Monday, June 8, 2020

George Floyd Protests and Youth Ministry

The recent death of George Floyd has ignited a wave of protests surrounding law enforcement’s treatment of African Americans. The passionate outcry and quantity of protests we are witnessing is proof that our whole country is demanding that changes take place. Not only do racially motivated crimes go against the very fabric of what our nation’s laws have been built upon, they are an evil stain in our world that runs in complete opposition to the advancement of the kingdom of God. But how do we as a Church navigate this minefield of social discourse, and, more specifically, how do we engage our students within the context of our current affairs?

The Call for Christ-like Love
While our Christian principles compel us to raise awareness of social injustice and to protest for change, we nonetheless remain called to do these things through the lens of Christ’s unconditional love for one another. Yes, Black Lives (absolutely!) Matter. Yes, we must have equal treatment under the law. Yes, there are racial tensions that must be addressed and we must work together to stamp out the evil of racism that is still found within areas of our country. Yet it pains us all to watch a resolution to our societal anguish slipping further away as black entrepreneurs’ businesses continue to be destroyed, as grocery stores in black neighborhoods continue to be looted, and as black officers continue to have bricks thrown at them. In our passionate conquest to instill change as quickly as possible, we have saturated the campfire logs of somber discourse with numerous cans of lighter fluid before striking the match. Let us help the next generation keep sight of the biblical ideal of Christ-like love. As youth ministers, we can help our students understand that while we must protest to escape the shackles of evil, we must not protest with a degree of recklessness that inevitably leads our society back into the devil’s fiendishly deceptive grasp. Indeed, only the real and tangible love of Christ can successfully dissuade our youth from the allure of extremist tribalism.

Beginning with the Bible
The Bible clearly portrays the righteous indignation of the Lord when His people are either treated unjustly or when His people unjustly treat others. Although the first chapter of Isaiah was not written with Western civilization in mind, it is nevertheless striking to read this excerpt of Scripture through the lens of today. However, we must proceed with caution. While it is tempting to see only our adversaries within the events outlined in this text, the reality is that God did not call just one subset of Israelites to repent; He called an entire nation to repentance. When we all fall at the foot of God’s throne alongside one another as fellow sinners, we relinquish our urge to preside as judge over any other person. As a result, we submit and return the role of judge to the only individual who does have a perfect sense of judgment: Jesus Christ. By reminding ourselves that we too are sinners who do not deserve the grace of God, Paul’s exhortation becomes exceedingly relevant as we interact with one another: “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3). Our youth are watching how we address others on social media and in the streets. Do our words of exhortation ooze with humility and Christ-like love? Or do our diatribes sound more like words of reproach that clang like an ear-piercing cymbal?

Our Youth Have a Voice
Amid the Covid-19 social distancing mandates, our youth are trying to make sense of a global-minded culture that is heavily burdened by political discord. Yet even in such an environment, our younger generations refuse to be defeatist or to idly stand by. One thing that these protests have shown us is that our youth have recognized that they have a voice and that they want to use it to help bring positive change to our world. As youth ministers, our role is not to suppress them, but instead to guide them and mentor them. It is for this reason that youth ministry is beginning to experience transformation within the church. Instead of merely being another classroom, it is evolving into a training ground for students to learn how they can use their faith to transform the world around them. Rather than merely telling them how to be a light that represents Jesus in their lives, we are now being called to minister alongside our students and empower them to positively impact their world. Embracing the race relations conversation with your students is a good start, but it is merely the beginning. Have you asked your students how the church can help them to effectively minister to their schools and communities in the area of race relations? You may be surprised at what they have in mind. The truth is that our students today are more in control than ever when it comes to determining what they receive and what they can contribute. A church that refuses to acknowledge the reality of this is a church that underestimates the spiritual horsepower that a youth ministry can possess.

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