The Common Good

Young Evangelicals and the 'Nones'

The Pew Forum recently released a new study, “Nones on the Rise.” This was not about my friends called the “Nuns On The Bus,” who just did a tour around the country focusing on social justice. Rather, It details the concerning trend of those in our country who have given up on religion altogether. 

Social scientists tell us that adults, especially young adults, are increasingly disconnected from our established religious traditions. “Nones,” the Pew forum calls them, have grown from 15 percent of U.S. adults to 20 percent in only five years. One-in-three adults under 30 check the religious affiliation box, “None of the above” or “Unaffiliated.” Despite the fact that 68 percent of nones believe in God, only 5 percent of them attend church once or more a week, and 22 percent attend monthly/yearly. (Learn more about this group in our blog series Meet the Nones.)

But the focus on the next generation is not all bad news. On Tuesday, I had the pleasure of moderating a diverse panel of seven young evangelicals. Each had unique experiences and backgrounds. Some self-identified as liberal, while others self-identified as conservative. But those political ideologies could not separate their core evangelical principles. 

Young evangelicals today aren’t just single- or two-issue voters. They comprehend that issues are connected — “pro-life” has a much fuller meaning today than it did 20 years ago. Pro-life also means caring for the life and dignity of the poor and vulnerable; for the earth, which gives life; and the economy, which sustains life. Many young evangelicals fit the label “Matthew 25 Christians” — deeply thoughtful about how they engage in politics, using their faith as a guide to protect and serve the ones Jesus called “the least of these.” They hear about how their faith should inform their beliefs from the pulpit: 73 percent have heard sermons on poverty, 61 percent have heard a sermon on homosexuality, and 55 percent have heard a sermon on abortion. The largest issue disparity for young evangelicals is on abortion. Only 10 percent align with Democrats while 75 percent align with Republicans. On no other issue is there such a gap. (Full study here)

There is a real opportunity here. The young evangelicals who were speaking on the panel are changing, and so is what it means to be an evangelical, or Christian at all, in our country today. And it is exactly the kind of Christianity that they are living out which might, just might, pique the interest of some of the “nones.” 

While many young people find religion, and religious leaders frustrating, hypocritical, or entirely tone deaf to their needs, many of them who I talk to, still find Jesus fascinating — especially when following Jesus is applied to serving the common good as all the young evangelicals were talking about Tuesday. 

This was not a younger version of the religious-right-versus-religious-left argument at the National Press Club. Rather, and much more positively, this became a conversation between more liberal and more conservative young evangelical leaders asking how they could work to defend a “consistent ethic of life” and even together find solutions to some of our deepest problems. I found it a very hopeful discussion, which you can listen to HERE.

Jim Wallis is the author of Rediscovering Values: A Guide for Economic and Moral Recovery, and CEO of Sojourners. His forthcoming book, On God's Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, is set to release in early 2013. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.

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