Millennial Moral Mess

 – by Walt Mueller
©1999, The Center for Parent/Youth Understanding

I didn’t know her. I didn’t know her parents. I had never seen any of them before. But for THE few minutes  our paths crossed in the small foyer of a local indoor soccer facility, I witnessed a lesson passed from one generation to the next through the power of parental example.

Dad and Mom were openly discussing the need to register their daughter (she appeared to be about ten-years-old) for the next soccer session. With money tight and the registration deadline at hand, Dad verbalized his elaborate scheme to deliberately submit the registration form without the necessary payment. A couple of “little” lies and a story about “forgetting” to write a check would give them the extra week to adjust the family budget and get the money together. Mom responded with a big smile and nod of approval. Their impressionable young daughter soaked it all in. Sadly, in their minds, they had done nothing wrong. Even worse, it appeared they thought they were doing the right thing.

Since then, I’ve pondered how those parents, and others like them, might defend their course of action. Their justification would most likely include a statement I’ve heard on more than one occasion: “What’s the big deal? It’s not hurting anybody.” I’ve got to disagree. Maybe that little girl didn’t walk out of there with a visible cut or throbbing bruise, but the lie did leave a permanent mark on her heart and mind. And if mom and dad are consistent at passing on these morally relativistic lessons, the sum total of that education will leave a scar that sets a course for a lifetime of decisions motivated by feelings and expediency, rather than right and wrong.

That youngster is part of the second baby-boom (born between 1977 and 1994), a “millennial” generation so large they are only exceeded in number by boomers themselves. While it’s still too early to draw final conclusions on who and what Millennials will grow up to be and believe, they’re growing commitment to personally defined standards of morality offers a discouraging peek into a future where commonly-held standards of right and wrong are replaced by personal preference and choice. Already, we see the results as over 75% of the population believes that absolute truth cannot be known. Over 61% believe that sex before marriage is “ok” if both people are “emotionally ready.” And 57% believe that lying is “sometimes necessary.”

A few years ago I had an opportunity to spend a weekend with a couple hundred millennial kids. They had come to a gathering of church youth groups where I was the featured speaker. The organizers planned a special segment before each of my talks. They had secured spiritually mature student volunteers to give a short reflection and challenge related to my topic. As the weekend unfolded, I was impressed with the insights and wisdom shared by these students – until Saturday night arrived.

I was scheduled to speak about Biblical standards of right and wrong as they relate to God’s wonderful gift of sexuality. The time came for the student reflection. Up to the microphone stepped an attractive young high school sophomore. She began her remarks by relating the struggle she and her boyfriend of recent months had encountered as they dealt firsthand with the desire to engage in sexual intercourse. Her faith in God was put to the test. Eventually, she told us, they went ahead and had sex. Feeling guilty, they decided to study what God had to say about their behavior. They soon swept their guilt under the rug as they found justification for their continued sexual encounters. “We’ve talked about it, prayed about it, and looked at the Bible, “ she said. Then she ended her remarks with these words: “We’ve concluded that God wants nothing more than for us to feel good and be happy. As a result, we’re still having sex.”

I sat in my seat stunned. I’d heard all this from kids before – but never in this context. Perhaps more surprising and revealing was the response of her peers. They applauded in a manner that was more approving than polite. I watched in silence as the young student walked to her seat with a smile on her face. Needless to say, as I walked to the front of the room, I knew I had my work cut out for me.

That young girl was speaking for a youth culture (churched and unchurched) whose behavior, sexual and otherwise,  should be viewed as an expected and faithful expression of a world view shaped by years of living around consistent moral inconsistency that is hurting them. Today’s popular music reflects this moral heartbeat of the millennial kids. Currently on the record charts, the band Creed, in their song “In America”, ask: “What is right or wrong/I don’t know who to believe in/My soul sings a different song in America.” Sheryl Crow shares her observations in her hit song “Everyday is a Winding Road”: “Everybody gets high, everybody gets low. . . . these are the days when anything goes.”

Yes, we’ve all got our work cut out for us. Where, though, do we begin? Can we really make a difference? Is there a way to undo this moral mess as we enter the new millennium?

I recently read about a busy dad who came home from a week-long business trip. He went to his favorite chair to catch up on a stack of accumulated newspapers. Happy that dad was home, his little boy begged his tired father to go out and play catch. The weary father explained to his disappointed son that he had to read the newspapers. It wasn’t long before the little guy came back to beg his dad for some attention again. The frustrated father grabbed a page of the newspaper that was covered with a world map and ripped it

into several dozen pieces. Then he handed the pieces to his son in an effort to get him out of his hair. “Here,” said the dad. “Go out to the kitchen table and see if you can put this map together.” After just a couple of minutes the boy came back and reported that the map was together. In disbelief, the father went out and looked on the table. Sure enough, there sat the completed map of the world. “How’d you do this?” the surprised father asked. “It was easy,” said his little son. “There was a boy’s picture on the other side of the map and I just put it together.”

It’s overwhelming to look around at a big world marked by increased and serious moral confusion. Where do we begin to undo the world’s wrong with a clear sense of Gods’ right? The answer was laying on that kitchen table. Concentrate on investing energy and example in putting children together right – one at a time – and the world will take care of itself. The best place to start is right at home. . . or in the foyer at soccer sign-ups.


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