Where the youth are
The question "where are the youth?" is one I have often heard at interfaith gatherings. As one who is still considered amongst the youth (though well into my career), I often feel this myself. At recent gatherings I have taken to looking around the room, wondering who amongst the participants will still be around in 10, 20 years. The interfaith movement only has as much potential as it has human resources. On the other hand, how many of my distinguished older colleagues were involved in interfaith work in their youth? They are there now, and I have faith that left to their own devices, an equal number of today's young people will turn to interfaith work once they get past the prime of their career-building, courtship, and parenting years. Still, interfaith groups need to be developing their young leadership today. In a recent edition of his Sightings project, Martin E. Marty from the University of Chicago Divinity School continues on this theme.
CHI, May 11 (UPI) — War-making takes its toll of young men and women. Agents of conflict, prejudice, intolerant acts, defaming, defacing, and hatred come in all sizes and ages, not least of all among the cohort of collegiates, young singles, and young marrieds.
As for the other side: Among agents of peace-making, reconciliation, positive dealings with others, tolerant acts, and the like — where are the young? Look out from the platform, as I sometimes do, or at the back of heads when I am in the audience, and the vision will be of mainly silver-haired women and post-haired men in their sixties and up. They ask, where are the young?
Numbers of excuses are given for the absence of the younger generations in interfaith causes. First, you have to care about faith to "do" interfaith, and many don't care. Second, the framing of issues was done some time ago by people who are now old; that framing doesn't match what the young are thinking. Third, the young are busy shaping careers and making personal life decisions. They do not have the time that retirees or still-employed seniors have. Fourth, they do not pay much attention to world affairs, do not read newspapers, are ignorant of news, and watch reality TV, not realistic TV. Fifth, they are cynical, unready to care about positive actions since, they think, it doesn't pay.
One can provide counter evidence for some of these, but enough of the generalizations hold that serious citizens must care about how to change the situation. Here's where this week's sighting comes in. The Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC) in late April sponsored community actions in thirty sites worldwide, attracting 4,000 leaders, all young but diverse; "Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha'i, Jain, and Sikh," at least, took part. They were involved across the lines of faiths, cultures, and nations in interfaith conversation and cooperative services of many sorts. This was the third annual National Days of Interfaith Youth Service.
I have come to know a founder, if not the founder, of IFYC — Eboo Patel of Chicago, who, with Patrice Brodeur, corralled a score of writers to treat many aspects of youth service work, and published "Building the Interfaith Youth Movement" (see below for more information). Harvard's Diana Eck, perhaps too hopefully and a bit hyperbolically — but I hope she's right — says this book "is the first fruits of a revolution, the most important and ultimately consequential revolution of our time: the interfaith revolution." She and others describe the Core activities and reflect on them. The IFYC leaders are not wishy-washy "we're all the same despite the names of our faiths" sorts, but help young people draw on the great traditions.
The book, edited by Eboo Patel and Patrice Brodeur is called "Building the Interfaith Youth Movement: Beyond Dialogue to Action".
Martin E. Marty is the Fairfax M. Cone Distinguished Service Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago. This article is reprinted from "Sightings," a project of the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
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