Doctrine, Duty, and the Rising Generation of Kids Who Love Justice
Jackie Hill Perry stated it plainly when she said, “The next generation, I imagine, will be one worth watching.”
This was Perry’s opening line to her speech at the MLK50 Conference in Memphis, Tennessee this past April 3. The justification for her statement came as she explained that a week or so prior, what is estimated to be the largest youth protest since the Vietnam War took place under the banner of the March for Our Lives. As Perry said, this generation has already begun to advocate for that which is most important to them.
She is not wrong. In the course of the month prior, students across America had organized nationwide walkouts and marches as a stance against gun violence. Even while I sat at MLK50 listening to Perry, my students back in Oklahoma were taking up a new cause for protest down at the state capital: that same week, Oklahoma began what became a two-week statewide teacher walkout. Our students were having to decide whether or not to join the fight, and the vast majority did. From protesting down at the capital, to marching 14 miles, our students chose to take up the fight for justice alongside their teachers and make it their own.
This is good, right? We should be excited to see a generation that already has a love for justice. Yet, at the same conference, Charlie Dates put it this way, “We have a rising generation that is fascinated with justice, but does not know the author of righteousness. Yet, we have a church that preaches the author of righteousness, but does not fight for justice. Both are insufficient in themselves.”
I knew I could not walk away from these two realities without thinking about my role as a youth leader to this rising generation. While I believe many Christian teens in America fall into the second category, in my own context, teenagers have historically been taught the author of righteousness, but do not know fight for justice.
And yet this is the generation we are privileged to disciple. This is the generation we are called to equip.
As with every generation, this generation has not come to their positions on their own, but have looked toward the actions of their predecessors. They have seen our generation as we have fought against injustice – or as we have left injustice unfought.
As youth leaders, we have been given a very specific voice in the life of this rising generation. We have been given an opportunity to teach them the gospel of a God who saves, and to train them in a theological understanding of that God. However, we often exercise the first half of our Matthew 28 commission, and leave the second. Not only are we called to make disciples and to baptism them, but we are to teach them to obey. This is an obedience that comes not from obligation, but from adoration. We teach them to love the law because we love the giver of the law. Because of this, we cannot segregate our passion for doctrine from our practice of duty. So what will they learn?
Passion for Doctrine without Practice of Duty is Empty
John, the son of Zebedee, wrote it this way in his first letter, chapter 3:16-18: “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.”
Far too often, as the church, we assume a sense of nobility by avoiding the political and claiming only gospel. Now, hear me, I am not suggesting we take an allegiance to a certain political party. What I am saying is that our allegiance has already been sealed for us at the cross, and because of that allegiance, we should not be so quick to label a gospel issue as political simply as to not cause debate. Instead, we should look to the God of our hope and see where our doctrine might dictate our duty.
If we truly see a rising generation who is captivated by justice, then we must go beyond teaching them about the author of righteousness. We must show them who He is, by being his hands and feet. And this means us, leaders.
We have to stop reasoning ourselves out of our duty to seek justice and love mercy. We can preach the gospel of a God who loves justice, and teach a proper theology of His omnibenevolence. Yet, if we then ignore the hurting or those in need, or ask them to come to our doors, then we have become like the man in James 1:22-25 who forgets his own face. It should not matter why a human created in the imago dei is weeping, it should simply matter that they are weeping.
Praise God that He has given us these students, in this generation, to shepherd and care for. This is a generation who loves justice. And praise God, the fruits of that love are only just coming to the surface! This is a right and good love, because it is what God loves. May we do our best to walk alongside our students in this fight. May we show them the true aim of justice, the gospel hope.
Christ gave us the ultimate example of the fight for justice as He humbled Himself – not counting His equality with God something to be grasped – and placed Himself on the cross, breaking down any wall of hostility. Our own debt was paid for us, when we were still sinners, and justice against evil was complete in the lives of believers. Yet, while full justice was paid, we know it will not be claimed until Christ’s final return to restore and redeem the broken. Knowing this, may we walk alongside side our students in fighting injustice and loving others, not because we believe full justice can be achieved now, but because we know it cannot be, we know it will be when Christ comes again. We must help to remind our students that justice is good, but earthly justice will never be complete. We can preach about the redemption of Christ’s coming kingdom, but until we live as reflections of that kingdom on earth, our words are empty.
We must walk with our students as they seek to balance their own doctrine and duty, helping them to navigate the waters of the already-not-yet they reside in. We mourn injustice because God does, and we stand up to justice because God does; in doing so, we bear His image.