As newbies to Belize, we regularly find ourselves having committed a cultural taboo. Sometimes we see it in the blank stares looking back at us, in response to something we've said. Sometimes by getting a phone call or text, our Belizean friends letting us know we've stepped our foot in it (again). There really isn't any getting around it. We depend on insiders to help us understand things from their perspective.
The trouble with depending on others to teach you about taboos is that they are, by definition, not to be discussed. Someone from the inside, who holds the knowledge, has to take the risk of breaking the taboo in order to teach others about it. They are the gatekeepers.
We don't always have a Belizean along to help us navigate cultural taboos. We often learn the boundaries by bumping into, or walking over them. The same is true with young people learning the boundary markers of their faith. They depend on older, more experienced believers to give them a heads up about what they may face along the journey, or help them process when they've overstepped the line.
Sex is a taboo subject in most circles here. Because of this, sexual health and premarital relationships become enshrouded by mystery and sinister connotations. Instead of shedding light on the facts, consequences and supports available to young couples, they are left uneducated and unsupported as they navigate their first forays into non-familial relationships. The result: scores of young people contracting HIV/AIDS, having unplanned pregnancies, living in domestic violence and more.
Upholding taboos allows darkness to grow. It causes the allure of the unknown to grow, it causes people to hide their actions in order to avoid societal shaming. Not talking about a taboo subject doesn't keep kids on the "straight an narrow," it keeps them from reaching out for help.
Young people depend on us to talk about the physical, emotional and spiritual implications of life choices; to lend our experience and wisdom to what can be a very confusing and overwhelming season of their lives. Without us, they are left to be educated by friends and the media, neither of whom have the answers they seek.
John 8:12 says: Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
As Christians, we are tasked with discipling others. That means following Jesus, the light of the world, not allowing darkness to persist. It means walking with them, asking and answering questions as they come up. No subject should be taboo, no topic off-limits. The ones we ignore or shove under the rug won't just go away- they will become obstacles in their path.
If we want to see the next generation free from the world's enticement, we must throw-open the curtains and shed light on what has been hidden in secrecy. We must be willing to speak about taboo topics and discuss difficult matters. Young people aren't satisfied by being told not to question their elders. They want answers, they want truth and they desperately want hope. Will we be brave enough to cross the taboo line?