Embracing quiet moments of reflection. Writing letters of support. Holding open discussions. As a nationwide student protest against gun violence and school shootings took shape March 14, Georgia Baptist students took part in their own way.
National media focused on students walking out of class in protest for stricter gun control laws. However, feedback from Georgia Baptist student pastors painted a different picture. Schools chose to approach the event in various ways; sometimes allowing walkouts, sometimes not. The fact it took place on a Wednesday brought the opportunity for student pastors to talk about it while it was still fresh in young minds.
Several First Baptist Duluth students took part in a videoed discussion set to appear soon at churchleaders.com. Todd Jones, First Duluth’s student and family pastor, reported that while most at the roundtable chose to not participate in a walkout, they respected those who did.
“At Duluth High, there was an organized walkout where if students didn’t return they received a referral,” he said. At the end of the school day, students also organized a silent walk to the Duluth Town Green on Main Street.
“The media have made it out to be about gun laws,” Jones commented. “At least, that’s what they’re reporting. In our discussion, one of my students went off about that.”
Another student in the roundtable pointed out that even if all guns were collected, people would still have them. Jones said that what has become a complex issue boils down to some very real concerns for students.
“More of these students are looking at this from a perspective of ‘What are you going to do to keep me safe in school?’ They believe in the right to own guns, but how are you (adults) going to fix this?”
An ‘all-or-nothing society’
“I believe this generation is going to figure it out,” stated Jones. “But, the media drives the conversation. Part of the problem is we’re an all-or-nothing society. People go to the extremes of either thinking all their guns are going to be taken away or all should be taken away. We need to find something in the middle. The ‘if-you’re-not-with-me-you’re-against-me mentality makes it difficult.”
School leadership at Cartersville High School allowed students to take part in a walkout at 10 a.m. However, the centerpiece of the school’s participation was 17 desks in the courtyard, each with a single rose, a picture and information on one of the Parkland victims, and materials to write a note to be sent to that individual’s family. Like other schools, CHS held a 17-second moment of silence earlier in the day.
Merritt Vance, a senior and member of Tabernacle Baptist Church, said the display made her want to stop and be thankful.
“Walking in between my classes I’d stop and look at the pictures, then offer up a prayer,” said Vance, who opted to not join the 40 or so students who met in the courtyard at 10 a.m. “It made me thankful for my life right now.
“The display was honorable to the students and made a lot of us step back and not take our life for granted.”
Students pray during 17 minutes
Ryan McCrary, another CHS student and Tabernacle member, was one of two students in his class to join the group at 10 a.m. in the courtyard. The 17 or so minutes there, he said, consisted of walking around the display mostly in silence. He and others read the names, learned about the victims, and eventually came together twice to pray as a group before returning to class.
(Disclosure: my daughter is a student at CHS and I’d heard about the display. For this story the Tabernacle church office connected me with Merritt for her thoughts. I have a mentoring appointment with Ryan, a member of the school newspaper, on Thursdays and got his comments as well.)
Though McCrary expects some were there to advocate for gun laws, it wasn’t brought up. Seeing the stories of the victims affected him, though. Instead of statistics or names, details written on the desks made the Parkland victims … people.
“I remember one guy was a swimmer who wanted to be in the Olympics, and now that’s gone,” McCrary, a sophomore, said. “These kids were my age. Like me, they had ideas about what they wanted to be when they grew up. And now, they’re gone.”
The way to change the world
Bill Hughes, minister of youth and college singles at First Baptist Tifton, said “there was nothing” happening related to the walkout/protests in his area.
“I asked my youth and they said it was barely mentioned,” Hughes said in a Facebook discussion (comments used with permission). “No one left [class] and most of our youth are too focused on school, getting their work done, etc. to leave school.
“This is just me,” he continued, “but I think they would be okay with teachers being armed and I’m pretty sure our on-campus police would actually risk their lives to protect the kids. ”
Luke Braswell, associate pastor of youth at First Baptist Nashville, reported one of his students taking part in a walkout at Berrian County High School. However, whereas some parts of the event may have been political, she did so out of respect to the 17 killed in Parkland, FL.
Braswell noted that the debate needs to focus on more than political action.
“I’ve told my students that you can’t legislate your way out of this,” he said. “The only way we’re going to change the world is by the Gospel changing hearts. We have to be the hands of Jesus to love the unloveable and befriend those who it’s difficult to be friends with.”