Anvil journal of theology and mission
Victoria Turner (Ed.), Young, Woke and Christian: Words from a Missing Generation, (London: SCM Press, 2022)
reviewed by Vicki Gale, Frontier Youth Trust
Victoria Turner curates an array of thoughtful reflections from 13 young contributors, who come from a variety of church backgrounds and traditions, offering boundary pushing views on a range of subjects including purity culture, feminism, ableism and mental health, and maybe something new and distinct on climate, racial inclusion, trans identity, food poverty and homelessness. Some of the contributions from the 168-page collection really clicked with me, others didn’t.
The word “woke” in the title needs to be addressed, as it is powerfully charged with a rich history and can often be misinterpreted. In his prologue, Anthony Reddie highlights the intention of using the word “woke” in the title, articulating that “wokeness” is used here with a progressive intention. Reddie talks of a new line of action in liberation theology with its focus on the experiences of the young.
A chapter that stuck out for me is Nosayaba Idehen’s, “Racial Inclusion: Guidelines to Being a more Racially Inclusive Church” where the advice is for the church “not to welcome the black family with tales of mission to some distant African country, which could be interpreted as micro-aggression. Instead involve them with church leaderships creating inclusivity through affirmative action and attention to the micro-aggressions that permeate church culture. Be direct.” Don’t just ask for volunteers to do the flowers, that will only ever attract the same five people! Although I liked this chapter, I am not sure how “woke” it is, even using the book’s definition of the word.
Another interesting chapter is Josh Mock’s, “Queer, Christian and Tired”. Here Mock emphasises that “As a queer Christian we must be unapologetic in our queerness” and act from a place of “queer celebration”. He explores the frustrations of dialogue with oppressive institutions, which seems more relevant than ever with LLF and the Lambeth Conference of the Anglican Church. Josh Mock alludes to the turning over of tables, by Jesus, to justify radical action, saying, “His overturning of the tables was a demonstrative action, designed to challenge economic exploitation and a ‘provocative assault on the priesthood and aristocracy’.” He says Jesus’ transgressive act offers a model of transgressive practice for queer Christians, going on to say that he views the oppression of queer Christians as blasphemous to the gospel message. Personally, I am uncomfortable with what I would call a “hermeneutic of convenience”.
I think my absolute favourite chapter is Shermara Fletcher’s chapter on homelessness. She offers a good theological reflection that seems so obvious and yet most of us aren’t doing it. Under a subheading, “radical Inclusivity”, she says “The Church should practise Christian diakonia, which is a deeper type of koinonia that describes a community that ‘works for the welfare of all its members as well as helping to build the reign of God throughout the entire world’”. This implies that homeless and hungry people should be wholly inside the structures of established churches.
I both loved and hated this book. The chapters are wide ranging with an assortment of authors raising issues and addressing them from a theologically reflective viewpoint. Each author owns their chapter, and each chapter is written from their place, their time and in their own words. The varied styles could be a strength or a weakness. For me, at times a weakness, as I like things to be ordered and methodical. That said, the author of each chapter shows what some of the social justice issues are and offers a possible solution. It’s up to us to respond in our own context, in our own time and in our own words. The book title suggests that young people are “the missing generation”. We need to ask ourselves if that’s true. Are they missing from God’s mission, or are they just missing from church? The issues presented in this book need to be addressed, not because they are popular with youth but because they are the gospel!