I RECENTLY ACCEPTED an invitation to appear on a daytime interview on a new local TV station of Christian fundamentalist orientation. The invitation said I could choose my own topic. That is so different from interview shows, that I should have smelled a rat from the beginning.
I decided to take some good news with me. I had been learning, by reading and by talking with young people, about the serious search for spiritual reality among not only Generation X-ers, but also high school age kids.
So I said I wanted to talk about this search for spirituality among young people and what it means for Christians and for Christian evangelism. I appeared at the appointed time, and the interviewer began by asking me what I thought of today’s youth in the light of a recent survey that showed that 50 per cent admitted to have stolen something, 70 per cent to cheating on an exam and 90 per cent to having told a serious lie.
I was taken aback by an opening comment so far from what I wanted to talk about that I nearly responded with my real thought, namely, that kids hadn’t change an iota from my school days 50 years ago. (If I were answering today, I would have said that perhaps they were training to run the Olympics.)
But I didn’t say anything so flip. I just tried to steer the conversation in the direction of the agreed topic. After the commercial break, the interviewer picked up the conversation by quoting again these statistics and beginning another diatribe against what she called “today’s kids.”
Somehow I survived this assault, but it wasn’t until I was halfway home that I realized what game was being played. The interviewer knew well that daytime watchers of fundamentalist TV don’t want to hear that young people have spiritual longings. Their attitude towards young people is a mixture of fear and hate, and they want to hear that kids are wicked; they want to sustain their own mental contrast between the virtuous generation of which they are part and the godless young.
Years ago I was a lecturer in a teachers’ college, preparing Anglican teachers whose school boards might ask them to do religious instruction. We began at the beginning, where the Bible begins, with creation. A teacher’s beliefs about the creation of humanity are crucial, so we began with the affirmation that God created us as good. The Genesis story quotes God, looking at the whole creation and saying, “Very good.” We also know that each of us is deeply flawed and that sinfulness is like a dye staining our whole life, a dye we cannot remove by our own efforts. But that stain cannot destroy the fundamental goodness of our creation.
Whenever I am tempted to apply the label “wicked” to a class or a category or an age group, I need to turn to the story of God’s first word about us: “Good.” Early Christian thinkers said of human beings that we are “capable of God,” that is, capable of a relation with the unutterably holy God, however frail we may be. And that means, among other things, however young or old we are. Infancy or Alzheimer’s may severely limit that capacity but cannot destroy it. And that, like the story I thought was going to able to tell on TV, is good news.
Archbishop Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.