I am fond of relating to my listeners the fact that I reside in rural Lancaster County, PA--what's known as "Pennsylvania Dutch Country"--and that I commute daily to Philadelphia, the nation's sixth-largest city. The contrast of people and experiences I encounter makes for colorful comparisons and storytelling--usually, that is. But, more often these days, it is the growing similarities between my native central PA and the "big city" that consume my thoughts.
This week, I was shocked to hear that--at least one public high school in conservative Lancaster County--there are literally dozens of teen homosexuals and "couples" who are "out" and vocal about their "lifestyle choice." "Cruising" the halls and pursuing same sex encounters, these young ones are literally daring other students, teachers, school boards, and parents to do anything about it. As God would have it, I met less than 24 hours later with the representative of a national teen ministry who confirmed--in harrowing detail--everything I had heard as being "the norm" in many schools and communities across America.
Now, we could spend hours and hundreds of column inches talking about the causes of such a travesty alone. Such discussion is necessary, but is not the highest priority right now. Three thoughts sprung immediately to mind, as we pondered and prayed over the needs of our kids. First: it's the church, and Christian parents like me, who need to have the scales removed from our eyes. The unchurched, I believe, are fully aware of the cultural desolation our kids face every day; they're just unwilling, or unable, to do anything about it. No, I believe it's the church, and Christians, who are in denial here. We're pretty sure our kids aren't wrapped up in abuse, or an addiction, or cutting themselves. We're careful to keep our saintly children away from such influences, and don't see the obvious signs. I comfort myself by clinging to this belief, because pondering the alternative frightens me: Could it be that Christians recognize such problems, and yet, are not doing everything we can to save the kids of our communities from destruction?
The second thought I had was Jesus' clear warning to those who would cause our little ones to stumble.* As I receive that passage, it's not merely enough that we don't personally put the snare before our children's feet. How culpable are we--as parents and role models--if we aren't actively working to remove those obstacles, even if placed in their way by others? Knowing about the problem, and doing nothing to change it, is reason enough to suspect you're being sized up for a millstone of your own.
Finally, a general statement about how we fight for our kids. Truly, words are not enough. We must join the battle with our time, our resources, and our whole hearts. But we cannot fight culture wars foolishly. Any army that mobilizes for conflict, but forgets to pack medical supplies, is setting itself up for sure defeat. Some of the hurting will need only a bandage, or a little salve. For many others, though, a full M*A*S*H unit is in order. We'll need battlefield triage for both innocent victims, and our wounded soldiers alike. Let's not forget also our obligation to render aid to injured enemy forces, as well: it's a primary goal of our Christian warfare. Still, we've only considered one level of care.
To complete the metaphor, of course, we need our "hospitals" to be ready to deal with the "incoming"...and you know just what I'm speaking of...our churches. Unfortunately, most of the beds in those "hospitals" are frequently occupied by those with chronic illnesses. Our "emergency room" personnel are severely overworked, under-trained, and ill-equipped to handle the really severe trauma being suffered out there every day the battle rages. Over time, the word has gotten out that caring treatment is not always available in our little "church clinics"...yet, we're somehow still surprised when the ambulances go flying past our door. Sadly, the casualties are mounting--and the victims are getting younger.
But please, forgive my "broad brush." If your church is on the front lines of spiritual care, I thank you for your faithfulness, and for having the vision to recognize the need. If young people are an equal, or even higher, priority than the adults in your church, well--I know you've likely already experienced the blessing God has for you, and you want even more! But to the others, I'm begging you today, with all of my heart. If the youth of your church and community rank somewhere beneath your sports program or your website, it's time to check your pulse. You might need a little "emergency surgery" of your own.