“Honor your father and your mother that your days may be long in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” - Exodus 20:12
My generation has few traditions—this is part of what makes us unique—but one of the traditions we are hard at work to create is an inversion of the fifth commandment. In place of God’s commandment, Millennials have opted for something more authoritative: a meme. “OK, Boomer.”
My generation acts as though it is the first generation to discover that parents can hurt their children. It’s the Boomers’ fault! They did it to us! They destroyed everything! Of course, the Bible has been talking about the sins of the fathers for some time, so this is nothing new. There is the book of Genesis with its history of family strife. Even in the Ten Commandments, before you get to the fifth commandment, the second commandment (on graven images, Exodus 20:4-6) warns about the intergenerational effects of sin. The fourth commandment (on the Sabbath, Exodus 20:8-10) lays on parents an obligation to give rest to their children.
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The fifth commandment lays on children an obligation to honor their parents. This commandment comes with a promise: “That you may live long in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” God seems to be saying that no one should expect to enjoy the fourth commandment rest who does not show fifth commandment honor. The law of Moses is pointed: “Whoever curses his father or his mother shall be put to death” (Exodus 21:17).
In the tradition of my generation, however, we seem to think that we will live long in the land by dis-honoring our father and mother. Honor, at the very least, requires showing deference and respect, to give weight to our parents even in their sin and weakness. “OK, Boomer” is the anti-fifth-commandment: dismissive, disrespectful.
Our anti-commandment also bears one biblical hallmark of decadent society: a lack of gratitude (Romans 1:21). We seem to have forgotten that for all the dysfunction we may have inherited from our parents, we have nevertheless received one valuable gift: life. After all, our parents were the first generation to bear children in the post-Roe V. Wade era. They had a choice—a choice that many of them denounced loudly. My Boomer parents certainly did procreate: I’m number five of six. My parents were part of that great Boomer pioneering movement in homeschooling; they supported me, cautiously, when I got married at 21.
There is a lot of complaining about the Boomer church. While I have personally seen many of the problems in the church of my parents’ generation, I have to remind myself that the Boomer church is the church that raised me. It was the Boomer church who taught me the Bible, who taught me about Jesus’ death and resurrection, who dandled me on her knee and showed me kindness when I was a child.
It was my Boomer scoutmaster who pushed me to my limit and expanded on the discipline I received from my parents. It was a Boomer who befriended me, mentored me, and taught me to make a joke, to use a rifle, a chainsaw, a brush cutter. If somehow all the influence of Boomers on my life were to be erased magically, I would be a much poorer man. I certainly wouldn’t have much to pass on to my children. The most important things I have learned and the best gifts I have received all came from my parents and people of their generation. That would seem to be the point. God gives us good things through our parents.
The way forward for the Millennial generation is not the direction we have been heading: the sneering meme and the griping op-ed. If you want to live long in the land, start by taking God’s command seriously. Honor your father and mother.
Gabriel Wingfield is a Presbyterian minister.