I often point out that our youth are not simply the “future leaders” of the pro-life movement. They are leaders here and now, in more ways than one.
Often I am asked to speak about the role of youth in the pro-life movement, and to encourage parishes and pro-life organizations to focus more on recruiting youth for this cause. In fact, this is not a difficult task. Youth understand the pro-life message better than many adults, and the most common response they give to the question, “Why are you involved in trying to stop abortion?” is “Because it could have been me.” They are aware that they were not protected in the womb, and could have been killed. They are survivors and they know it.
But most important for us as adults is to understand what will happen when we recruit more youth into the pro-life effort. They will challenge us. They will remind us of things that we have perhaps forgotten, and will even be able to teach us a new way of activism, and even a new way of thinking.
There is a characteristic young people have when confronting fundamental moral issues like pro-life. They think in straight lines. Unaccustomed to the layers of complication that the years of the more experienced leaders bring, young people can frame certain questions with a simple and direct clarity. And while they always need to be open to learn from those with more experience, they also need to be listened to. We need to let them shape our own thinking.
Young pro-lifers, when made aware that killing is taking place in the building down the street, will ask, “Well, let’s go down there and stop it! We should go there and tell them we are not going to leave until the killing stops! If that’s where the babies are that we need to save, what are we doing here?”
Then, when told that a particular candidate for office is in favor of keeping child-killing legal, our youth will declare, “Well, we have to tell people not to vote for that person!”
When they understand the clarity of Gospel teaching about the sanctity of life, they will say, “All the pastors need to preach about this and sign their people up for pro-life activity! It’s more important than anything else!”
Is there not truth in this “straight-line thinking?” Sure, we can teach our youth about the “how-to,” which is not always so simple. But we can also learn to re-focus our attention and energy on fundamental things which, in the end, simply have to be said and done. Maybe we’ve become too complicated; maybe we’re making the “it’s not so simple” lines into easy excuses for cowardice or a lack of confidence.
When we plan pro-life activities, let’s have young people join in our board rooms and strategy sessions. They may not always be in a position to have a vote, but let them have a voice. Its clarity and directness can be refreshing!