Gen Z and Activism
In the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, the most prominent people calling for change are the students who watched their friends die. These are members of Generation Z. A recent New York Times report has described those born after Columbine “the mass shooting generation.” On Wednesday, February 21, parents and students met with the President of the United States to express their grief and frustration. One student, Samuel Zeif, pleaded with President Trump to “never let this happen again.”
Molly Roberts wondered if this time the kids might make the difference in changing gun control laws. Lorraine Ali of The Los Angeles Times stated “these students clearly and cogently refuted the usual politicized narratives pumped out of D.C. after each mass shooting, first on television mere hours after the attack and then directly on Twitter: #We Call BS! quickly rolled into #WeAreTheChange.” Ali directly named Generation Z as the force that might tip the scale in the gun control debate.
Kate Shellnutt of Christianity Today reported that churches and ministries have responded to the latest shooting event by offering care, support, counseling, and comfort in the days following the Stoneman Douglas Tragedy. The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has put together a team of chaplains to respond to tragedies like this one, and all five of their deployments this year have been in the wake of school shootings. The BGEA’s rapid response team was formed after 9/11; since then, about one tenth of their deployments have followed mass shootings.
Shellnutt’s report includes quotations from Christian leaders in the Parkland area. Pastors stated that they wanted Jesus to be present in the midst of the response. Vigils were held. Comfort and grief counseling was offered. Fear, cruelty, violence, hatred, sin, and darkness were all decried and denounced. But I cannot help but wonder how Generation Z heard these responses. They are theological answers, and they are true and helpful. They are rooted in the Christian conviction that the world changes one person at a time. But they leave the systemic questions, the larger theological questions about how the fallenness of humanity manifests itself at the level of society, largely unanswered.
Time will tell if journalists that like Roberts and Ali are right, if the voices of Generation Z truly will make a difference in how we regard guns in the United States of America. In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy it appears that at least a few students from Stoneman Douglas are determined to continue advocating for stricter gun laws. But I wonder if any student will respond to this tragedy by relying on the resources of their Christian faith.
Albeit a failed and now often ridiculed effort, temperance, as a movement in American history, was largely motivated by persons of Christian conviction. Abolition also had its Christian activists. Much of the public opposition to abortion has resulted from the case that has been made by pro-life Christian activists.
I wonder if there are pastors, those who walk with Generation Z, will help those of emerging generations think about the challenges presently facing us in light of Christian theology and practice, not only with regard to thoughts and prayers and in changing the world one person at a time, but with regard to how we order our lives together as a society so that we all might flourish, grow, and thrive.