The New York Times recently posted a fascinating article about a cultural/generational transition currently taking place at Auschwitz. I think it provides some remarkable insight into the conversations taking place between generations of Christians today.
“Those in charge of passing along the legacy of this camp insist that Auschwitz needs an update. Its story needs to be retold, in a different way for a different age. Partly the change has to do with the simple passage of time, refurbishing an aging display. Partly it’s about the pressures of tourism, and partly about the changing of generations. What is the most visited site and the biggest cemetery in Poland for Jews and non-Jews alike, needs to explain itself better…”
The article is a thought-provoking look at how meaning can change over time. Auschwitz doesn’t have any less meaning because of the passing of time, but its meaning has to be explained differently. What was memorialized by a generation who lived through the war, and their children, now must be re-interpreted for a new generation disconnected from the experience.
I think there are some Christian perspectives that mature believers (I mean older) memorialize, that need “an update.” Gay marriage. Sex before marriage. Women in leadership in the church. We forget or don’t know that we’ve lost the commonality of Bible understanding or background. There’s a new generation who have zero church experience. It’s not that what we believe about these topics is any less meaningful, but that we have to explain the meaning differently.
“The very notion that people increasingly see Auschwitz as ancient history, that the site, with its haunted ruins, might no longer speak for itself but needs to be made relevant to a new century — all this reflects a wider change in education and scholarship about the Holocaust…”
Our Christian response to gay marriage, sex before marriage, and women in church leadership no longer speaks for itself. A new generation sees it as ancient history that’s no longer relevant. And simply insisting more loudly or with more proof texting isn’t the answer.
“‘If we succeed we will show for the first time the whole array of human choices that people faced at Auschwitz,’ [the museum director] explained. ‘Our role is to show the human acts and decisions that took place in extreme situations here — the diversity of thinking and reasoning behind those decisions and their consequences.’”
We live in a world where – like it or not – sex is an accepted part of dating. People have friends and family they love dearly who are gay. So rote lectures on what we believe about sin (memorializing) actually have little meaning (no shared history or context) and therefore very little impact. Young Christians are looking for a way to have a meaningful conversation about these things with people they care for. They want to live their faith and maintain relationships. It’s incumbent on us to try to understand the diversity of thinking and reasoning on these subjects, and educate about the deeper meanings (teaching). Our story also needs to be retold… in a different way, for a different age.