As the Pew Research Center recently found, today’s young people are “less likely than older generations to be affiliated with any religion.” The question is whether this trend is a good thing or a bad thing.
If you are a person of faith, you may worry about the souls of these “millennials,” the generation born after 1980. If you are a critic of organized religion, you may rejoice.
Last week as I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed, I came across a post from Dr. Timothy Keller, one of the founding members of The Gospel Coalition, who has been known for his very intellectual and reasonable perspective on a variety of issues that his other conservative colleagues have not been so balanced on. However, one of his recent comments surprised me, seeming to further a false narrative about millennial evangelicals that we are a generation of spineless, selfish, and scared hipsters:
I immediately was taken aback when I came across this post. As a millennial who has been actively involved in the conversation surrounding what faith, life, and church will look like for my generation, it is abundantly clear that the image that Keller paints has little to no grounding in reality. In fact, I would argue that one of the biggest desires of millennials is that we would be involved in deeply intimate communities that allow us to express ourselves openly, ask the questions to arise in our minds without fear of judgment, and give us a tribe of people that will walk with us through the ups and downs of life. In fact, this desire for intimate community is a direct response to the lack of community we have grown up with, especially in the evangelical world with our sterile megachurches that make true community nearly impossible.
Yesterday morning, an op-ed piece went live on CNN by a young evangelical author named Daniel Darling, titled " Millennials and the false ‘gospel of nice.’ Darling’s piece is clearly written in response to many recent articles — like Rachel Held Evans’ recent piece "How evangelicals won a culture war and lost a generation " — which argue that many of the leaders of evangelical Christianity have abandoned the core convictions and teachings of Jesus Christ and instead have leveraged their faith as a weapon to be used against anyone who disagrees with their political and moral principles that they claim are rooted in Scripture.
All of this is very fresh in our minds as news broke yesterday that Christian relief organization World Vision lost more than 10,000 child sponsorships from people who disagreed with the organization’s policy change on hiring people in legal same-sex marriages. To many who watched this controversy unfold, this is an utter travesty. It seems simply unfathomable that anyone who claims to follow Christ could justify removing support from the impoverished children that they know by name because they disagreed with the organization’s hiring policy.
In his op-ed piece, Darling argues that the cry of many progressive and millennial evangelicals is:
"If only orthodox evangelical leaders would give up their antiquated beliefs, get more in step with the real Jesus, the church and the world would be better off."
He then continues by saying that:
"embedded in this narrative are two presuppositions: Young evangelicals are fleeing the church at a rapid pace [and] the real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity."
When I read these comments in Darling’s piece, I was utterly fascinated. Because as a millennial evangelical, and one who is participating in these conversations on a national and international level, I have never heard a single person call for "evangelical leaders to give up their antiquated beliefs." I have never heard anyone say "the real message of Jesus looks nothing like orthodox Christianity." When I read Darling’s piece, it became crystal clear to me what the key problem is that is causing so much friction between the "old guard" in evangelicalism and us millennials:
The old guard has confused orthodoxy with their political and moral interpretations of Scripture.
Millennials are the worst generation ever, a recent study by the Pew Research Center confirmed. The other generations already knew that, of course, but the study has given them new insights into what characterizes me and my fellow Millennials beyond “They freaking love Starbucks” and “They refuse to move out of my basement.”
The study’s revelations include that we’re not making all that much money, we have tons of debt, we’re racially diverse, and we use the Internet a lot (curiously absent was the fact that 97 percent of us do not like being broadly defined or labeled or otherwise demographed). We also tend to shun institutions, including religious ones, at rates far surpassing our parents and grandparents.
This last little detail has not escaped the notice of conservative media outlets, whose reactions have ranged from cautious reserved judgment to something bordering on full-blown alarm.
Like a true Millennial, I don’t think things are all that bad (heck, I wouldn’t know where the panic button is even if I wanted to press it). Actually, as a Christian, I think there is a lot to be excited about in the generation that’s poised to inherit the world … after we move out of our parents’ houses, that is.
