The term “generation gap” came into use in the 1960s, as both young and old people recognized basic generational differences in outlook, aspirations, and values. Acknowledging that there were differences did little to improve strained relationships. It may even have exacerbated them.
The troublemakers in those days, at least in the eyes of the “Traditionalists” (as they are sometimes called), were the Baby Boomers. Those young whippersnappers went off to college and suddenly thought they knew everything. They called the older generation names: “square,” “uptight,” and “plastic” (that is, hypocritical). They faulted them for not thinking for themselves; for just doing whatever “the Man” told them to do.
How ironic it is that today’s Millennials and Gen Z’s, while using different terminology, accuse the formerly freethinking Boomers of the same things. The gap may not be as wide as it was in the sixties, but it has deepened. When a Gen Z says, “OK, Boomer,” they’re not just telling Boomers they are wrong, they’re telling them they don’t matter.
My wife and I were at a large family gathering, where I saw firsthand the tension that exists between the generations. I sat at a table with two Boomer and three Millennial women and listened in on their conversation. I was wise enough, or maybe fearful enough, not to voice my own opinions.
When I sat down, the two Boomers were raking “younger women” over the proverbial coals. Younger women are wimps. They are thoroughly self-centered. They put themselves before their kids. With anecdotal evidence and questionable analytics, they supported their conclusions.
It was obvious to me that the Millennials at the table took offense and felt slandered, but the Boomers didn’t seem to notice. They continued to press their point until the discussion became a debate. The younger women didn’t say it, but “OK Boomer” was written all over their faces.
Has the generation gap become an abyss? Recently, a Minnesota church announced to its members that it would temporarily close its doors while it reorganized and prepared for a relaunch under new pastoral leadership. Older people were asked to “move to an alternative worship” for 15 to 18 months, to allow the new pastor time to attract younger worshipers to the church.
Apparently, the church (and perhaps its denominational leadership) thought the presence of older members would compromise efforts to attract younger members. Not surprisingly, older people in the congregation took offense. They interpreted the invitation to worship elsewhere for 18 months to mean they were no longer wanted. The pastor, however, insists that was never church’s intent.
People have questioned whether leadership was right to make the request. A more fundamental question is: were they right in their estimation of the situation? Does the presence of Boomers hinder efforts to attract younger Millennials and Z’s?
I suspect it does. Yet the Church should be setting the standard of love and respect for people, whether old or young. Older people should remember they can learn from younger ones. After all, Jesus was in his early 30s during his teaching years. And younger people should remember the biblical injunction to “Rise in the presence of the aged, show respect for the elderly…”
St. Paul goes even further. He does not limit the display of respect to the elderly but encourages all of Jesus’s people to “Outdo one another in showing honor.” The idea is to lead the way in honoring other church members, regardless of their age, race, or class.
Is it realistic to think that this attitude can be maintained? Can church members from different generations take the lead in showing each other genuine respect? It is possible, but only if we live counterculturally and refuse to segregate the church generationally.
The racial segregation of the Church has discredited us and hindered our witness. Must we compound our mistakes by adding generational segregation?
We must not. One generation cannot wait for another to be the first to show respect. We cannot even refuse respect to those who don’t respect us. If we do, we are conforming to the age in which we live rather than to the clear directives given by Jesus and his apostles.
First published by Gatehouse Media.