Originally published on the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America website.
Moral and Ethical Issues Confronting Orthodox Youth Across North America
by Archpriest Joseph F Purpura
A study of nearly 800 Orthodox Christian Teens from across the United States and Canada is the focus of this project. The survey and its results are printed and examined in this work. Findings in this survey conclude that there is a direct relationship between adult/teen relationships and teen behavioral outcomes. The study examines evidence of links between alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking and other risk taking behaviors. This project identifies the many issues confronting Orthodox Christian Teens. Included is a summary of the rationale for youth ministry and the Orthodox Church’s teachings on some of the issues raised in the survey, to help youth workers begin to address these issues with teens.
About the Author
The Very Rev Dr Joseph F Purpura is Chairman of the Department of Youth Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. He is a graduate of Iona College (B.A.), St Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Yale Divinity School (S.T.M.) and Pittsburgh Theological School (D.Min.). Joseph Purpura has worked with Teens in the Church Setting since 1978. He is the father of four children, all of whom are in or have passed through the teen years, as of the writing of this book. This book reflects his insights and research spanning over the past twenty-four years of youth ministry experience.
Young people today are confronted with moral and ethical choices at a younger age than in past decades. They are tempted to partake of illicit drugs, alcohol, and/or tobacco. They are confronted with choices of whether to participate in pre-marital sexual relations – heterosexual or homosexual or to abstain, whether to view pornography not only in secret but also on their family television or over the Internet connection from their own bedroom. These are among the many choices confronting young people today. Often they are confronting these issues as early as in their pre-teen years. The multitude of moral and ethical choices confronting pre-teens and teens often find these young people ill prepared to make responsible and educated choices. Children ought to be protected from such issues until they are old enough to deal with them maturely. The reality of our time, however, is that our society is so permeated with immoral/unethical behaviors that we as the Church, and as parents, must act to equip our children for responding in a meaningful and responsible way to all of these issues. This project will focus on the current moral and ethical issues confronting Orthodox Christian Youth. Attention will be given to the Church’s teaching concerning these issues as well as to what we as Church, as parents, as people working with and concerned with youth can do to better equip our young people for making good choices and right decisions on pressing issues. It is not the intent of this project to deal with the crises of moral decay in society by rolling back the flood of questionable presentations of inappropriate material in the media, schools and society at large. It is this author’s belief, however, that better equipping our young people to make healthy decisions will produce healthier communities.
In 1992 this author conducted a 142-question survey of teens in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese. Much was learned from that survey, and the data produced by it led to changes in the focus of Youth Ministry efforts in the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America. As a consequence, greater focus is now placed on meeting the needs of teens in addressing current issues confronting them in their daily life. This is done through Christ-centered ministry. This approach led teens to be more aware of the issues and to better articulate the teachings of the Church on many of the social issues contemporary to 1992. Hopefully these teens were able, as a result, to make better choices in their own lives.
Much seems to have changed since those days in early 1992. Most of the teens of the early 1990s have moved on and in many cases have completed college and are now starting their careers. As a youth director working with teens on a daily basis, the need for more current tools to assess the needs of contemporary teens has become apparent. The social moral and ethical agenda as a whole has changed since what now seem ‘the quiet days of the early 1990s’. Television has drastically changed, showing adult oriented material at all hours of the day and even material that would have been unacceptable at any hour just ten years ago. The Internet has blossomed and has brought much good with it, but has also brought a whole new set of moral and ethical issues. The social agendas of many groups concerning moral and ethical behaviors once thought of as socially unacceptable have now become part of mainstream teaching in the schools and are protected by many state laws. The need to re-assess current teen life has become apparent. There is a need to measure whether we are dealing with the same issues, new ones, or a combination of new and old. We need to see what impact the major social changes of this decade are having on young people. Therefore, this author has embarked on a new, more expanded, survey of teens, particularly concerning moral and ethical issues. This new survey is identified in the remainder of this project as The Orthodox Teen Survey. This project will deal with why we need to make this assessment, why we need to be concerned with young people, what the issues are confronting them, what the Church teaches and has taught on these issues throughout Her 2000 year history as well as what we can and ought to do in response.
One only has to casually read the newspapers or listen to the evening news to understand many of the issues confronting young people. Even if the issues are not new, they are certainly more public. Greater publicity advertises such behaviors to teens, perhaps making them more susceptible to participation in those behaviors. A quick scan of one major newspaper over a period of three months, gives a glimpse of the numerous issues young people face. A February 10, 1999 article in The Boston Globe read, “Survey finds half of TV shows refer to sex, few responsibly.” The article starts off by saying that sex is not exactly taboo on television, “but one subject seems to be largely off-limits, according to a major new study released yesterday: the ‘risks and responsibilities’ of sexual activity” A survey conducted by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation as reported in this news article reported that 67 percent of prime time shows contained sexual content in words or deeds.