Required reading

You need to go right now and read the excerpt from Eboo Patel’s latest book that’s on the uuworld.org Web site. Patel points out that totalitarians and fundamentalists have done a very good job at recruiting teenagers to engage in “targeted assassinations and mass murder” in the name of religious beliefs. Pluralists and religious liberals and moderates, on the other hand, don’t invest in teenagers, and even actively push them away:

Too many adults secretly consider the absence of young people in mainstream religious communities the natural course of events, viewing the kids as too self-absorbed, materialistic, and anti-authoritarian to be interested in religion. The result is that adults pay lip service to the importance of involving youths in faith communities but let themselves off the hook when it comes to actually building strong, long-lasting youth programs. Youth activities are typically the top item in a congregation’s newsletter but the last line in the budget. Youth programs are the most likely to be funded by short-term grants, and youth ministers are the first to be fired when a religious community has financial problems.

Next time you hear someone in a Unitarian Universalist congregation say, “Well of course we don’t have any teenagers, kids that age don’t want to do religion” — challenge them on that point, tell them that if they keep saying that it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy, tell them that simply by saying that they are helping to force our kids out of our congregations.

Then go read Sustainable Youth Ministry: Why most youth ministry doesn’t last and what your church can do about it by Mark DeVries. DeVries says that building a thriving youth ministry is possible, but it requires long-term commitment and hard work:

If you’re looking for a book that can give you easy steps for building a thriving youth ministry in the next three months, I’m afraid you’ve picked the worng one. Oh, there are steps (and rest assured I’ll be giving them to you), but they’re anything but quick, and on occasion, they will be so difficult that you’ll ask yourself why you got into this enterprise in the first place. But there is good news: building a sustainable, thriving youth ministry is not only possible, it’s actually predictable. Sadly, most churches don’t have the patience….

Most mainstream churches (and Unitarian Universalist congregations) don’t have the patience, that is. The totalitarians and fundamentalists do, and they have built thriving youth ministries that produce fanatics. If we poured the kind of energy and effort and money into youth that they do, we could nurture a huge cadre of young people committed to spreading peace and justice and love throughout the world. If only we had the patience….

5 thoughts on “Required reading”

  1. Re: The totalitarians and fundamentalists do, and they have built thriving youth ministries that produce fanatics

    You lose all of your good points until there Dan. I met many kids from Wheaton College while volunteering at Cook County Jail. They did bible study programs with inmates while I taught math and english for guys working on their GEDs.

    I admire them a lot.

  2. Dan,

    Do you really know of “totalitarian and fundamentalist” groups running youth programs in the US that create terrorists? The only example Patel can come up with is Benjamin Smith, who was affiliated with an explicitly anti-Christian racist cult group. The association of Smith with “Christian Identity” is a simple lie.

    The reality is that while America does have its share of crazy young people who, unfortunately, find it easy to get guns, there is very little organized terrorism in the United States. I can’t think of any organized Hindu or Islamic terrorist groups in the US. In a country where 15,000 people are murdered every year for utterly secular reasons, why is almost non-existent religious terrorism a priority? Patel reminds me of the opening song of The Music Man. Patel tries to scare us into thinking the kids are becoming terrorists so that we will fund his group.

    I’m all for church youth groups. But claiming that inadequate support for youth groups is creating terrorists in the US is a blatant pander to people’s worst prejudices.

  3. Tom, you’re correct that Patel’s comments, while true for the global context, do not translate as well to the U.S. context. In the U.S. context, it would be more accurate to say that U.S. youth are getting seduced by hyper-consumerism, which is arguably akin to totalitarianism and fundamentalism in that it is not human-centered nor particularly humane, and in that it has an agenda which has nothing to do with building strong democracy.

    For me, the real take-away from Patel’s argument is that pluralists tend to see youth as not requiring much in the way of attention or resources.

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