Can We Confront Ageism? What is the Church doing?

In his book published in the early ‘70s LEARN TO GROW OLD (Harper & Row/1972) Paul Tournier was prophetic for our generation and culture today when he writes:

The serious factor in our day is the increase in the numbers of the old, which creates in Menie Gregoire’s apt phrase, ‘a sort of racial problem’. . . . when [individuals] become a multitude, the very foundations of society are called into question. A remark by Michel Philibert throws light on the problem: “What makes growing old socially, economically and politically important is not the multiplication of the number of old people, but the fact that this multiplication is taking place in a society which looks upon the devaluation of the old as having a law of nature, instead of seeing it as a feature of its own culture.”

Misty Harris summarizes some of the findings reported from a Leger Marketing Poll conducted in the fall of 2012 in a POSTMEDIA NEWS article Ageism is most tolerated social prejudice in Canada, poll finds:

  • Ageism is the most tolerated form of social discrimination in Canada – more so than either gender or race- based prejudices –according to a new national survey
  • One third of Canadians admit they’ve treated someone different because of their age, and 63 % of seniors over 65 say this has happened to them.
  • The report, released by Revera and the International Federation on Aging (IFA), has experts calling ageism a “pervasive and sinister” plague that will only worsen as baby boomers grey – unless that is, significant changes are made.
  • The most commonly named forms of age discrimination faced by seniors were: treating them as if they’re invisible (41 %); acting as if they have nothing to contribute (38%); and assuming they’re incompetent (27%).
  • Canadians over 66 perceived a variety of perpetrators for these attitudes, including people younger than themselves (56%); health care professionals and the health care system (34%); and the government (27%).

It was also noted

“…that seniors can also be their own worst enemies by engaging in self-limiting attitudes. For instance saying things such as, “I’m too old for this.”

The church has an opportunity to model being a healthy intergenerational community challenging the ageism  being felt by the ageing. Despite the biblical teachings to honour and care for older adults, the church continues to designate the majority of available resources to programmes serving those in early to mid-life. There will need to be a more balanced approach in the next few decades with the growing numbers of older adults already present in our churches and communities. Older adults will also need to recover the value of being an elder (as a maturing and wiser person) in their household, church and community. A helpful book on this topic is – A VISION FOR THE AGING CHURCH: Renewing Ministry for and by Seniors (IVP Academic/2012) written by James M. Houston and Michael Parker.


What is your church doing to confront “ageism”?


About the author

Co-Director of CHAT, Centre for Healthy Aging and Transitions

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