A 23-year-old Oregon State University graduate who grew up in Tigard is hoping to help build a "culture of life" in his home state.
Chad Etzel is a missionary for Generation Life, an education and outreach organization based in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Generation Life, also endorsed by the Archdiocese of New York, promotes respect for life and chastity among teens and college students. The organization began at Drexel University in 2000.
"We are attacking abortion at the root cause," Etzel says of the chastity focus. He calls it "sexual integrity" and it's not just about abstaining from intercourse. In talks to students, Etzel discusses the way a person acts, dresses and speaks about the opposite sex. One ought not objectify others, he explains.
Studies show that about half of high school students have had sexual intercourse. One in six has had sex with four or more people. Etzel says sexually active youths are more subject to depression and suicide than those who are chaste; no one is sure what causes what, but there is a correlation.
"What we can take away from this is that sexual activity isn't making people happier," he explains.
Etzel saw this in action in college, where students involved in the hook-up culture seemed miserable. "They had this deeper desire for something more," Etzel recalls.
A Tigard High graduate who was part of the St. Anthony Parish youth group, he majored in exercise science at OSU. That led to work with the Beavers football and basketball teams and an intern coaching stint in an NBA development league.
But Etzel had an awakening, prompted by the campus ministers at Oregon State. The priests of the St. John Society, guided by the New Evangelization, urge young people to see faith as the answer to life's deepest yearnings. It was on a pilgrimage from Corvallis to the Grotto in Portland that Etzel set his life on a missionary course. For him, a culture of life seemed like a logical goal supported by the latest genetic science.
To more and more people in their 20s, the excesses of the 1960s, '70s and '80s is starting to look bad, Etzel says. "Our culture is getting more vibrantly pro-life," he explains. "And the thing behind the pro-life movement is that it's built on a rational basis. It has science behind it. We're not trying to change law — we see it's more effective to change the hearts and minds of young people."
Generation Life reaches tens of thousands of students each year, offering programs for students in junior high, high school and college. Staff speak at schools, churches and special events. Generation Life also holds prayer vigils outside abortion clinics. The work is now done in Philadelphia and New York, but Etzel hopes to bring the project to Oregon. A new traveling team of missionaries has even presented overseas.
Just because kids go to Catholic schools does not mean they live out Catholic values, Etzel warns. Sex and drugs are just as prevalent there as at public schools, he has found.
Etzel sees his work as part of the New Evangelization, reaching out to those who had faith but have lost it, while strengthening the faith of those who have it. "Beauty, truth and goodness —" he says. "That is what wins people over."