National attention on a proposed Arizona law allowing business owners to deny service for religious reasons to gay people signals how attitudes on social issues have shifted dramatically in recent years.
Experts said such changes will accelerate on issues such as same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, legalization of marijuana, and childbearing among the unwed. Younger people are more liberal and less conventional, they said.
“We’re entering a period of massive social change,” said sociologist Daniel Lichter, of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. “This traditional pattern is reinforced by very large racial changes in America’s composition. The Baby Boomer generation — which is predominantly white and affluent and in some ways, conservative — in the next 20 [to] 30 years will be replaced by a younger population, and that population is going to be disproportionately minority.”
One day after the state of Ohio executed a man for murder, a new poll shows younger Christians are not as supportive of the death penalty as older members of their faith.
When asked if they agreed that “the government should have the option to execute the worst criminals,” 42 percent of self-identified Christian boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, said “yes.” Only 32 percent of self-identified Christian millennials, born between 1980 and 2000, said the same thing.
The poll conducted by Barna Group this past summer and released to Religion News Service Friday, surveyed 1,000 American adults and has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.6 percentage points.
It showed an even sharper difference in support for the death penalty among “practicing Christians,” which Barna defined as those who say faith is very important to their lives and have attended church at least once in the last month. Nearly half of practicing Christian boomers support the government’s right to execute the worst criminals, while only 23 percent of practicing Christian millennials do.
For many, including myself, the past few weeks have been discouraging, given the state of our politics and culture and what many vulnerable people across the country are experiencing. But despite the frustration and even grief sometimes I have been reminded of the importance of “saving faith.”
My favorite Twitter response last week said this, “If all American Christians behaved as you do, I wouldn’t have to be such a huge a**hole of an atheist.” (Edits mine.) It came in response to a column I wrote about the new film, 12 Years A Slave (see it if you haven’t yet!), the continuing realities of racism in America that we still tolerate, and the need for churches to provide leadership in the changing demographics of the country by becoming the multiracial faith communities we were intended to be.
The week before saw many of faith leaders, pastors, and young people out in the rain at the U.S. Capitol during the government shutdown in a “Faithful Filibuster,” reading each day through the 2,000 verses in the Bible that speak of how we should treat the poor and vulnerable. One of those nights a family friend, the father of one of the boys I have coached in Little League baseball, came over to our house. He said, “You know I am an atheist, but I really admire what you are doing at the Capitol — that’s what Christians ought to be doing.”
Right after the government shutdown ended, Sojourners had our annual staff orientation. The program included each staff member telling their story of when and why they came to join us. Listening carefully, I was struck by how many Sojourners staffers recalled times in their lives when they were about to lose their faith, but rediscovered it after stumbling upon Sojourners. In my remarks to them that day, I also told stories of a few of the legion of people who have told me over the years of how they had lost or were about to lose their faith until they heard the messages about a faith that does justice.
It has all reminded me again how Sojourners began.
We're all exploring and asking, "What's next?" This particular question serves us well when we ask where our young people are.
"What's next?" and the related, "Who will take us there?"
So, this morning I was primed and ready to read "What Millennials don’t want from the church" by Rachel Sloan. It's a quick and worthy missive in which she says, "The most frustrating part of being a Millennial is that my church does not understand me." What specifically doesn't the church understand? Well, "Millennials (despite the terrible things you are told to believe about us) want real authentic, worship and real, authentic churches. We want churches that want to have a relationship with us."
Having made the same mistake many, many times, this time I decided to get my Millennial friends to chime in on the post. Some rightly reminded me that speaking on behalf of any one generation is an impossible task and presents certain rhetorical problems.
WASHINGTON — In the most comprehensive study of American Jews in 12 years, a strong majority said being Jewish is mostly about ancestry or culture, not the religious practice of Judaism.
“A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center, shows strong secularist trends most clearly seen in one finding: 62 percent of U.S. Jews said Jewishness is largely about culture or ancestry; just 15 percent said it’s about religious belief.
