In the guise of helping pastors, parents, and teachers “understand” and “reach out” to Generation Z, this book showcases the very problems it tells readers to avoid. White chides church leaders for clinging to the models of previous generations (door-to-door evangelism, large events) even while demonstrating a remarkable tone deafness to the deeper concerns of this generation (racism, homophobia, violence in schools, and the list goes on).
White begins the book by drawing on standard research from Pew, Gallup, and Barna to demonstrate the scope of the problem—young adults going AWOL from religion if they ever had religion in the first place. So far, so good as books go; White can be a clear and effective writer when he’s not lazily quoting his own previous books ad nauseam.
And then things get vague. The church needs to be “countercultural,” he asserts, but he has an easier time telling us what this isn’t than what it is. It’s not the Benedict Option, in which Christians withdraw from society and politics; it’s not fundamentalism, which is a thoroughgoing rejection of the modern world; it’s not the tactic of the religious right, which is to politicize the bejesus out of faith.
Instead, countercultural means for “the church to be the church” and “truly Christlike.” Which is nice, but tells us nothing.
I’d be more likely to give White the benefit of the doubt about counterculturalism if he weren’t showing on every page that his Christianity is not, in fact, countercultural. It’s bowing to a very specific 1950s American Christianity. So it’s “countercultural” by the measures of today, but not in a good way.
Consider what he has to say about women. To reach Generation Z, he tells readers, it’s important to “target men” first and foremost. His church (which he reminds us many times has been successfully growing despite the godless landscape of . . . um, North Carolina, the nation’s tenth-most-religious state) “unashamedly” puts men first in its marketing materials, sermons, music choices, and décor.
What does it mean to target men? It means you think about male sensibilities in terms of music and message, vocabulary and style. . . . When I give a message, I talk like a man talks, specifically, the way a man talks with other men. Direct and maybe a little rough around the edges. But men talk football, not fashion. So I cater to a man’s humor, his interests, his world, his way of thinking, his questions. (148)
If you can reach men, he says, women and children will follow (“if you get the man, you get everyone else within his orbit”).
There are some real problems with this argument. First, this is supposed to be a book about reaching people in their teens and early twenties. One of the major shifts in American culture is that many adults are delaying marriage until their 30s or not getting married at all. So this whole evangelistic focus on older men with wives and children totally ignores the demographic we purchased this book to learn more about.
Second, he never thinks to challenge the patriarchal structure that would dictate that if you can get a man to church, his wife and children will automatically and obediently follow: If it worked in America in the 1950s, by golly, it’s surely good enough for us now!
What’s especially myopic about that lack of self-awareness is that this is supposed to be a book about “understanding” Generation Z. But this is a generation that can sniff out inequality and white male privilege like a basset hound, God bless them. They care about diversity and inclusion, even to the point where they don’t want to work for companies that don’t share those values.
Why, then, would White assume Gen Zers would fall in line with churches that so obviously disregard gender equality? If they won’t be associated with the old boys’ club when they’re getting a paycheck for it, why would they do so on their own time?
Third, the advice to “target men” may be having the opposite long-term effect from what White wants, which is more butts in the pews. There’s solid longitudinal evidence that young women are now leaving religion at even higher rates than young men—which is a reversal from previous generations. This exodus is likely due to many factors, but it’s not hard to imagine that enduring a childhood of sermons that drew proudly upon hypermasculine football metaphors and assumptions that women were considered less important may play a part. Just thinking out loud here.
It’s not just in this particularly egregious “target men” section that White’s lack of concern for women is made clear; it’s pervasive in the book’s citations and assumptions. He quotes or mentions five men for every woman (yes, I counted). And almost everyone he quotes, male or female, is white. He gives the obligatory nod to MLK, and then . . . nothing. As though African Americans have had little of value to say in 50 years.
We have to do better than this. And doing better begins with an activity White doesn’t seem to have engaged in much: listening to Generation Z directly.
Talking less and learning more.
Not just calling them to account for their generational sins, but being sensitive to the way they rightly call bullshit on their elders.
ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — A small historically Black college in South Carolina is offering all full-time students free tuition for the upcoming 2021-22 academic year.
Clinton College President Lester McCorn made the announcement last week for qualifying full-time students at the school in Rock Hill. The school had already made the commitment to slash fall tuition by 50% for its students, and offer every student a new tablet, news outlets reported.
But now the college is making tuition free as the school hopes to ensure their students get a college education despite financial hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each full-time student will also get a free Microsoft Surface laptop, McCorn said.
“We want to make sure you can perform with excellence without excuse,” he said.
The school’s website lists the cost of tuition for full-time students at $4,960 per semester, while a full year costs $9,920.
Students who are vaccinated can live on campus and will still be responsible for paying room and board. Those who attend full-time and live off campus can continue their courses online free of charge.
“It has been taxing for each and everyone of us,” McCorn said of the pandemic. “At Clinton College, we have done our best to keep the school moving forward and providing a quality education, even in a virtual environment.”
Clinton College was one of many schools established by the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church during Reconstruction years, to help eradicate illiteracy among freedmen. It has operated continuously for 120 years.
