I was talking to my mother. I told her not to believe everything that was in the newspapers and what she sees on television because we are losing the war. I told her I might not be coming back…She said, “No, you are coming back. I talk to God every day and you’re special. You’re coming back.” And I said, “Ma, everybody’s mother thinks that they’re special. I’m putting pieces of special people into bags.” Rodger Harris, Marine
Rather than looking for ways to make peace, President Johnson and Robert McNamara, the Secretary of Defense, sent more American troops into Vietnam. The number of American soldiers in Vietnam had gone from just over 11,000 in 1965 to more than 500,000 by the end of 1967. The army estimated they had killed 200,000 enemy forces, and more than 20,000 American soldiers had died.
In 1967, antiwar protests were growing, with the likes of Benjamin Spock, the famous child psychologist who taught American parents how to raise their boomer children in the 1950s, raising his voice in protest. Martin Luther King, Jr., the famed civil rights leader, turned his attention to the war, and raised his voice as well. Mass demonstrations were held across the country, with even the Pentagon having to fend off a large-scale protest.
Many of the protests were fueled by the increase in the number of those being drafted from 10,000 to 30,000 a month. No longer were just the undereducated and poor being drafted. Now the draft was reaching the halls of college campuses, where every American son was at risk of going to Vietnam.
Bill Zimmerman, an antiwar activist at the time (seen in episode 4), summed up the divide that we still see in our politics and culture: “At that time, people who supported the war were fond of saying, ‘My country, right or wrong’, ‘America, love it or leave it,’ or ‘better dead than red.’ Those sentiments seemed insane to us. We don’t want to live in a country that we’re going to support whether it’s right or wrong. We want to live in a country that acts rightly and doesn’t act wrongly. And if our country isn’t doing that, it needs to be corrected. So we had a very different idea of patriotism. So we began an era in which two groups of Americans, both thinking they were acting patriotically, went to war with each other.”
This war continues to this day. Much of our political and cultural rancor can be traced back to the way Americans fought with one another over the Vietnam War. Today, we have right against left, conservative against liberal, red states against blue states, and republicans against democrats.
The boomer generation came out of the Vietnam War with a deep sense of brokenness. Raised as young children in the 50s and early 60s to believe that America was the greatest country on the planet; in their youth, they were led by political leaders who sacrificed them and their friends rather than admitting they couldn’t win in Vietnam.
This brokenness is seen today in boomers who are returning to the practices of their youth– drugs and sex. Boomers have the highest divorce rate of any generation, and much of the opioid epidemic is found among boomers who have always found drugs a way to face their problems.
There is also one additional element of this back-to-the-future transition that boomers are undergoing: boomers have always longed for the spiritual. Remember, boomers started the Jesus Movement, sang the first contemporary Christian music, and filled the buildings of the megachurches, which had success in catering to the needs of boomers and their families.
Now, as boomers are poised to double the number of people over the age of 65 in the next twenty years, faith communities have a great opportunity to connect to them as they revisit their beliefs and values. Here are three things churches can focus on:
- Give boomers room to talk about their experiences.
Scott Hughes at Discipleship Ministries has developed an approach called “Courageous Conversations” that teaches churches how to have honest dialogues about issues that have divided people in the past. As boomers age, they are now ready to talk about the experiences of their youth in a way that brings healing and understanding.
- Help boomers with their parents.
More than seventy percent of boomers have one parent who is alive. As their parents move into old, old age (over 85), boomers are faced with hard decisions about how to care for their parents. Support groups and ministries created to address these issues give churches a tangible way to engage boomers at one of their highest points of need.
- Help boomers hear God’s call.
Boomers are in a transitional stage that closely resembles a stage that teenagers undergo. As they enter retirement or prepare to leave the workforce, they are wrestling with how they want to live into the future. Many never learned how to read the Bible, how to have a daily devotion, or how to pray. Many long to make a difference and are looking for ways to do so. Churches that intentionally create ministries that support the spiritual pursuit of boomers and focus on the basics of living the Christian life can create opportunities for boomers to hear God’s call as they enter into a new phase of life.
To see Episode 5 on PBS go Here.
Craig Kennet Miller is the author of Boomer Spirituality: Seven Values for the Second Half of Life. He will be sharing insights on each episode of this series. Join Miller in a three-part on Boomer Spirituality starting on October 4, at 6:30 pm Central Time. Register for the webinar series »