Don’t call us missing
Victoria Turner calls on the Church to listen seriously to younger voices
There is a growing amount of literature on the subject of reconciliation across the generations in the Church. With a lot of this scholarship, however, I have found that young people are often patronised, homogenised, framed as products of neo-capitalism and constantly presented as ‘missing’ from the Church. Yet younger Christians are so vocal and opinionated about their churches on Twitter (sorry, I am very guilty of that) and are often shot down as disrespectful, as not understanding some insignificant tradition, or (virtually) patted on the head and smiled at for having an opinion that might be listened to when they’re older. With this energy that young people demonstrate towards their Churches, I wondered why this term ‘missing generation’ has just been so commonly accepted in scholarship about the religiosity of young people.
So, in a little heated moment of optimism, I wrote a book proposal that would allow some of these wonderfully opinionated young people to speak for themselves, rather than be spoken for by another study from an ‘expert’ on youth.
Stephen Ansa-Addo led the United Reformed Church’s Black History Month last year on the theme of ‘The War on Woke?!: Freedom and the fine print’ and explored how the term ‘woke’ has become so charged that it actually silences justice-orientated opinions. This book takes the same stance. I track the history of ‘wokeness’ from its origins of empowering marginalised black communities in the States at the time of slavery, through the way it evolved to support black South Africans suffering under apartheid, to today’s context of Black Lives Matter. I ask how we can use the term well today, who can use it in which way, and why a proper understanding of its meaning is vital.
As Shermara Fletcher reflects in her chapter, being woke is not a blind, self-affirming rush, driven by self-glorification, to make the world better. Instead, young people, with their own particular passions, are discerning how to bring about God’s just world and follow Jesus’ path in their own ministries. And they show how they feel continuously stunted by the Church, which either does just enough to not be the perpetrator or gives through a framework of charity that does not result in its own perceptions being challenged, or its own community being diversified…
Victoria Turner is a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh, funded by the Council for World Mission. She is a member of Augustine United Church, Edinburgh. Young, Woke and Christian: Words from a missing generation is published by SCM Press and is available from the URC Bookshop
This is an extract from an article published in the February 2022 edition of Reform