Maybe you’ve heard it in Sabbath School or sometime during the sermon- “The youth today have lost their morality!”
As one of the only people under the age of 45 attending my weekly Sabbath School class, I find myself butting heads with this kind of thing often. Underneath these comments seems to be the underlying idea that young people no longer have self-control. The perception that we just go with our urges. Strangely enough, what follows is almost always under one of the following categories: drugs, sex, or entertainment. Our television is too explicit. Our music is too vulgar. All of this despite the fact that there have been several studies suggesting that Millennials are having less sex, using less drugs, and even attending night clubs less than our parents before us.
See, what we need to understand is that Millennials DO value self-control. Greatly. Our priorities just don’t center around sex, drugs, or media. We tend to be more absorbed in social issues like racial and gender equality, human rights, and treatment of the environment. To me (and, I believe, a good number of my peers) it’s actually taken a lot of self-control to deal with these issues. As a straight, white, American Christian male, I am a firm believer in learning about experiences I’ve never personally dealt with. Educating yourself and participating in difficult conversations takes deliberate effort. Take a look at some recent news. You see all those protests? That’s not a lack of self-control at work, it IS self-control at work. That’s a whole lot of people deliberately planning out their days to show up and support each other. Protest and social education isn’t comfortable. The conversations it starts can make you nauseous. Self-control encompasses all aspects of life, not just what you do for fun. It includes discovering and fighting your biases, refraining from quick judgments and personal attacks. Sometimes it seems like this narrower idea of self-control has been the centerpiece for our faith.
In Galatians 5:22-23 Paul gives us those famous fruits of the Spirit, the signs that God is at work in someone’s life. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Notice that self-control is at the very end of eight other character traits. It’s one of a whole lot of aspects of a Christ-like character, yet I often feel that it’s viewed by many as our top priority. The more we focus on how “out-of-control” our young people are, the more we forget to look at them through these other lenses. Are they loving? Joyful? Kind? How are they applying self-control in ways we don’t think about? I’m not here to promote promiscuity, drug use, or explicit media. I’m just here to say they’re pieces in a much larger puzzle. I’m sure we could learn a thing or two from our older brothers and sisters in those areas, but maybe we have a few things we could teach them as well.