I’m used to getting puzzled looks when I tell people about my work.
Whenever I introduce myself as the advocacy and outreach manager at BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty), the response is usually something along the lines of, “Wow! You’re so young!”
As a 27-year-old, I am honored to coordinate advocacy efforts for such a historic faith-based education and advocacy organization. BJC works on ensuring that faith freedom extends to all people and leads the Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign.
Over the ensuing conversation, acquaintances have remarked that they wished more young people could be involved in politics, voting and church. They see me at the intersection of all three and think of me as an exception to a well-established rule.
There are numerous articles asking why younger generations that are so diverse and well-educated have such apathy toward civic engagement and religion. These conversations are my opportunity to recalibrate the narrative that young people are unengaged.
I’m not the exception to the rule about youth civic engagement, and my peers and I have some insights to share about living out our faith in the public square
My generation’s distinction is that we came of age alongside the internet. This revolutionary tool has opened avenues for innovation.
For example, it provides several lenses to see the lived reality of others, hear their stories and share their success, grief and outrage. It also raises awareness about the issues we care about and advocate for.
In the past, the realities of marginalized individuals and those in historically underserved communities were hidden and painted over because they did not fit the whitewashed American narratives. Those perspectives are now fully available to us and, because of that, the demands to respond to these more visible injustices grow louder.
So why the apathy? My observation is that young people are looking beyond “conventional” politics to solve the issues that have plagued our society for generations.
Some understand political action within the confines of our current two-party system and voting in elections. But beyond those parameters, there are many other forms of advocacy: mutual aid funds and organizations, co-operatives and bail funds.
Many of my peers choose to pursue those methods of direct action and organizing, arguing that the impact is more direct and immediate to the marginalized. I see the growing popularity of these efforts pushing the boundaries of what is defined as “political action.”
Though none of these methods are new, the rise of the internet has made them more accessible and valuable than ever before.
At this point, you may be asking, “What does this have to do with faith?”
Faith asks us to think outside of ourselves, dream bigger and reimagine the world. Faith-based activism, therefore, asks us to work to achieve those righteous goals.
Advocacy is not tied to the constraints of what is politically viable; through faith, we are challenged to move beyond conventional politics to solve the issues that have plagued our society for generations.
Does this sound familiar? It’s exactly the kind of advocacy that my peers and I are currently doing.
The perceived disconnect between faith and justice-activism comes from seeing a single type of faith activism dominate the public square.
How many times have we seen a certain kind of “faith” advocating for “law and order”? How many times has that same faith been co-opted by the state to sanction violence and discrimination against the very people that our faiths call us to protect? How long will we let this religious narrative dominate?
I would like to see another, more responsible, faith-based activism shine in the public square.
I envision a type of faith-based advocacy that works to achieve its ends of providing freedom and justice for all while still respecting religious differences, puts the marginalized and underserved at the forefront and expands the possibilities of our democracy.
That is the type of faith worthy of passing down to the next generation.
I’ve seen firsthand that many young people view the American political landscape with helplessness; they question if the end of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will ever come to pass.
Some would describe it as if the appetite for justice in our very souls is being starved. Even as an advocacy professional, I have sometimes found myself discouraged beyond words.
In moments of desperation for our democracy, I’m reminded that at the core of my Christian faith is the idea of overcoming insurmountable odds and facing down presumably certain doom. I remember that giants do fall.
Faith gives us something to hold on to in those moments of profound sorrow and, at the same time, gives us the endurance and perseverance to continue against unseeingly difficult odds. These meditations restore me.
Many of you know first-hand the positive and inclusive impact faith can have in the public square. If you know that to be the case, do not shrink from the challenge.
Bring that faithful approach to activism because people need to see that type of faith witness.
Use it to restore the hope in yourself and others that this “Great Experiment” is worth fighting for – and not just for those who were protected at our nation’s founding. We can expand their vision, together, to truly include everyone, as our faith calls us to do.
Editor’s note: This article is part of a series this week focused on faith and citizenship. The previous articles in the series are:
What Is a Christian Who Wants to Be a Citizen to Do? | Paul Lewis
Focus on Conversation, Not Conversion | Kira Dewey
(Don’t Get) Stuck on a Feelin’ | Kali Cawthon-Freels