lot of pain…she was hurt by Young Life, so I could see where it was coming from, but I didn’t fully agree with it,” said Fenlason. 

Due to her Instagram posts, Galley received lots of messages, some kind, some angry. “People got defensive and thought what I was posting about was specifically about them, but…it was about Young Life as a whole,” she said. 

A number of people, students and adults alike, responded to her story saying they wanted to talk with her in person about it. Galley said, “[They would say things like] ‘I’m an ally, you’re wrong. You’re being rude. This is way too black and white. Let’s get   coffee   and talk about it.’” She ended up saying no to a lot of invitations to meet from adults. “It’s just so wildly inappropriate for an adult to reach out to a kid and be like ‘let me try to change your mind,’” she said. 

Due to this situation, some people have chosen to separate themselves from the Galley family. According to Galley, her parents have lost a lot of friends and some have wanted to meet with them to discuss YL’s policies. “Some have been gracious, and some have not,” Galley said. 

Those who have not been gracious, have had some choice words for the family. “People even began to criticize my parents’ parenting,” she said. Her family is ready and willing to speak out despite all of this. Galley’s father is very clear where he stands. “I’m happy to revolt from Young Life and stand against those who say I should keep my mouth shut to keep the peace. Jesus didn’t keep his mouth shut when he saw injustice. He spoke directly and firmly,” Galley’s father said via text to his daughter and shared with permission.

The entire family getting involved is something Galley appreciates but also mourns. “It’s really nice to have my parents [supporting me]…but it makes me feel like s*** that my parents lost all their friends and had to quit Young Life…If I just wasn’t gay they would still have all their friends…I know it’s not my fault…but I do wish I hadn’t put my parents in this position,” she said.

This summer was especially hard as many people Galley once called close friends were able to begin leading. “What hurt so bad about that is that I wouldn’t have been allowed to do that…they did the things I would’ve been prevented from doing.” 

A number of leaders posted pictures from camps they were leading with the hashtag #EveryKid which upset Galley. “Saying #EveryKid while doing something you know your lifelong best friend wouldn’t be able to do, that’s what was so [difficult],” she explained.

Today and Beyond

So through all of this, why did some stay? 

Most note the service they are able to do for the community as well as sharing the gospel. “Teaching people about Jesus and showing people the love of Jesus is the most important thing in my life, and Young Life is a great way for me to serve and help people grow in their faith,” said Fenlason. 

Lin had similar sentiments, but added the focus of how he believes he can help shape YL to be more supportive of LGBTQ people through his leading of middle school boys. “I found it profound in how much I’m able to teach them things I wish I knew when I was a middle schooler…[I can] shape their worldview to a more accepting and loving perspective, so no one else gets hurt,” said Lin. 

Galley doesn’t agree, but understands where they are coming from. “I know that they think they are doing the right thing. We [just] see what the right thing is differently,” said Galley.

Both those who stayed in YL, and those who left, say the other stopped talking to them. “The ones who didn’t [leave] actually stopped talking to me. I didn’t know what I was going to do yet…but they cut me out…They said it was because they were afraid of me, which is just brutal because these are the people I grew up with,” Galley said. But Lin also said people stopped talking to him. “People I really love and care about choose not to talk to [people in Young Life,]” Lin said. 

Who knows if this will change. But right now, Lin says, “We live in the tension.”