A Plurality of Voices

Plurality of VoicesPhoto Credit: Gilberto Agostinho, Creative Commons

Guest Post by Luke Suciu

As a youth pastor I frequently get asked by parents, “What are some issues the students are dealing with in their faith?” and while I am convinced that the removal of obstacles does not equal the presence of faith, I believe the question is a good one. My dad is a pastor, and he always jokes with me that when he was in seminary he was told he only needed to know two things to be a pastor: his position on divorce and remarriage and whether he was going to use the NIV or KJV. Now the humor (or ignorance depending on which angle you look at it) of the position of the Christian seminary in the ‘80s is stunning and if we never ask ourselves the question “What are the new issues?” we are left with an aggressively mediocre approach towards things that can get in the way of faith. With that assertion, that we should be frequently reexamining the issues that our faith encounters, the rest of this blog post will be dedicated to what I believe to be the biggest obstacle to faith in the lives of middle and high school students: an early exposure to a plurality of voices.

Young people are exposed to more voices earlier in their life than ever before. We live in a world where there is a constant stream of people screaming advice. There is always another TED talk to listen to and another blog to read (the irony that I am currently adding to the cacophony of screaming heads is not lost on me) and they all speak as if they have the absolute authority of a medieval monarch. “7 Things That Will Fix Your Depression.” “The 3 Practices That Will GUARANTEE College Acceptance Letters.” “Why Vassals Shouldn’t Have Rights.” Okay maybe I made the last one up, but you get the idea. Scroll through your Facebook feed and keep track of how many status updates and posts are offering the mystical piece of advice to cure every problem you currently have. It never ends. Life has been reduced to a deluge of advice where everyone is a self appointed prophet. Conclusions about difficult issues are constantly asserted as if years of research and depth of thought are backing the conclusion. Ken Wytsma has already dealt with some of these issues in a post he wrote for the Huffington Post titled Are We Talking Too Fast? and while this is not a specifically generational issue I believe this reality has had a profound impact on young people.

Most young people do not have the developed sense of skepticism that the adult world seems to ingrain into the very fabric of existence. There is something beautiful about this naivety, about the ease of belief that comes with youth. It reminds me of the film “The Invention of Lying” where everyone in the world has no ability to lie. Until one man figures out how to lie and everyone believes everything he says simply because they have no reason to doubt anyone who makes any positive statement. Now indulge me for a moment and attempt to imagine the reverse situation: everyone can lie except one person, who uncritically believes what everyone else says. Now give that person internet access, let them watch the evening news, or listen to a few politicians debate. What would they walk away with? This is hyperbole but only slightly (in all fairness this post is dedicated to adolescents and most young people do not watch political debates, but they do watch the Disney channel and in my mind it is generally a toss up as to which medium will produce more blatant lies). We hand our teenagers smart phones, with outright access to the entire sordid history of human thought, and then wonder why they are rebellious or how they developed a self-refuting worldview. Most thirteen year-olds have not developed the ability to discern which people, which blogs, and which videos are credible; it is all just a giant wash of suggestions to be accepted and attempted. As much as I love Google that is not where I want my middle school students to turn when they have questions about sexuality, truth, or why their friends cut themselves. The pluralities of voices are all given equal weight with devastating results.

Before I go any further: I am not advocating for absolute isolationism of children until they turn eighteen when we throw them to the wolves with a handshake and an un-encouraging “Good luck.” Rather, that we as people of faith have bought into a culture that is systematically providing wrong answers and it is time to reconsider the absolute access to the world that we give to young people. 

I am also not advocating that anyone should exclusively read or listen to people that they agree with across the board. Rather, that handing your ten-year-old “Mein Kampf” (which is rather mild in comparison to many things you can find on the internet) in the interest of exposure could be a bad idea for someone of that age. 

The question then remains: What are we to do about this new obstacle our culture presents to the faith of young people? We are not going to be able to reverse the totality of western culture, and even the most careful parents will not be able to make sure that their child never hears from an erroneous voice. There are times when this battle can feel like we are standing underneath a waterfall asking it all to go back up. Is there more of an answer than simply “Try to be careful what you children watch, read, and listen to?” I am by no means an expert on parenting or young people and this is a far more complex question than my two simple suggestions are going to solve, so all I can offer is a starting point from what I have learned in my experience as a youth pastor.

If you are a parent do not simply teach your children the decisions you have already made: teach them how to make decisions. Give them the tools to equip themselves to be discerning people. Our world will present new problems and if we make all the decisions for them eventually they will be left knowing their position on divorce and remarriage and NIV or KJV but nothing else. Before children are given unmitigated access to the world give them the ability to differentiate the good from the bad.

If your child is older and has already been given access to too many voices too early they generally respond in one of two ways: I) accepting everything they hear (truth is relative) or II) rejecting every voice trying to speak into their lives (becoming their own arbiter of truth). In either case the parental response is the same: speak truth and be consistent. No child who has grown up in the overly saturated advertisement world is going to be tricked into thinking faith is cool enough. Faith cannot be cosmetically fixed to look more attractive, simply speak truth and be consistent.

Parenting will never be easy and faith is never guaranteed. If you are a parent trying to help develop faith in your adolescent I beg you to continue the through the difficult journey (as someone who had two godly parents I can promise you it makes a difference). Be careful what voices you allow to speak into the life of your child, teach them how to make decisions, speak truth,  and be consistent.




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