Monday, March 25, 2013

Steubenville through the Eyes of a Youth Pastor

In 2008, our youth ministry shifted its name from "The Cove" to "Imago Dei." We adjusted our identity from place to person. The move was intentional. We believe that, if nothing else, our call as youth workers is to walk alongside youth as they discover their God-given identity and shared story. We long to unveil an image of worth, purpose, promise, and grace rooted in the love of their Creator and person of Jesus, an image that trumps all others up for sale in our culture. We challenge youth to live into this imago Dei as they quest to follow this Jesus, the perfect image of the invisible God (Col. 1:15-20).

We also remind youth they are not the only image bearers. All of humanity are created this way, which calls all of us to hold human dignity and worth at the forefront of all we say and do.

This is true regardless of who they are, what they have done, what they have failed to do, what they drank, what they were forced to drink, how much they drank, their family history, their gender, their sexual orientation, their social class, their athletic ability (or lack thereof), their faith, their doubt...the list goes on.

Imago Dei. Human dignity. Shared identity.

We are our brothers and sisters keepers.

Love God. Love Neighbor.

So as I poured over the articles last week regarding the Steubenville trial, two high school football players convicted of the rape of a teenage girl and defamation of the beloved imago Dei via social media, text messages, and a whole host of other evil and gross _________ (there's not a word in the English language that can do justice), I decided I would wait a bit to post.

Then the trial came up this past Sunday in a variety of conversations with middle and high school youth. I am not interested in raw commentary. Instead, here are a few reflections that I encourage all youth to consider in light of this monstrosity. Feel free to add your own.

Speak Up for Those Who Cannot Speak for Themselves (Proverbs 31:8)

We have a tendency to assume that we are only responsible for our actions. We neglect to hold ourselves accountable when we fail to act (James 4:17). Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, "History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people." We have a very real obligation to do something when face-to-face with horrific acts of evil and injustice. My prayer for young people is to do something. When at a party, in the hallways, in locker rooms, on Facebook or Twitter, and when you receive a text message that you know is not right- do something about it. Right a wrong. Speak up for the victim of hate and violence. You may not have to do much, but do something.

Beware of Social Media and Text Messaging

It is a sad reality that privacy is somewhat a thing of the past. It's also horrifying to know that what we tweet, post, or text has an ability to go viral before we bat an eyelash. Remember that what may seem innocent, harmless, humorous, or playful can be devastating and destructive, and for much longer than that moment you decide to press send. Even more, what could it mean to love God and love neighbor through the technology we possess in our hands and at our finger tips? How can we use these platforms for good versus evil? My prayer for young people is to use censorship, sound judgment, and recognize the opportunities to use technology for sharing good news of God's love versus offensive images, unrecoverable statements, and hateful rhetoric that can tear a person down for a long, long time.

Nothing Good Ever Happens with Under-Age Drinking

I have yet to hear a story of someone attending a party and having a few "harmless" drinks and then saying, "yes, I was able to love God and love neighbor better." On the flip side, I can recollect an endless trail of reports and tragedies that have occurred when sober judgment was not exercised and young men and young women were violated and abused. Say no. For the love of God, say no. Parents, say no. For the love of God and neighbor, be a parent and not a buddy. Still, if you are somewhere where drinking is taking place, don't drink. Speak up. Do something. Look out for victims who may wake up and not remember what could have happened or what may have happened. Prevent something from happening. Be a whistle blower.

Sports Are Not That Important

Some of the worse statements that have come out of Steubenville were those made to defend star athletes. Society has placed athletics upon an idolatrous pedestal, whether at the professional or youth level. We sacrifice our children upon altars of oppressive practice schedules and expectations of greatness and full scholarships. We also elevate athletes to a social status that no longer holds them or their coaches accountable to their actions, their academics, their ethics, or treatment of young women, young men, and gay kids. We use rhetoric on sports fields that I hesitate to ever post publicly. I was a coach and a player on both the high school and college level and cringe when I remember what has been said in locker rooms and between the lines. Sports are not that important nor are they beyond reproach. Human dignity is worth more than a touchdown, a goal, or a state championship.

God Is Always on the Side of the Victim and the Oppressed

As much as we may enjoy the Friday night lights, God's preference is for those who have been pushed to the margins of our communities, our schools, our stadiums, and our parties. We must take a good look in the mirror and consider, what are we doing as parents, mentors, coaches, teachers, pastors, and peers to advocate for the victims of all sorts of heinous crimes against humanity? What are we doing to foster an environment where kids can feel safe, protected, heard, respected, loved, welcomed, and treated as though they had worth and value? How can we communicate a message that violence against another will never be tolerated and that victims always have an advocate? God is always on the side of the victim because God, in the person of Jesus, was victimized by the system. Jesus also resurrected from it. May the same be true of youth victimized by our own oppressive and naive systems of power and privilege. Side note: It's ridiculous to hold those who have had their dignity violated, abused, raped and tweeted away more accountable than those who sought that person's ruin.

You Are Loved

If youth hear nothing else when they are in my youth ministry, I hope and pray they hear the message of God's love for them in Jesus. There is nothing more powerful and hopeful than to know that you have worth and value in a world that defines us by our possessions, performances, appearances, and achievements. You are not a number. You are not a letter. You are not a scholarship. You are not an athlete. You are not product. You are not property. You are not shame. You are not failure. You are not beyond redemption. You are not without hope.

You are the imago Dei. So are your peers.

That's something to celebrate.

That's something to put on a t-shirt.

That's something to name a youth ministry.

I am so glad we did.


Few Articles:

Steubenville Rape Case: From Blame to Responsibility by Adam Ericksen via

There Was Only One Victim at Steubenville by Clementine Ford

10 Living Hopes for Youth (an old post)