Youth Workers Respond in the Wake of Charlottesville
I have the privilege of sharing a little bit of life with a variety of incredible youth workers. They come from across the theological and denominational spectrums, ministering in a range of church and para-church settings, and they are some of my favorite people on the planet. I reached out to a group of them with one question:
What do youth workers need to hear the Monday after #Charlottesville?
Their responses were profound and needed to be shared.
KRISTIN D. HEMINGWAY
“We can’t kill any sin that we won’t name. We have no problem saying that someone has an issue with pornography, lying, fornication, idolatry, etc. They are all sin issues, but we call them by name because each one has a specific impact and as a result a different solution. We have to name racism and bigotry the exact same way because they are very specific sins predicated on devaluing the worth and value, and therefore not acknowledging the Imago Dei, of people of color in general, and in this instance black people specifically, because these white people and others like them feel as if people that look like me [a person of color] are inferior. These VERY SPECIFIC sins have a very specific impact on people like me, and as a result, have to be addressed very specifically. In particular within and from the church.
One of the reasons that we have gotten to this place where this particular sin is at an all time high is because so many of us are uncomfortable acknowledging it for what it is. We use softer names, like white nationalism, because they make it seem a little less ugly, and that is what allows it to creep into the homes and hearts of so many. We don’t kill sin by glossing over it and refusing to name it. We kill it by facing it head on, acknowledging it and its impact on us and our communities, and digging it up at the root.”
“To all youth workers, and especially those that work with kids from marginalized groups, God has positioned you to speak boldly, honestly, and powerfully to this situation. Even if you feel completely ill-equipped to effectively address the hatred, the violence, and the seeming inaction, God has called you for a time such a this. Create safe spaces for your students to be heard. Find your own safe spaces to lament. Learn what you need to know to be decently informed. Disconnect as much as you need to in order to guard your heart. Let your heart break for the hurting and broken in this world. Let your heart be encouraged that Christ has overcome it all. Don’t be overwhelmed by the bigotry, but allow yourself to be completely overwhelmed by His love for you and all of us in this moment in history. You do not have to tolerate hate speech in order to be tolerant, but you should speak truth to power. You do have to love everyone, especially when it is difficult. Finally, remember that in your weakness, his strength is made perfect. In your chaos, is where his peace lies. As your heart breaks remember that he is indeed close, even when it doesn’t feel like it. Love you, friends. Keep fighting with both grace and truth.”
“No matter what your context, you are not alone. Even if you feel like no one around you agrees with you, there are others like you actively seeking justice and reconciliation. Seek out those people and allow yourself to be re-energized for the work to which you have been called. Remember darkness cannot drive out the light, so keep shining for your students and your communities.”
“It’s important to remember that while the groups in Charlottesville, and a number of other hate groups, might claim to be Christian, they have no resemblance in the slightest to the life of Christ. Jesus came showing love and respect beyond His own native people group whose lives were never the same after they encountered Him.
In the face of threats, the face of anger and in the face of hatred, let us remember that we too were once lost and no one is too far gone to experience forgiveness. That should not serve as a pass for their behavior but rather should encourage us to see them with understanding; those who have bought into the empty and dangerous ideals of the enemy. As we encounter the opposition to living as Jesus did, let’s rise up and proclaim truth in love. Though difficult and at times seemingly hopeless, our example must be based on Christ and the examples of love and life change found in Scripture.
Pray for those who’ve had to stare down hate for far too long as well as not forgetting to pray for those who do the hating. Live the change we’ve experienced, share the hope we have through Christ, and be the hands and feet of Christ to everyone we encounter.”
“God does not “allow” s*** to happen. Sometimes s*** happens. That’s why God gave us each other.”
“Jesus Christ crucified racism, segregation, bigotry, and hatred at Calvary. They have no place in our churches or communities. Since Scripture teaches us that we are each made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27), we all possess inherent dignity, worth, and value that comes directly from our Creator. Christ died to reconcile us to Himself and to one another by breaking down the wall of hostility (Ephesians 2:14-16). This is the silver bullet of so-called ‘white supremacy.’
Furthermore, the unity and diversity of the Christian church is its best witness to the world testifying about God’s love, grace and power to the point that even the angels marvel at it (Ephesians 3:10). Heaven itself will be full of people from every tongue, tribe, and nation (Revelation 7:9).
So brothers and sisters, while we still mourn over the broken, fallen, sinful world that we live in, we do not grieve as those who lack hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13) since we know that God will wipe every tear from our eyes and make all things new (Revelation 21:4-5). Until then we hold unswervingly to the hope we profess since he who promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:23).
Such faith commands us to see Jesus in everyone we meet (Mark 6:34), pray for our enemies and those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44) and to do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God (Micah 6:8).”
JAMES P. O’BRIEN
“Stressing the importance of sharing the gospel message, because the only true solution to defeating hate is to replace it with God’s love, and that message needs to be shared both with those that have embraced hate and those that have been hurt by hate.”
