Sex, Politics and Twentysomethings

Washington DC is a mind-twisting city even when we are not in the throes of an extremely tight…

Washington DC is a mind-twisting city—even when we are not in the throes of an extremely tight national race about who will lead the post-Bush era.

Just ten feet in front of me, Gary Bauer is talking on his cell phone. Two seats from me a husband is saying a tender goodbye to his infantry-uniformed wife. In our waiting area there are head scarves and dreadlocks, Armani suits and military uniforms galore. Life-size cardboard cutouts of Obama and McCain keep watch on us all from the front of the bookstore. Welcome to the capital of the free world.

I am writing from Regan National Airport. I just spent a week doing Q & A dorm talks on the campuses of Georgetown and American University. From the blogosphere to the nature of the universe we engaged in philosophical open-heart surgery late into the night. It was an incredible time, if a bit exhausting.

The students here are a microcosm. They come from everywhere. Every county, state, tribe, language and nation has a twentysomething here studying to change the world. Even as undergrads they are powerful. Internships are the commodity of this power. People under twenty-five run the candidate’s websites, do the judge’s research, write the Senator’s press releases and organize the Representative’s power lunches.

That is why this age group is so important and why I have been doing dorm programming like this for over twenty years now. I have done talks on almost everything, but mostly now I do simple question and answers sessions on life’s big questions. This week’s meetings were advertised as, “You Believe What?” and they did not disappoint. The attendance (standing room only at 10 p.m.), the depth of the questions, intelligence of the follow-up comments and passion of the after discussion reminded me again how much I love working with this generation. Here’s what they got me thinking about:

We Need to Deal with Sexual Issues

Sexual compromise in church leadership, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage and pornography drove our talks more than any other topic. Sure the economy, pluralism, evil, atheism and evolution where hotly discussed, but these topics paled compared to the curiosity and convictions that students have about sexual ethics. Bill Clinton’s election year slogan about the economy (It is the economy, stupid) rings true in the ears of Boomers, but this group is clearly saying, “It’s the sex, stupid.”

We Need to Take Sides with Love

Most spiritual leaders who work with twentysomethings hold their personal political conviction close to the vest. Whether they are for Obama or McCain, as a pastor, simply stating whom you will vote for can invite a shower of condemnation from a small but very zealous portion of students on either side of the spectrum. This political “don’t ask, don’t tell” strategy is wise to a certain degree, but it feels so strange that we are not able to dialogue openly about some issues without risking the sort of hateful personal reactions that can be seen in the comment section of any partisan blog.

Our campus missionary at AU, Mike Godzwa, related to me how DC students must do a careful passive-aggressive verbal dance with each other when they first meet to determine where the other is politically. “What do you think about Palin?” is not a policy question but a coded inquiry that both sides use to determine if you are friend or foe.

The saddest part of this lack of freedom to speak freely and the breakdown of civility is that we are ceding a large portion of our student’s lives to the influence of others.

We must become more civil. We must find a way to talk. We must find a way to help this generation embrace empathy for political opponents and examine their own logic at the same time.

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We Need to Engage This Generation in a New Way

Sometimes my fellow Gen X and Boomer leaders ask me what to do about this “apathetic generation.” By apathy, of course, what they really mean is “Why don’t they attend our meetings more.” Yes they are scattered, highly mobile, and at this time of life, a bit fickle, but don’t let these traits fool you into believing they are apathetic. As a generation they are the rulers of the SAT score, have a serious grasp of fiscal issues, possess off-the-charts technological skills, and record a level of volunteerism that is literally groundbreaking. For Obama, Bono or a cause like Katrina, they have demonstrated that they will vote, give and get dirty by the hundreds of thousands.

It is not apathy that keeps them away from church, but fatigue. They are tired of the current church and the present political leadership. They do not want to come to your meeting; they want to lead your meeting. Do not expect them to sit patiently for Boomers and Gen-Xers to hand over the keys to the kingdom. These guys are not going to wait that long.

This is why I believe working with twentysomethings must be elevated to one of the church’s highest priorities. Our coffee-laden church plants and tie-less services alone will not engage them. We need a deeper reformation than this. Make no mistake. We are losing them. We must face facts, losing them will be very bad for the church.

There is hope, though. I was reminded again this week that they are not closed. The majority of them want to see authentic ethics, real dialogue and true reconciliation. They have not made up their minds completely. They want to talk. They want to think. They are not afraid of convictions and they have not rejected truth! Many are just still sorting out what truth is.

The good-and-bad news is that they are going to take charge and make changes in our world before they turn forty. The question for those of us who pastor them is not about whether they will lead, but when they do lead, what kind of heart will they have?

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