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The Sins of a Generation

My, how the mind wanders when it ought to be working on homework.

Mine has wandered now to two conversations I had — one, several months ago with Liam, my brother-in-law, and another several weeks later with my good friend and seminarian, Brad.

I asked both of them, What might turn out to be our generation’s public, corporate sin?

And just to be clear, I didn’t mean our generation of Americans. Rather, I was speaking of, and write about now, our generation of Christ followers.

That question arises from my wondering if a public, corporate sin of the previous generation has been the politicizing, and coincidentally diluting and distorting, of the gospel. Which is to say, public demonstrations of the faith have consisted, over the past several decades, primarily of political discourse.

Let me here define what I mean by “political.” I’m not referring to the public policy process, but rather all the spin, truth-bending and self-interest that so often attends that process.

OK. So, the problem with political discourse, at least as I see it, is that, among other things, it’s binary: One’s own side is all good, while the Others’ side is totally and utterly bad. Only two options exist; you must pick one.

Flowing out of the binarity of political discourse is the dehumanizing of the Other. If my perspective is totally correct, only a crazy person could subscribe to the alternative position. While political discourse may be a convenient way of relating to the world — after all, you either agree with me in total or you’re crazy — it necessarily leads to the dehumanizing of the Other.

All of which, as a side note, strikes me as inherently odd. Aren’t we Christians called to love our enemies? To pray for them, even? An interesting thing about praying for one’s enemies is that one ceases to have enemies; one can hardly continue hating another while also genuinely and earnestly praying for them.

All that to say, we do a disservice to the gospel, and to those who desperately need that Good News, when our mode of comporting ourselves publicly is primarily political.

Perhaps I’m committing the sin of painting in brush stokes that are too broad by saying this, but it seems to me that our generation is eschewing political discourse as the mode for Christianly public engagement. At least I am, as are so are many of my thinking friends.

If our generation isn’t going to commit the sins that attend political discourse, what, then, will be our generation’s public, corporate sin?

I’m not saying we necessarily will commit some sin of our own. But that we wouldn’t seems unlikely. We humans, in our fallen nature, rarely inhabit that balance between extremes. In attempting to ameliorate one problem, we swing like pendulums right to another, and without paying our swinging much attention.

So I’ll ask again: To what sin might we millennials resort? And who will become our Other?

But here’s another, hopefully more positive question: How might we be wary of our generation’s tendencies and reactions, and in so doing guard against them now before they become entrenched in the culture of our generation?

Our answers to that question will define us Christ followers — and, consequently, our Christ — for decades to come.

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