“Non-Jews may be stunned by it,” said Alan Cooperman, co-author of the study. “Being Jewish to most Jews in America today is not a matter of religion.”
1) Jesus Avoided Labels
In fact, a large part of his ministry was breaking down preconceived titles, trying to bring about a world where there would be no differentiation between Jew or Gentile. He promoted the idea that loving God trumped racial, ethnic, social, religious, and political identities.
This doesn’t mean we’re simply “all the same underneath.” Jesus recognized that people had distinct differences, on both a personal and communal level. He embraced unique cultures and traditions and utilized them to reveal his glory, recognizing and valuin
As Congress makes a final attempt this fall to act on comprehensive immigration reform, the debate is focusing on “securing” our borders and offering a path to citizenship to the 11 million residents here without proper documentation. These politicized arguments, however, don’t see the forest for the trees.
We’re not viewing the broader impact that immigration has had on American society, especially since the last major immigration reform of the 1960s. In particular, we’re missing the way immigration is transforming the religious life of North America.
We commonly view immigration as introducing large numbers of non-Christian religions into U.S. society. True, because of immigration in the last half century, America has become the most religiously diverse country in the world, with thousands of mosques and temples dotting our religious landscape.
I am an evangelical.
But what does that label even mean anymore?
A few days ago I was sitting around chatting with a few new friends at my Bible college. One of them was a young Canadian and another was a middle-aged former U.S. soldier. We ended up on the topic of politics and how many companies and businesses in the United States give millions to political and social causes and somehow we ended up talking about McDonalds.
My USAF friend made the statement: “McDonalds is terrible because it gives millions to causes and organizations that you [speaking of me] directly oppose: LGBTQ rights campaigns, Planned Parenthood, etc.” I was taken aback because my new friend simply assumed that because everyone in this conversation was an evangelical meant that we all held a certain set of political ideals and social standards. For him — for millions of others — evangelical meant something far more than a theological persuasion. In the midst of this awkward moment, I decided to reveal my identity as a politically progressive/liberal evangelical, which automatically caused an immense amount of tension to arise in our conversation. How could I, a Bible-believing evangelical, possibly support the LGBTQ community’s right to marry? How could I think that Planned Parenthood was doing any good and that President Obama’s plan to rapidly decrease the numbers of abortions in the United States was progress in any way? Let’s just say that the conversation ended on a pretty tense note.
This encounter really caused me to re-reflect on the magnitude that the term evangelical has been hijacked by political and social agendas over the past decade and how a new generation of evangelicals is emerging that does not at all identify with any of the social and political baggage that has come to represent evangelical Christianity. Which brings me back to my original question: What does the label evangelical even mean anymore?
I can tell you this — it doesn’t mean that I am a Republican. It doesn’t mean that I am a Democrat. It doesn’t mean that I am pro- or anti-anything.
So, here's the thing. I just met Rev. Alfred Williams. He's a retired UCC pastor. At 81, he's still preaching and teaching. He's still asking great questions and pushing congregations to do the same. When I am his age, I hope to be as passionate. Hell, I wish I were as passionate now. With that introduction, I want to share this sermon that he preached on Aug.18 of at Ladera Community Church.
I think this sermon serves to blow apart some of our assumptions about generational differences within church leadership. He preached on Mark 8:27-33.
Out of nowhere, I felt an urge to listen to Willie Nelson’s epic album Stardust, a collection of pop standards that went platinum when it was released in 1978.
As I listened to “Blue Skies” and “On the Sunny Side of the Street,” I remembered buying this album for my father. I thought he would enjoy a fresh take on these songs of his youth, his travails during the Great Depression, and the war that defined his generation.
I don’t think he ever listened to it a second time. He loved the songs, but he couldn’t bear the fresh take. He wanted Gertrude Lawrence, the original voices of Tin Pan Alley and Depression-era hopefulness, the crooners that carried his generation to war and back home again.
