Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.
Millennials Care About Political Community (and Just Tweeted About It)
Millennials Care About Political Community (and Just Tweeted About It)
May 18, 2015
I am part of a selfie-taking, Netflix-watching, parents’ couch-surfing, Uber-riding, tweeting generation. If you don't know what those things are, then you are probably not a millennial.
These are a few of the things that characterize my generation of 18- to 34-year-olds, otherwise known as millennials. Stereotypes of a self-obsessed, social media-addicted generation tend to define us. For millennials who move to cities (we love to do that, according those who study us), this can be even more pronounced.
And while some of these characterizations might be true, I want to contest that we are so much more. I was recently on a panel tasked with offering a response to a lecture by Rev. David Kim, Executive Director of the Center for Faith and Work at Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In his lecture, “Serving the City, Shaping the Political Community” David noted that the responsibilities of the government and of citizens are paramount for the flourishing of the city.
The Example of DC 127
One of the best examples of political community in action that I know of in my city is called DC 127. DC127 is a foster care initiative that was started in 2013 by a small group of millennials at The District Church in Washington, DC. They saw a need in their city-- there were far too many kids waiting to find a foster family or to be adopted in DC-- and desired to “reverse the list.” Instead of kids waiting for families, they envisioned a day when families will be the ones waiting on a list for the opportunity to foster or adopt.
They saw a clear instruction from the Bible to care for vulnerable children, and they also saw the church as uniquely positioned to support and recruit foster and adoptive families. With such an abundance of churches in DC, there really was no reason that so many kids should be waiting for families.
Their solution wasn’t what I’ll call “one sphered.” They knew this wasn’t an issue that the church was equipped to solve on its own. However, they also recognized that the church was not merely a “clean-up crew” for the areas where government lets things fall through the cracks-- in this case, children. Instead, they recognized the unique roles and responsibilities that the church, families, government, and other involved institutions bring to the table. They sought out a vital partnership with government and several nonprofits working on foster care. Now a full-time operation, DC127 works closely with DC’s Child and Family Services Agency, local churches, and nonprofits to reverse the list and to equip congregations with the tools they need to better support foster or adoptive parents.
This is a fantastic example of a church (and within it, millennials) reclaiming its role in fostering the healthy civic life in the city.
Millennials and Political Community
In his lecture, David also referred to the phenomenon, identified by sociologist Charles Taylor, of the “cultural trend that has idolized self-fulfillment at the expense of a communal vision of society, weakening … political society.”
In other words, a culture that thrives on selfishness.
There are certainly elements of truth to this in millennial culture. Time Magazine dubbed us the “Me, Me, Me Generation” and noted “The incidence of narcissistic personality disorder is nearly three times as high for people in their 20s as for the generation that's now 65 or older.”
So should we just call it a day here, conceding that millennials are only interested in advancing their own relationships, careers, and agendas? I think we know that we can’t do that, especially because this has vital implications for how millennials perceive political community.
As David noted, a cultural trend of individualization simply can’t coexist with a flourishing political community. Fortunately, I believe that millennials actually do have a deep desire for authentic community, and I’m not talking about acquiring more Facebook friends. The Christian millennials I encounter want to see their city flourish and are passionate about justice issues. What they’re lacking is a framework for thinking through and acting on these aspirations.
The church and Christian colleges and universities must do a better job of equipping young adults to think about what it means to be a citizen in a political community, as well as how to analyze issues of public justice through a lens that affirms the unique roles and responsibilities that various institutions have. Right now in politics, we are often forced to choose between two flawed visions – one that sees government as the whole solution and the other that sees government as the whole problem. Millennials need to rediscover a public justice framework that affirms government as part of the solution, as well as their responsibilities of citizenship within that.
I’ll highlight one community of millennials who have rediscovered that framework. Shared Justice is the Center for Public Justice’s online publication for millennials, which I also happen to edit, so forgive my bias when I say it’s one the best millennial publications out there.
Shared Justice is written by a group of 20- and 30-somethings dedicated to redeeming political life. Writers are thinking through hard issues of poverty, immigration, racial reconciliation, debt, and more. I think if you asked Shared Justice writers or readers what Christian political engagement should look like, they would all make a case that it should not be individualized. Instead, it must be done in a way that actively affirms the necessary complexities of political community.
So where does this leave us going forward?
More millennials are living in cities than ever before, and it’s important to understand what makes cities unique when we consider political community. Social issues, from homelessness to drug abuse to the realities of immigration, are often more concentrated and overtly visible in cities. This presents those of us living in cities with singular challenges, but also with unique opportunities to see the places we call home flourish.
As we approach the 2016 elections, this is an especially opportune time to encourage students, young professionals, and friends to reconsider and re-engage with political life. By highlighting positive examples of millennials doing great work through things like DC 127 and Shared Justice, we can continue to write a counter narrative to that selfie-taking, Netflix-watching, parents’ couch-surfing millennial you know.
Questions for Reflection:
- How does the opinion expressed here challenge your assumptions about the millennial generation?
- What strengths does the millennial generation bring to a healthy civic life?
- What are some concrete ways that you can challenge yourself and others to reconsider and re-engage with your political community?
- Katie Thompson is the editor for Shared Justice, an online journal of the Center for Public Justice dedicated to engaging young Christian thinkers in a conversation on what it means to do public justice.
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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”