Why I Encourage Questioning ReligionFebruary 20, 2018
Pope Seeking Input through Social MediaMarch 5, 2018
One of the findings of the recent Saint Mary’s Press study on the dynamics of church disaffiliation in young Catholics is the felt need of young people to speak and be heard regarding matters of faith and belief. One of the purposes of the Going, Going, Gone project and this website is to provide a safe and receptive space for those voices and their stories.
I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the flip side of that right to be heard: the responsibility to speak. And rather than discuss that responsibility in the context of faith, this reflection is devoted to witnessing the power of responsible speech exercised in a civic context—by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. We will return finally to a cross-application to matters of faith and belief.
Since the day that 17 of their classmates and teachers were gunned down in yet another horrific school shooting, students from Marjory Stoneman have been vocal and articulate advocates for stricter gun control policies. No stage seems too big for them, as they speak at rallies and vigils, on national television and in face-to-face meetings with political leaders from state legislators to President Donald Trump.
Will the “grown-ups” listen? Will these teenagers see any practical results for their efforts? That doesn’t seem to be the litmus test for these students as they raise their voices for change. Rather, they’ve embraced the issue as worthy in itself, its value proven by their experience, and they are going to speak.
And we are seeing an impact from that witness:
- Assault weapons bans may or may not pass at the federal or state levels, but retailers such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart are taking the initiative to remove these weapons from their shelves and to raise their age requirement to buy firearms and ammunition from 18 to 21. Other major companies have severed ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA), and some pension plans are considering divesting from firearms companies. Edward Stack, chief executive for Dick’s, said of the retailer’s decision to change its gun sales practices: “When we saw what happened in Parkland, we were so disturbed and upset. We love these kids and their rallying cry, ‘Enough is enough.’ It got to us.” (New York Times, Feb. 28)
- State governments are listening too. Jose Oliva, R-Miami, credited a flurry of gun reform bills produced in the Florida Legislature to the “tremendous civic outpouring of these children themselves.” (USA Today, Feb. 24)
- Polly Mosendz, who covers the gun industry for Bloomberg news, credited students with uniquely impacting the gun conversation in this country. In a Feb. 23 interview with National Public Radio, Mosendz said: “I think it’s a combination that we’ve had a couple tragic incidents recently. We had the tragic attack in Las Vegas. We had a school shooting in Kentucky. Now, we have this event. So that’s definitely part of it. The other thing I’ll say is that you have students speaking up in this case, and I think that’s been unique, and a lot of people are really listening to what they’re saying. The president has had a dialogue with them as well, so that is just a little bit of a change in trend.”
Something else the Marjory Stoneman students so effectively demonstrate: the most effective speech is informed, listening speech.
In a case of somber irony, the students of Marjory Stoneman had debated gun control in class last November. After the school shooting, they put that debate preparation to work.
Marjory Stoneman sophomore Katherine Guerra, a debate team captain, told the Miami Herald: “We know what we want, and we have the research. We know how things work and that gives us more liberty to speak out because we’re not unsure of things.”
“The thing is in debate you have to argue both sides, which is also beneficial because as much as we want to change things we also need to see the different views,” she added.
Hindu spiritual leader and social activist Mahatma Gandhi once said: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The young people at Marjory Stoneman are being that change on matters of gun violence. Of course they hope to see results—but they aren’t going to depend on them. Like each of us, they carry a truth they are duty bound to share. And maybe, just maybe, they will see that change they wish for.
Said sophomore Sari Kaufman: “I don’t think we made a huge change, but we definitely moved the needle a little more than it was before.”
To return now to matters of faith and belief. Speaking one’s truth in an informed and respectful manner can inform and transform church institutions and the community of believers—but only if those institutions and believers exercise their corresponding duty to listen and to hear. The Going, Going, Gone project and the young people interviewed suggest that all too often that is not happening.
What more can and should the church community do? Offer suggestions in the comments section below. Change is possible and necessary. But it will only happen if we speak, listen, and respond with more than mere words.
Jerry Ruff, Senior Editor and Writer
Saint Mary’s Press Research