The school is among a wave of smaller schools around the state offering free tuition to students during the pandemic, The Herald reported. Spartanburg Community College is currently offering students a similar deal to anyone taking a minimum of six credits — or two courses — while Denmark Technical College recently offered to waive the costs for the first 500 applicants for the fall semester.
FILE – In this April 13, 2021, file photo, Tennessee State University President Glenda Glover smiles during a press conference in Nashville. Tennessee State University announced on Wednesday, MAY 26, 2021, that it will begin offering an online app design and coding class in two African countries this fall. (George Walker/The Tennessean via AP, FILE)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee State University announced on Wednesday that it will begin offering an online app design and coding class in two African countries this fall.
Robbie Melton, who runs TSU’s coding program, said the idea is to get African students interested in STEM careers and increase the number of Black students entering those fields. App design and coding is an easy introduction.
The courses are offered through a partnership between the historically Black university and the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which operates several schools in Africa. The participating schools are the African Methodist Episcopal University and its feeder high school, Monrovia College, both in Monrovia, Liberia, and Wilberforce Community College, which serves high school and college students in Evaton, a township in South Africa.
TSU already offers the app coding program to more than 30 historically Black colleges and universities in the United States, and more than 2,000 students have participated since it started in 2019, Melton said. Around 20% have gone on to pursue STEM degrees, she said.
In addition to teaching students, TSU faculty members train participating school faculty to be able to give the courses themselves. The same will be true for the African schools, which have signed up 500 students to take the course over the next three years. That includes both college students and high school students who will take advantage of dual-enrollment.
If some of the students decide to continue their studies with TSU, the school is now able to offer degrees remotely through virtual classes, TSU President Glenda Glover said.
“Our global mission is to empower underserved populations,” Glover said. “Access to education is challenging in parts of Africa. We’re meeting that challenge and breaking those barriers.”
Moments Of Kindness And Solidarity Shine During George Floyd Protests | TODAY | Video Courtesy of TODAY
A tin of cookies is left on the running board of an ambulance outside a nursing home with a note for the emergency workers who operate it: “You’re AMAZING! Yes, you!”
A baggie sits on the edge of a fountain with dozens of copper coins and another message, for anyone who passes by and fancies tossing one in: “Take a penny. Make a wish! Hope your dreams come true.”
This is the world of Sparks of Kindness, an online community of people going out of their way to put a smile on the faces of others through small but touching good deeds, especially in tumultuous times of pandemic, protests and political division.
“There’s so much bad in the world, and that’s kind of what we hear about,” said Debbie McFarland, a 53-year-old photographer from Peachtree City, Georgia, who founded the group on Facebook. “But I found that there’s so many people that want to do good — they just don’t really know how to start.”
That’s where Sparks of Kindness comes in. It has lists of ideas for “sparks,” or small kindnesses people can do such as thanking a teacher with candy or leaving coloring books in a hospital waiting room.
Users share their ideas and stories in the forum. Among them:
— “Took flowers to the neighbor. She had been caring for a sick friend and thought she could use a little cheer.”
— “I gave the guy in front of me $20 since his debit didn’t go through. My emergency $20 came in handy… he hugged me, so I may get Covid, but he was very appreciative!”
— “Took hot soup and biscuits to a sick mama next door.”
McFarland said she encourages people to do “sparks” when they’re struggling in their own lives. It helps them cope with their own traumas.
She enjoys leaving notes in stores for others to find — say, “You’re beautiful just the way you are” in the cosmetics aisle, or “This too shall pass. Hang in there” amid the cold and flu remedies.
Once, McFarland watched in a grocery store as a weary woman in medical scrubs with three crying young children in tow came across one of those pick-me-ups. She looked around, broke out in a smile and tucked the note into her pocket.
She’s also fond of the story of a woman who put her 4-year-old daughter’s comforter in the washing machine at a laundromat, only to realize she didn’t have money for the dryer. Almost by magic, a bag of quarters left by a member of the group materialized. After the woman went on the Facebook group and posted her thanks, another member bought her a new dryer.
McFarland encourages people to keep their eyes open for random acts of kindness, like helping an older adult struggling to load groceries into the trunk. But she also wants them to do good with planning and intent — “deliberate acts of kindness,” as she puts it.
“When you’re making your to-do list for the day or the week, you think about where you’re going that particular day,” she said. “If you’re going to the tire shop, maybe swing by and pick up a pack of cookies. … Or if you know you’re going to the school, maybe pick up a hot chocolate for the crossing guard.”
Launched several years ago, Sparks of Kindness has grown to some 5,000 members in about 40 countries, according to McFarland. Interest has picked up during the pandemic, with about 500 new people joining since it began.
“During this pandemic, I think people are starting to realize that … every person you come into contact with is fighting some kind of battle, whether it’s appointments or unmet expectations of others or health or bullying or whatever it is,” McFarland said. “Everyone’s facing a battle, and if you can get one tiny spark to ignite a hope within them, then it does something within them.”
