I was taking one of the youth from New Hope Lutheran Church to an event on Saturday we were talking about her going to seminary someday. She asked me about my experience at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. I told her how much I loved seminary especially in that setting. She was explaining that a few other people she talked to had negative experiences at Philadelphia. The issue was that racial tension was created on campus by anti racism training that teaches that racism is about power and prejudice. Therefore black people can not be racist because they don't have power. It is always interesting to me the reaction this gets from young people. They view race through a whole different prism. For full disclosure, I happen to agree with the view that was being taught. I think that white people in this country have been able to subtly use racism to keep blacks down and out of power. (There was a great Simpson's moment when Homer and Marge go shopping at newly renovated pier in Springfield. There was a sign that read "Our prices discriminate so we don't have to." This sums up the problem in one brilliant stroke of genius. The Simpsons do it again.) It got me thinking about the approach of the radicals of the 60's.
I want to start by saying how much I admire those who fought, struggled, and in some cases even died for civil rights in the 60's. I don't think that the white power structure of the south would have voluntarily given up control without direct confrontation. Basically, our country was shamed into doing the right thing. Since that time however much has changed. I wonder if the boomers could ever get over themselves long enough to realize the change. Is radical politics even the answer our young people respect anymore? It seems the answers they seek are more whole in approach and tone. They are much more comfortable with ambiguity, and complexity. The boomers and the world war two generation share this sense that there is a definitive right and wrong. The struggle in my view is over a matter of perspective.
More then this I want to question where the combative politics of the 60's got us. Did we get a more progressive political agenda? In that time since LBJ we have elected Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, George Bush Sr. and George Bush Jr. This is not exactly a record of peace, love, and understanding. We had moments with Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, but if we are honest both men where essentially conservatives wrapped in liberal clothing. Upon more examination the two presidents elected from the boomer generation (Clinton and Bush Jr.) failed to live up to the high standards of personal responsibility. They both (in different ways) acted for their best interest instead of the countries. Is this the legacy of the boomer generation?
It is interesting how every generation thinks they did it best. The boomers are no different they romanticize about the good old days of protests and blowing stuff up, but do they realize that in our world today the things they believed in and fought for are being lived out in a very real way. (A little tangent. I was at a protest against the Iraq war back in 2001. A couple of people had handcuffed themselves to a Marines recruitment center in downtown Philadelphia. The man next to me said, "These kids don't know what they are doing. In my day we would have blown this place up." True story.)
The supposed counter culture was always just that it was counter to the culture. The majority of Americans believed in law and order, stability, and peace, not reactionary revolution. Today it just doesn't play that well with the kids. They are much to busy actually creating the world that in the 60's people rallied and yelled for. We are now much more multicultural, diverse, understanding. The young people (when we take time to actually talk to them) are really very tolerant of others. (Look at the statistics for those who support Gay Marriage) The call to the churches from these young people is to be less politically involved. By that I think they mean less involved in partisan politics. More involved in service and living out the values we preach about. The old days of "with me or against me" are fading away. I for one am glad for the change it makes us all able to listen to one another and search together for a new way forward.
It also makes us able to serve and love as Christ did for us. Maybe at times direct confrontation is needed. But thanks be to God that our youth are learning it is not what we shout at the world that matters, but how we walk with God and others in that world.