Charlottesville, Dehumanization and Student Ministry
It’s becoming increasingly challenging to turn on the news, open Twitter or see the constant updates coming to my Apple Watch about the horrifying realities our country (and our world) are facing. A couple weeks ago, my Twitter feed was bombarded with heartbreaking update after gut-wrenching update coming out of Charlottesville. A number of times I found myself lost in my anger over the dehumanizing acts that were being committed by people claiming to be followers of the same God that I follow. My brain and heart were at desperate war attempting to make sense of all that was transpiring (and is still transpiring).
One of the thoughts I had in the midst of the chaos was that what was transpiring wasn’t anything new. I don’t say that to demean the heaviness of what happened. Rather, my point is to highlight that we are continuing a horrendous trajectory of dehumanization over and over and over again. In fact, if we look at the Bible, we see the problem of dehumanization at the very beginning of humanity.
Demhumanization in the Bible
The story of Adam and Eve is one of humanity seeing themselves as something more than (and less than) human. At first, these two are deceived to believe they could be more powerful than human which quickly leads to the overwhelming feeling of shame entering this world that quickly anchors them into feeling as though they’re less than human.
The dilemma of dehumanization stuck with the human race, and if you skip forward to the Exodus story, we find the Israelites in a destructively broken space. They had been enslaved by people who saw themselves as more than human and treated the Israelites less than human. Both acts of dehumanization were equally harmful to the human race. But God had yet to give up on us. Through a series of miraculous events, God rescues this dehumanized group of people and continues to walk alongside them through many, many years as He continually attempted to help them rediscover their humanity. If you know the story, you know that the Israelites deeply struggled in the desert. In fact, they sometimes wished to go back to the way things were which was all they knew for so long. But God walked the long journey with them, and never gave up on them. God brought redemption to this people by restoring their humanity.
Time and time again, we’ve told that same story, and God has always been against dehumanization. The God we worship does not condone the dehumanization of ANYONE. I know how badly my heart was breaking watching the events of Charlottesville unfold, and I can’t even begin to imagine the ache that God must have been feeling. Every act of dehumanization must feel like a knife to the heart of our God who loves each of us equally as His own.
So what does any of this have to do with student ministry? Everything!
Our students all see these aggressive, evil acts and are desperately attempting to make sense of it. They’re asking questions. They’re doubting God’s love. They’re seeking justice. What a beautiful opportunity for us, as youth workers, to get to walk alongside students as they (and we, if we’re honest) are piecing all of this together in our minds and souls. As you are in relationship with students who are processing things like Charlottesville, another mass shooting or even the dehumanization they’re experiencing in their own hallways at school, you have a responsibility to speak truth into their lives. As followers of a God who weep over dehumanization, we cannot remain silent. If we do, our students will hear the silence and begin formulating an inaccurate worldview of who God is. If we remain silent, we’re condoning the acts of racism, inequality and demeaning of fellow human beings.
[bctt tweet=”As followers of a God who weep over dehumanization, we cannot remain silent.” username=”ys_scoop”]
Whether it’s in a message, a small group setting, or one-on-one, we all need to be addressing these issues that are so blatantly in front of all of us. Your students need you to go there. They need you to go to the difficult places. If we don’t, they’ll find someone who will. Our students are a generation that will not accept a lack of answers or discussion. They’re hungry for answers and solutions. We may not have the answers, but we have the solution – the love of Christ! That’s not to say we have the answer to ending every act of dehumanization. We will always live in a broken world, and it’s Christ who can bring redemption – not us. We’re only human. Christ is divine. Yet Jesus has invited each of us to be participants in the ongoing redemption of this world. We do that by being the love that Christ embodied.
That kind of love stands up against evil.
That kind of love goes to difficult places.
That kind of love is what our students need to see emulated.
We can no longer avoid the topic of dehumanization. It is a scourge that is sending us on a horrific trajectory. We must talk about it and actually do something about it. We must help students see that this was never God’s desire. Students need to know that God has always been about treating us like human beings whom He loves equally now and forever.
It starts by having the conversation.
RYAN SCHMALL is the Student Ministries Pastor at Redding First Church of the Nazarene in Northern California. He is married to his wife Jeanette, and together they have three amazing girls. Ryan is passionate about creating experiences and environments for people to encounter God in new and unique ways. You can follow him on TWITTER or read his blog over at IAMRYANSCHMALL.TUMBLR.COM.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.