“One Good Thing” is a series that highlights individuals whose actions provide glimmers of joy in hard times — stories of people who find a way to make a difference, no matter how small. Read the collection of stories at https://apnews.com/hub/one-good-thing
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.
Reflecting on a polarized nation in the throes of a bitterly fought election, Stephanie Christoffels started the communal prayer at a fall training of her fellow Minnesota National Guard chaplains by reminding them of Christianity’s two greatest commandments: to love God and neighbor.
“It’s difficult to love our neighbors … to go on Facebook and see what they’re posting,” the Lutheran pastor and only female chaplain in the Minnesota Guard told the faith leaders in military fatigues, each with the cross insignia of a Christian chaplain and many with badges for service in combat zones. “It’s hard to love people that hate us.”
National Guard troops were deployed during this summer’s widespread unrest over racial injustice following George Floyd’s death in police custody in Minneapolis, and again this fall in the city as a surge in violent crime collided with heated debate over law enforcement and race.
Now the chaplains say they’re working on two main lessons learned from those tumultuous times: Building bridges within tense communities and bringing faith-grounded calm and comfort to the front lines whenever they may be mobilized again — possibly as soon as next March, when the officers charged in Floyd’s killing go on trial.
“The work isn’t done,” said Buddy Winn, the state chaplain and a Pentecostal pastor in the Twin Cities. “It’s about relationships … to establish some trust, to de-escalate threats. To people of faith I say, ‘pray hard.’”
The role of Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist and Hindu faith leaders who serve as National Guard chaplains nationwide has grown more crucial, and more challenging, as thousands of soldiers and airmen, most of them in their 20s, find themselves mobilized not only for natural disasters and overseas conflicts but also domestic unrest.
When the protests erupted in Twin Cities neighborhoods following Floyd’s death, Minnesota’s governor authorized the state National Guard to fully activate for its largest domestic deployment in history.
Sam Houston, a Baptist pastor and the Minnesota National Guard’s only Black chaplain, said he saw protesters taunting some African American guard members — and heard soldiers agonize about wishing they could stand with demonstrators.
“You’re providing the opportunity for people to protest peacefully for you,” Houston advised them, adding that their role in serving was to ensure a safe environment.
“It’s only the people who were trying to break the law,” he said, “that needed to be concerned about the guard.”
Raised in an Army family, Houston plans to spend even more time on the front lines if activated again, “taking care of the soldiers and just praying for discernment, for what to do and what not to do … because as our commander put it, the only thing standing between a good day and a bad day is literally 6 pounds of pressure on the trigger.”
Michael Creagan, the state guard’s only Catholic chaplain, recalled how on a bright Saturday in late May, he was looking forward to celebrating Pentecost with the first public in-person services since lockdown. Instead, he was abruptly called up to join the approximately 10,000 other guard members being mobilized to help law enforcement protect hospitals, federal buildings and the state Capitol.
It was at the Capitol that he celebrated Mass for troops bunking there, a few blocks from the worst of the damage St. Paul saw during the protests. For the nine days he was away from his parish and school, Creagan supplied soldiers with “piles” of rosaries — “they go fast,” he said of the Catholic devotional beads — and tried to provide some grace and “normalcy” through Mass and confession.
He’s preparing for a possible next time by readying a supply of sacred scriptures from a variety of faiths to better counsel troops from other religious traditions — the Quran, for example, for Muslim soldiers.
“It’s the basic right of the free practice of religion,” Creagan said. “We pluck them up and deploy them, but they need to have their rights protected.”
Winn said chaplains’ fundamental objective has remained unchanged since the first were put in paid Army positions in 1775: to provide pastoral care to their units. That includes everything from leading worship services to counseling the nonreligious, a group that in the Minnesota Guard represents about a third of members.
“You’re the pillar of spiritual resilience for your unit,” said Winn, who wears a bracelet engraved with the names of two Marines who were killed in Iraq in 2007 and whose bodies he retrieved from their forward operating base.
That kind of war-zone experience can help chaplains like him with another important duty: advising commanders on the impact religion might have on any mission. When that involves civil unrest, it means reminding commanders that “we’re not going out against an enemy,” Winn said.
Chaplains are also called to sensitize commanders to potential moral trauma among the troops, such as one case where Winn witnessed a young Black soldier being harangued by protesters for not being with them. And they can be especially useful in defusing such confrontations, as men and women of faith and because they do not carry weapons.
Chaplains wrestle with the same tensions as the regular guard members over being deployed to U.S. protests.
“It was really strange, being worried about myself in my own state,” said Christoffels, a mother of three who served in the Middle East before the summer callup. “We’re trained to do all this, but it’s just different when it’s your own turf.”
In the fall training at the St. Paul armory, she urged the two dozen chaplains to take care of themselves, take time to breathe and work to find some element of commonality even among people engaged in bitter confrontations, whether at a barricade or in the pews.
Christoffels closed her prayer by invoking God’s grace for chaplains, soldiers and civilians alike: “Help us when we’re having a difficult time loving people the way you want us to.”
Associated Press religion coverage receives support from the Lilly Endowment through the Religion News Foundation. The AP is solely responsible for this content.