THE HEZEKIAH DOCTRINE
Each generation should stand on the shoulder of giants but it feels like Millennials have to jump up and down to look over the back of those who have a better view
Of all the dividing lines emerging in modern Britain, one of the more intangible is beginning to get attention. Baby boomers have been a privileged generation. Born amid the post-war surge of optimism and returning soldiers, they experienced a very different life to their parents. There have been no wars of conscription, only of choice. They studied free of charge at university. They enjoyed safe jobs, often with security of tenure. They bought houses when they were genuinely affordable and have seen them appreciate in value astronomically. Their pensions are protected. It is, as always, an exaggeration to put all baby boomers into this gilded category, for some have endured real privation. However, the overall sense of privilege is hard to refute.
Their parents, by contrast, were brought up in the shadow of the Great War and the deep trauma this inflicted on their families. They suffered in the Great Depression and then were conscripted to fight the poisonous nationalism this helped inflict on a continent. The war generation is slipping away, but a fissure has opened up between baby boomers and another generation. To listen to stories of economic growth and prosperity, one would assume each generation gets to stand on the shoulders of giants. Millennials, those born in the mid-1980s and beyond, are like children having to jump up and down to get a glimpse of the future while the older people in front tower over them.
The great expansion of higher education is now paid for from the future earnings of students. On leaving university, students are laden with debts and are just as likely to land in a low paid job than the one they imagined their learning would take them to. Meanwhile, the appreciating assets of the baby boomers have priced them out of property ownership. So-called Generation Rent lives in short-term housing, often at the whim of landlords, a number of whom are more interested in maximising this rent-seeking arrangement than providing a good service.
The referendum vote to leave the European Union drew sharp dividing lines between old and young, with the former voting heavily in favour of leaving and the latter for staying. All votes count equally but, given this will prove a lasting vote rather than one cast for a five year Parliament, many Millennials feel their future has been constrained by some people who will not be around to watch it unfold.
In 2 Kings 20: 16-19, Isaiah prophecies to King Hezekiah that the nation - and his children - are doomed to a humiliating exile but that it won’t happen until after his lifetime. Hezekiah turns out to be comfortable with this because he will never see it. There is a risk of a similar rift between the generations in the UK, even though every family contains old and young members. Today’s culture may belong to Millennials, but public policy is firmly in the grasp of an older cohort.
Conservative thinker David Willetts has identified this in his book The Pinch and a think tank, the Resolution Foundation, has been set up primarily to look at this fracture in society. Given its inter-generational nature, the Church is in an unusually strong position to do something about this, yet we have been pretty quiet. Too many churches continue to be run in unappealing ways for younger people, and changes to the status quo are resisted without creative reflection on how the Gospel is best communicated to different groups. This is not a spiritually defensible position and, where entrenched, becomes another way in which Millennials are disenfranchised.
Thankfully, plenty of young people have experienced the rich blessing of being loved and cared for by older friends in church, those who act as surrogate parents and grandparents. This is often the glue which sticks young people to a place of worship because they feel valued. The deeper question facing the Church is largely unexplored: what tangible steps can it take to help heal this generational fracture? What imaginative projects can be developed to show we have seen the problem and want to do something about it?
The answer can only be found in relationship to, and collaboration with, a younger cohort. They are tired of being done to and only being of use when a ham-fisted old-hippie needs help with their Wi-Fi.
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