Graduate - courtesy of Jens Schott Knudsen via Flickr

Graduation: A time to celebrate the next generation

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,you did it to me.’

Spending much of one’s life navigating the dark underbelly of Christendom can at times create a deep sense of discouragement and hopelessness. Perhaps, that is why I always look forward to graduation.

This weekend, I have the distinct privilege of watching my seventh graduating class walk across the stage to receive their law degree on they’re way to becoming the new generation of lawyers. Though this means having to say many difficult “good-byes” to amazing students who I now call friends, it also is a sweet reminder from God that there is much hope in this next generation.

Graduate - courtesy of Jens Schott Knudsen via Flickr

Graduate - courtesy of Jens Schott Knudsen via Flickr

I am reminded that it is this next generation who is stepping forward to openly acknowledge and talk about the epidemic of child abuse and its devastating impact upon the abused. I am reminded that it is this next generation who is rejecting the deadly silence that for too long has defined Christendom’s approach and response to so many forms of abuse. I am reminded that it is this next generation who is no longer satisfied with just words when it comes to the safety of children and the comfort of survivors. I am reminded that it is this next generation who is crossing the road to give of themselves to the abused and the marginalized that lay alone and dying.

For the past seven years, God has given me a glimpse of this next generation as I’ve spent my days teaching these lawyers of tomorrow. I am continuously amazed at their passion when it comes to issues related to child protection. Let me provide two small but powerful examples. For the past two years, my law students have sponsored and organized child protection symposiums during Child Abuse Prevention month, which bring together experts from various professions to focus on successful multi-disciplined approaches to combatting abuse both inside and outside of faith communities. These events have been some of the best attended symposiums ever held at our school with most of the attendees being students…the lawyers, police officers, counselors, pastors, etc. of this next generation. There is hope.

Five years ago, I developed a course called Child Abuse and the Law that focuses on the investigation and prosecution of child abuse cases. Since I teach in a faith-based institution, the course also covers the unique and complex dynamics so often associated with abuse in faith communities. To be honest, when this course was first offered, I remember thinking how happy I’d be if four or five students signed up for the class.   My rather low expectation was based upon the ongoing resistance to acknowledging and addressing child abuse issues I’ve experienced from much of the Christian community. To my utter shock, the inaugural class for this course was almost full! I thought this student interest in this course was a one-year anomaly until I walked in to a full classroom the following year and every year thereafter. There is hope.

Not only is this course full each year, but perhaps most encouraging is that a vast majority of the students who take it tell me that their hope is to use their law degree in some way to protect children! In fact, that is exactly what is happening. I cannot count the number of former students who have graduated and gone on to careers as child abuse prosecutors, child advocates, and juvenile justice attorneys. There is hope.

The hope found in this next generation isn’t only found inside the Christian community. A few years ago, Winona State University was the first school in the country to adopt a formal Child Advocacy Studies Program (aka CAST). This is an amazing undergraduate curriculum developed by the National Child Protection Training Center that teaches students about the various disciplinary responses to child abuse and how to develop a multidiscipline understanding of the most effective responses. Since adopting the CAST curriculum, Winona State University has attracted students from around the country who want to learn how to help transform our culture into a safe place for little ones. Due to overwhelming student interest, to date over 28 colleges and universities around the country have adopted some form of CAST curriculum!

I’ve just highlighted a small fraction of what is happening as more and more young people from all facets of life come together to give of themselves in order to create a safer world for our children. What is going on here? Perhaps, we are witnessing a generation that seems less interested in politics and power and more interested in love and service. Maybe its time for us to spend less time criticizing the younger generation and more time learning from it.   

As I watch my (former) students walk across the stage this weekend, I will say a silent prayer of thanks for this next generation who seem to love the least of these more than any previous generation. I think it can all be summed up in the beautiful words of one of my students who recently remarked, “I’ve always felt a pull toward the vulnerable, toward the voiceless.” Sounds like Jesus, doesn’t it?

This weekend, I am going to take time away from that painful dark underbelly and find some time to rest in the hope of God being lived out through this next generation.