“I think many of us need to hear helpful ways to have these discussions with our youth. In particular, I think we need help:
1) Articulating what is wrong with White Supremacy from a Christian perspective, specifically.
2) Sorting out how the problems of White Supremacy seep into the way your average white Christian American acts. Most of the people in our churches would NOT have shown up to this march. Is there a tiny seed of that perspective in most of our hearts, though? Or at least, our actions? There’s probably lots of good questions to be asked here.
2a) What resources are there to help us see how the problems of White Supremacy are present in mainstream American society?
3) How do we respond well in our particular youth groups? If we see problems “in society,” what does that mean for the 6 kids in my small group, you know?
4) How do we keep loving people we disagree with?”
“I am from a 95% white congregation in a small town in Alabama. I have addressed every major shooting or tragedy from the Orlando night club to Baltimore to Philando Castile with our youth ministry. We pray, we repent, and I try to create empathy for my cloistered kids. My church does not address it as often as I do, but my hope is that I am helping to break a generational cycle of silence.”
“This isn’t a black and white problem. It’s a sin problem. And we are all guilty. Let this be an example that we must kill sin in our lives or it’ll ruin an entire country.”
“Have the hard conversations. Do the hard things. Look for ways in which you can begin exposing your students. Pay attention to what’s really happening around you. Find conversation and have hard conversation yourself. If you can have the hard conversations with your peers, you can have them with your students.”
“Dear youth workers: DO NOT STAY SILENT. I can not emphasize this enough. The worse thing we can do is to shut our mouths during this volatile season. Students are looking to us right now and they deserve to know where we stand. They are waiting for a response from us. Students of color are waiting to hear whether we stand against racism and bigotry. Our President isn’t denouncing white supremacy, which means white supremacists will only become louder. The sides of this topic are many. Do research. This is not a racist vs. anti-racist issue. The lines identifying sides are ambiguous, which is why it is so important to speak up. Ask your students what questions they have and research individually or together. Do not ignore this. The racists feel fueled by Trump’s silence, so we have not heard the last of these people. Communication with parents is key as well. Our students need to know they are cared about, supported, and loved.”
“To much of America, the events in Charlottesville are shocking. However, to those of us in communities that the Alt-Right would seek to persecute and discriminate against it’s hardly surprising. The seeds of this blatantly hateful and pervasive spirit have been seen all over the world within the past decade. We have seen it in our own country the last few years in particular, with a significant spike in anti-Semitism and racially motivated violence.
As believers, we want to see the world as ultimately good, to love those who would choose to hate and to believe through our prayers that G-d will intervene. While prayer is indeed our greatest weapon, history is riddled with examples of times when He allowed the unspeakable for reasons that are far beyond human comprehension. We can only seek to find understanding of those moments in knowing that His thoughts are higher than ours; and, that in accepting that Satan is real, we know his true agenda is for destruction.
I have seen the aftermath of what this hatred is capable of in standing in Auschwitz and felt the pain of the loss it creates also when standing in the Freedom Center memorial to all those whose lives were stolen by the slave trade. While these may seem like drastic examples to reference in comparison to what has happened in Charlottesville, the point is that it began somewhere and it started small before such evil erupted into a nearly unstoppable tidal wave. We would be naïve to think that it won’t happen again or that it can’t happen here.
In reality, it’s happening in America every day and has been happening for a very long time. I’ve personally experienced this type of hatred and ignorance at times throughout my life, beginning as a child when my classmates told me that I would go to hell because I am a Jew. I felt it when swastikas were painted on my synagogue multiple times; and, in middle of the night phone calls to my parents’ home with neo-Nazis on the other end of the phone screaming that they would finish the job Hitler started.
What I ask of you, dear friends is to remember us in prayer. I covet your prayers for my people, as few of them know the L-rd. I also challenge you to take action. The most effective way to squelch ignorance is through exposure and education. If you do not have a diverse youth group, partner with other local groups who do and create opportunities for relationship building. Contact your local synagogue or Jewish Community Center and begin to build a relationship with the leaders and community there in an effort to create dialogue and understanding.
Reach out to those communities who, many times throughout history, by and large, have been left to stand on their own in the face of persecution. Do not wait for another tragedy to strike. We have to put the work in now to prevent more from happening and to be united if and when it does. In Joshua, he asks the people of Israel to, “choose this day whom you will serve.” So I ask you to choose your faith over your comfort zone or your fear. Do not choose now to be silent; as silence is often a friend to death, both physically and spiritually.
I leave you with John 15:12-14, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this: that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.’”
JACOB ECKEBERGER is the Content Manager at Youth Specialties, an itinerant worship leader, the spouse of a church planter, and a long time volunteer youth worker. You can find him blogging about social media and digital strategy ideas at JACOBECKEBERGER.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.