Feb 01, 2014 1:14 PM GMT
...While Christianity doesn't dictate the culture of the Willamette football team, it has played a dominant role in Mertens' life. Growing up in a devout Catholic household and educated in a private Catholic school until ninth grade, his faith in Christ is an important part of his character and his life. His Twitter handle features the Bible passage Joshua 1:9:
"Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go."
Since his sophomore year in high school, Mertens has channeled much of his Christian faith into his work with Young Life, a national organization that gives Christian adults the platform to preach the word of God to youth.
"Young Life helped change my life around. I was getting into trouble when I was a freshman in high school, but with Young Life I started doing good in the local area. My Young Life leaders taught me how to be a man, the importance of servitude and putting others before yourself and generally how to be a loving person."
When he left high school, Mertens began training as a Young Life adult leader. Local chapters near Willamette recruited him to be part of their efforts. It was perfect. Mertens wanted nothing more than to give back to the organization that had helped him become the person he is today and help shape other youth.
When friends and family asked him what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, he wouldn't be able to tell them what career path he'd take or where he'd live, but he'd always tell them he'd be a part of Young Life for the rest of his days.
That is now impossible.
Young Life's "Faith and Conduct Policies" address what the organization calls "sexual misconduct." The policies strictly forbid any LGBT person from being a staff member or volunteer for the organization:
"We do not in any way wish to exclude persons who engage in sexual misconduct or who practice a homosexual lifestyle from being recipients of ministry of God's grace and mercy as expressed in Jesus Christ. We do, however, believe that such persons are not to serve as staff or volunteers in the mission and work of Young Life."
It wasn't until late last year that Mertens read those words. He had long suspected there was some reference to homosexuality, but reading the outright ban sent him into a mini depression. He remembered crawling into bed after absorbing the words that ended his relationship with Young Life and lying there for the entire day.
By simply coming out publicly to help other LGBT youth - with the highest youth suicide rate in the nation - he was instantly banned from the very organization that helped him get to this point.
"It kind of broke my heart. The only word to describe how I felt was ‘numb.' I always thought it could happen, that this was probably a rule they had. Young Life has made me the happiest person, and I had so many plans for my work with them. There is so much good I could do with Young Life. I replay all the memories I have and all that I learned, and now I realize I won't be able to give back to the kids. It kind of sucks.
"I guess one door closes, another opens."...