Millennials care about social issues – “care” as measured by actually doing something instead of giving lip service over coffee. Millennials are a protest and activist generation. You can’t motivate us for plenty of things, but you say, “Let’s tackle (insert social issue here)!” and we show up in droves. Motivation shows itself in funny ways, and one thing we Millennials are proud of is being motivated by concern for others. Say all you like about the “me, me, me” generation, but every generation was just as vain when they were just as young. Like the G.I.’s, Millennials are actually getting out there to do things that matter – and in this regard, they look incredibly close to Jesus’ heart.
Today we share a testimony from Bradley Rhodes, a Millennial Christian who is a teacher and cares deeply about everything from missions to education and attended the “March for Our Lives” in D.C. on March 24th. Here are his thoughts on what churches could learn from movements that motivate young people and make a difference in our nation – just like churches used to.
A Journey to D.C.
On Valentine’s Day, 2018, a young man entered Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida and shot and killed 17 people. As soon as authorities offered their “thoughts and prayers,” student survivors were calling on those authorities to put such things away and act to stop this from happening again. Their cry reminds me of Jeremiah 6:14, “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace.” Surely not all the MSD students are God’s people, but the superficial healing coming from those who are supposed to be God’s people in earthly authority is a staggering similarity.
I had the privilege to attend the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C. on March 24th. I went partly because, as a teacher, I also have a stake in the matter. Students and teachers from across the country gathered to call for “reasonable gun reform.” Although the speakers and attendees all had different ideas of what a good set of regulations would be, we all agreed something must be done.
That morning, the coffee shop where I had breakfast was giving out protest posters for anyone going to the rally. Instead of harming business, it seemed to increase it, as the place was packed. The march organizers had raised enough money to give everyone free Lyft rides to the city center, but as I was staying close by, I was already in the drop zone so I walked. On the way, I had small talk with other students and teachers. Once on Pennsylvania avenue, I passed a large number of independent bloggers. They were amused by my protest signs. One read, “The militia is poorly-regulated,” and the other, “And He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. Isaiah 5:7 NIV.” Farther on, the crowd became dense. There were nine jumbotrons down the street to let everyone see the stage. Everyone had their signs lifted and we were chanting various things, like “Hey hey! Ho ho! The NRA has got to go!” and “MSD strong!”
Students from MSD parted the crowd to make their way to the front. As they passed, I asked what they wanted to say, and a parent said, “Thank you for being here.” Every line of students that passed was a solemn event. As the last one came, one student said, “If you want to join, come join,” so I got in line with them. As I walked, I realized not everyone had gotten that invite, and I felt the full weight of the solemnity hanging from the crowd. It was sobering. I ended up about ten yards behind the cameras.
What Protests Could Teach Churches
As the event started, everyone put down their signs to see. Over those few hours, there were speakers and songs. In that way, it was very much like a church service. I think our churches could learn a little from the way the protest was presented. What if our churches allowed multiple people to speak? Sure, it still makes sense for the senior pastor to give a twenty-minute-plus sermon, but what if a teenager was allowed a five-minute exegesis of a text, too? This is the way I have seen it done at some synagogues. This is how a church could “promote from within.”
At the march, the purpose for speaking varied tremendously. There were testimonies, as teens told of siblings who died to gun violence. There were exhortations to vote or advocate for certain policy measures. There was, you might say, prophesying (not delivering God’s exact words, perhaps – but sharing God’s heart), as they were filled with a spirit of justice or sorrow and poured forth passionate cries. What if these things were included in our Sunday mornings?
For the songs, many of them had been written specifically for the survivors. One song was written by two of the survivors. But most notably, the songs were interspersed between the several speakers. What if this was how we did our worship? At my church, our worship pastor specifically chooses songs to fit the point of the sermon that morning. What if we, the congregation, responded at various points of the sermon with a pre-selected fitting verse? What if we were invited to join the worship process, and not just sit back and enjoy it?
There need not be chaos in our churches to mix things up. The march event was fully organized. There was nothing unplanned, except that one girl vomited onstage and just kept going with her speech. It would take marginal effort to have a new liturgy every week. If we really compare that protest to a church, it was many times larger than the largest megachurch in the world. So of course our own attempts would not have such a high level of musical ability or rhetorical strength, at least not every week.
I heard a fair bit of Scripture that day, often not even with the speaker’s knowledge, with phrases like “keep the faith” (Acts 14:22), although one speaker intentionally quoted several verses. I don’t recall hearing the same frequency of Scripture out of any conservative lawmaker’s mouth.
These lawmakers remind me of 2 Tim 3:1-5. Ask yourself how many of these things apply to our leaders who give lip service but do not act:
“But mark this: There will be terrible times – in the last days, people will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God – having a form of godliness, but denying its power. Have nothing to do with these people.”
They also remind me of the parable of the two sons in Matt 21:28-32. One son says he will do his father’s will, but doesn’t – and the other says he won’t do his father’s will, but does. Jesus’ disciples approve of the one who does his father’s will even when he says he won’t. Jesus’ stunning assessment agrees: “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.'”
Who will be more vindicated before the judgment throne of God? The man who claims Christ but has no compassion – or the man who denies Christ but has compassion? I don’t know – God will decide such things. But I, for one, in that moment surrounded myself by the latter, for I cannot bear the shame of surrounding myself with the former.
Rogues gives a special thanks to guest author Bradley Rhodes!
“although one speaker intentionally quoted several verses. I don’t recall hearing the same frequency of Scripture out of any conservative lawmaker’s mouth.”
You should follow more of their Twitter accounts. Happens all the time. We’re also seeing gun control measures(!) being openly espoused by conservative figures in Congress and on the blogosphere.
The thing about protests is that they’re often either solution-less. “Although the speakers and attendees all had different ideas of what a good set of regulations would be, we all agreed something must be done.” Well, I’m sure the dead students in their graves reaalllyy appreciate that we all agree on such things. It would be nice if there were a workable solution, though.
A parallel matter is the racial justice issue pushed by figures in the NFL. Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett are going to be remembered for advancing the cause through protest. The sad reality is that Doug Baldwin, a receiver with the Seahawks, has done more to address the issue through legislation and community interaction than anyone will likely ever know. He stayed practical throughout the entire thing.
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I think “reasonable gun control” is something many conservatives and many liberals could meet in the middle on – and am glad some on both sides openly espouse it! Wisdom is important, no matter where you find it – and basic provisions for safe possession and use of arms would qualify as an area needing wise counsel!
I would remind though that protest serves a part in a larger whole. Complaining that protest is solution-less is like complaining that skateboards don’t produce apples – they were never intended to. The role of protest is to bring issues to the attention of leadership , showing that popular support for an issue is rising and they should act on it. An 18-year-old marching in D.C. isn’t responsible to create workable solutions. We pay politicians to do that, a job they freely signed up for and ran in an election for. The goal of protesting is to clarify what we want from politicians and motivate them to give it. Or else we’ll pay someone new in November. Keep protest in perspective – protest isn’t the instrument that finds and implements solutions. Protest is the instrument that demands solutions from those we elected to find and implement them.
Thank you Brandon for your comments! Always good to “see the other side” or get a little more nuance to perspective. We agree that those who work fervently yet quietly often accomplish more but get less notice!
I watched the whole day on TV and was so moved by these teenagers. I hope they will accomplish what adults have been unable to do. It may take time, but I have so much faith in them. What an experience that you could be there in person.
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Yes! It’s time to start believing in the young and what they can accomplish. Also, to provide input and wisdom, so they make the best decisions! But we can’t afford to just sit around criticizing those who are going to lead next!
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