“Your voice doesn’t really matter.”

I’ll never forget those words. A state representative spoke them directly to me as he spoke to my freshman civics class. He agreed to come to class and speak to us about the state government and how it worked. During a question and answer session, some of us began to ask questions about the policies that he advocated for in the state House of Representatives.

The question of abortion came up.

The politician offered a very political answer: “I oppose abortion, except in cases of rape and incest.”

Little did he know I was sitting in the class, and my mother was also on a state board – the state chapter for Right to Life, a pro-life organization. She had walked me through the various arguments used to advocate for abortion. I knew that the answer that was shared with our class wasn’t pro-life at all. I knew that rape and incest, and pregnancy by those acts, was horrific. I knew they were awful crimes. I also knew that, if life comes through those actions, the life is still innocent. I knew that a mother needs counseling and support, not someone to offer an abortion.

So, I called him on it. I challenged his reasoning. I laid out my argument and told him that I thought he was being a politician and not an advocate for the unborn. That’s when he said it. That’s when he smiled and said:

“See, here is the thing. You are too young to vote. So, I don’t really care what you think. You aren’t who I represent and I’m not trying to please you. Your voice doesn’t really matter.”  

I never forgot it. When I turned 18, he was up for re-election. He did not receive my vote.

As a young person that advocates for the dignity of every life, you may hear that phrase in a variety of places:

You are a man – your voice doesn’t matter in women’s reproductive rights.

You aren’t pregnant – your voice doesn’t matter in the life of the woman that is.

You aren’t a doctor – your voice doesn’t matter in medical issues.

You aren’t old enough to vote or lobby politicians – your voice doesn’t matter in public policy.

You may be able to think of even more ways that phrase can be shoveled out; I certainly can. But each time, they are a lie because the reasoning doesn’t apply anywhere else. You would never look at someone and say, “Because your skin is a certain color, you can’t advocate against racism.” Absolutely not – racism is a horrible thing that degrades the life of another person. Every person, regardless of skin color, must advocate against it.

The same is true for the homeless. I would never say, “Well, you have never experienced homelessness, so you don’t know what it is like and can’t advocate for it.” It would be ridiculous.

The reality is that a human life is valuable and worth fighting for from the moment of conception until the moment that life expires naturally. It isn’t an issue of rights, it is an issue of justice. And we all have a voice when it comes to justice. We have a duty and a responsibility to build up structures that promote life and tear down ones that destroy it.

Take courage in God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah. Jeremiah is called, and tells God that he is “too young” to be a voice (Jeremiah 1:6-7). But God has other plans. God gives Jeremiah a mission and authority:

“See, I place my words in your mouth! This day I set you over nations and over kingdoms, to root up and to tear down, to destroy and to demolish, to build and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:9-10).

You have a voice. You have a call to fight for justice, especially for those that have no voice – the oppressed, the elderly, the disabled, the vulnerable and persecuted, and the unborn. Don’t let anyone tell you that your voice doesn’t matter. Your voice can be loud, and all of our voices together can be more than loud – they can be the change our world desperately needs.

Joel Stepanek
Joel Stepanek

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Joel Stepanek has been actively and passionately involved in youth ministry for over 10 years. What began as a simple internship in a parish youth ministry office evolved into an incredible adventure that led him on numerous middle school lock ins, high school retreats, and ultimately to meet his wife, Colleen, who is a campus minister. Joel is the Director of Resource Development for Life Teen International where he creates engaging youth ministry resources for middle and high school students. He received his Master’s degree in religious education with an emphasis in youth and young adult ministry from Fordham University. Joel is an avid Packer fan, loves cooking, running, and spending time with his wife and son, Elijah Daniel.