Evangelicals Re-Examine Youth Outreach After Virginia Tech Tragedy

WASHINGTON – The solution to reaching the youth lies within the church, the family and each person, said a group of evangelical leaders grappling to understand what needs to be done to avoid another Virginia Tech shooting.

For many of the Christian leaders – parents themselves of college students – the story of the 23-year-old gunman's shooting spree was not just someone else's story. In some sense, they said looking at their children and the younger generation they could relate to the isolation and hopelessness expressed by gunman Seung-Hui Cho.

"I have three kids, two of them in college. I certainly thought about them when I heard what had happen at Virginia Tech," shared Dr. Barrett Duke, the vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, at a press conference this week.

He pointed out that the culture and music of the younger generation is vastly different than the music he grew up with in the 1950s and '60s. Instead of music mostly about having fun and hope of changing the world into a better place, today's music is often times about despair and hopelessness.

"The likelihood that you don't change anything and you just kind of exist – that is the way that so many of these kids feel today," observed Duke. "They are just not sure that anything can change…. so I think kids today are growing up much more cynical, much more skeptical and much less hopeful than we did in the turbulent and insane '60s and 70s."

The Baptist leader emphasized that the church must understand the culture that the younger generation is growing up in and quickly adapt methods that can deliver the Gospel message to them in a relevant way.

"Their entire culture is different. They relate to people differently. They relate to truth claim differently yet we keep inviting them to church but we are still doing church and presenting truth like we did in the '50s and '60s," said Duke.

"I think [that it is] absolutely crucial that the church stop telling teenagers to get where it is and begin to identify where the kids are and begin to develop and craft ministries that speak specifically to the life situations and the thoughts and thinking patterns that today's youth have," he declared. "If we don't we will continue to see the youth leave the church and consider them irrelevant and we will continually see our culture decay."

A strong family unit was the answer posed by the Rev. Young Hwan Kim, president of Asian Clergy Association of the United Methodist Church in Virginia. His son, who is currently studying in Korea, had also attended Virginia Tech University and was a Resident Assistant (R.A.) at the same dormitory that Cho launched his first attack.

An emotional Kim looked towards the family to set a good example and engage their children in a Christian life. The Korean pastor said parents have to practice what they believe, especially teachings such as loving your neighbor.

"When children do not see from their parents the real Christian life there is no way, no place they can learn how they can practice Christian life," said Kim. "So I think parents and adults need to make sure whether we really live Christian lives or are we just sort of hypocrites."

However, for Dr. Janice Shaw Crouse – director and senior fellow of The Beverly LaHaye Institute at Concerned Women for America – even on an individual basis people can make a change and impact the youth.

She noted that adults often limit themselves from speaking to the youth because of their own insecurities. However, adults must move past their fears and seek opportunities to share and connect with the youth.

"One of the sad things I think about our contemporary culture is that we have come to worship youth so much that too often our young people have only each other to turn to to share their mutual woes," commented Crouse. "Instead, we as the older generation ought to offer them the wisdom of what we've seen as we have gone through our valleys and we have suffered the pain that have been part of our lives."

Crouse said that many times adults haven't sought platforms to present the truth to the younger generation and have consequentially left the youth with only the "myths of a postmodern culture."

Wednesday's evangelical gathering was organized by the Rev. Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, in response to the Virginia Tech shootings that left 33 people dead Monday, including the gunman. Other speakers included the Rev. Lt. Colonel Barry Swanson, national chief secretary of The Salvation Army; Bishop Harry Jackson, president of High Impact Leadership Coalition; the Rev. Geoff Tunnicliffe, president of the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA); and Marion Kim, press secretary for the WEA.

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