Faith put into action
Renee Colvin isn't too interested in orchestrating a Sunday-morning church service.
No, this 20-year-old Ohio Wesleyan University senior has her eye on other things when it comes to serving God; things such as ending human trafficking, ensuring that people of all races and nationalities earn a fair wage, removing obstacles for the poor and getting the homeless out of shelters and back into life.
"I don't think I can change the world," she said, "but I really do think I can make a difference."
Colvin represents a growing movement in this country, a younger, fresh and different face of Christianity. She is part of a generation that increasingly seems to not worry so much about how many bills to drop into the plate on Sunday mornings or whether the congregation should sing The Old Rugged Cross, but instead about how to contribute to society and effect change in Jesus' name.
"People have lost the concept of serving God, pouring your faith into whatever you do and serving others," Colvin said. "Some people use religion in such horrible ways, and I don't want to be one of them."
She means no disrespect to the people who do, indeed, plan services or, for that matter, serve God in the hundreds of other ways they see fit. That's the beauty of faith, she said: One size doesn't have to fit all.
Perhaps this generation that is focused on social justice and putting its faith into action has been no better illustrated in central Ohio than during the Justice Revival, a three-day event capped by a day of community service held in Columbus in April. More than 10,000 people attended the events or helped in the service projects, and about half were younger than 35.
That was no coincidence, said the Rev. Virginia Lohmann Bauman. A former trial lawyer in central Ohio, she is a second-career minister and the field organizer in Ohio for Sojourners, a religious organization focused on social-justice issues, specifically poverty.
She said there is clearly a sea change among the younger set. "They are reclaiming a call to Christian discipleship, but doing it in radically different ways than their parents did," Lohmann Bauman said. "They aren't caught up in the divisive issues of their parents' or grandparents' generation, the issues that have been tearing churches apart.
"And what that means is that down the road 10 or 15 years, when they become the church leaders, we will see a very different approach to religion in this country."
The young adults themselves don't want to be viewed, however, as simply do-gooders. They are, they say, every bit as committed to theology and Scripture as other generations.
"We just go about spreading the gospel differently, more impassioned," said Lee McConkey, a 23-year-old who will receive his degree in logistics management and marketing from Ohio State University on Sunday. He is the president of OSU's Campus Crusade for Christ.
"We can't spread the word to people who live differently than we do unless we are there and understand them. We want to get bloody and dirty with them. We want to build relationships, not simply offer charity."
It is attitudes such as his that have taken the Crusaders on repeated and extended trips to places such as Azerbaijan, China, France and the hurricane-ravaged bayous of Louisiana and Mississippi.
And for Colvin, it is that spirit that has led her to be part of a group of Ohio Wesleyan students that just returned from two weeks in a homeless shelter in downtown Washington, D.C. It was Colvin's second time on the mission trip.
In D.C., the group toured the sites, visited with members of Congress and watched the Senate in action.
But the students stayed at Community for Creative Non-Violence, the largest homeless shelter of its kind in the country. There, they tidied up, painted rooms, cleaned, cooked and organized the vanloads of donated items they had brought from home. They formed bonds with those at the shelter, but in the end, they learned more than they taught.
For Colvin, the trips were life-changing. "These people were at the bottom, and no one was picking them up. I just stood there thinking, 'How can I help?' " she said. "Then it hit me: all this poverty, all this sadness right there, with all that glamour of the most powerful place in the world two blocks away. It was unbelievable."
When Colvin entered college, she was a chemistry major. Her family hoped she would become a doctor. But she sought more. Now, she is a sociology/politics/government major and is involved in several campus ministries. She also volunteers each week at a Columbus homeless shelter.
She hopes to earn a law degree and work for an organization called the International Justice Mission, a human-rights organization based in Washington.
"I know that I will never be as faithful as I can be unless I'm helping others," she said.
Lisa Ho, an assistant chaplain at Ohio Wesleyan, said that only in the past few years has Colvin been in the majority on campus.
"It's been a recent change," Ho said. "But the social-justice movement is swelling."
This generation was weaned on the Internet and is much less parochial and more globally connected than any before it, Ho said. That makes it easier to see the needs of the world and find ways to help them.
But it's more than that, she thinks.
As long as churches continue to get caught up in controversy over things such as gay clergy, gay marriage and female clergy, the younger generations will be disillusioned, Ho said.
"Those issues are important and must be dealt with, but this generation is not focusing entirely on them," she said. "Instead, they are blending their passion for justice with evangelism and finding that it can work."