I understand. The music we hear at our first dreaming, first love, first dance becomes the soundtrack of our lives.
For many people, the same is true of faith. Our images of God, songs of worship and language of prayer tend to be those we acquired at first awareness. Many more images, songs and words will come later, but none might resonate so deeply as those that were imprinted on us early on.
Many Christians have a confidence problem. They love Christ but are ashamed of everything associated with him. They want to be known as a Christian — just not that type of Christian. You know the type: the Westboro Baptists of the world; the scumbag televangelists on late-night cable; the fear-mongering preachers spewing apocalyptic prophecies; the proselytizers that scream at people outside of baseball stadiums; the celebrities claiming stupid things in the name of God; the “friends” who post bigoted messages on Facebook; the politicians who manipulate faith communities to serve their agendas; the anti-science, anti-environment, anti-women, anti-homosexuality, and anti-everything Christians who basically spread negativity wherever they go — the people who drag Christ’s name through the mud.
Today’s believers are hypersensitive and self-aware about the current events happening within media and culture, and in a society obsessed with consumerism, corporate loyalty, branding, product placement, and publicity, they understand that the Christian reputation is experiencing a fast decline, and they feel guilty by association.
This decline is not just happening in the “secular world,” but also within faith communities. Infighting, criticism, and self-deprecation are rampant within the American Church, and much of this is deserved, but it also reflects a corporate Christian identity that feels embarrassed and humiliated.
Making an ultimatum about church attendance to a sleep-deprived teenager may be my own version of hell on earth.
“We are leaving for church in 10 minutes,” I said, summoning my most authoritative voice before the lifeless lump under the covers.
My seven-year old Annie Sky watched the tense exchange between me and my 14-year old daughter Maya, who made periodic moans from the top bunk. With furrowed brow, my first grader sat on the couch, as if observing a tiebreaker at Wimbledon with no clear victor in sight.
For a moment, I wondered why I had drawn the line in the Sabbath sand, announcing earlier in the week that Maya would have to go to church that Sunday morning after an all-day trip to Dollywood with the middle school band. Somehow I didn’t want Dolly Parton’s amusement park to sabotage our family time in church. (The logic seemed rational at the time).
When Maya lifted the covers, I glimpsed the circles under her eyes and sunburn on her skin. But I repeated my command, with an undertone of panic, since I wasn’t sure if I could uphold the ultimatum.
When she finally got into the car, I breathed deeply and turned to our family balm, the tonic of 104.3 FM with its top 40 songs that we sing in unison. As the drama settled, I realized one reason why I made my teenager go to church: I want my daughters to know that we can recover from yelling at each other (which we had) and disagreeing. We can move on, and a quiet, sacred space is a good place to start.
While everyone was blowing up the Twittersphere decrying the injustices of the Oscars, as movies like Argo walked away with Best Picture honors, I was sitting in a Philadelphia hotel lobby trying to chew on everything I’d heard and seen at this year’s Justice Conference.
The two-day event brought together more than 5,000 people to promote dialogue around justice-related issues, like poverty and human trafficking; featured internationally acclaimed speakers such as Gary Haugen, Shane Claiborne, and Eugene Cho; and exhibited hundreds of humanitarian organizations.
While there is certainly more thinking and processing to be done, here are four things that stood out.
As President Barack Obama comes off of a substantial second victory, many pundits have pointed to the youth vote and a significant factor in his most recent success. Reports show that 60 percent of young voters cast ballots for Obama, while only 36 percent voted for Gov. Mitt Romney's more conservative policies. While many older voters believe this suggests young voters are unaware or uninterested in the nation's economic concerns, a major platform in the 2012 election, a number of polls suggest the economy is actually a top priority for most young voters. As it happens, though, young people seem to have very different ideas on how best to handle economic instability than their older counterparts.
The day after the election, Southern Baptist Seminary President Albert Mohler said, “I think this was an evangelical disaster.”
Not really. But it was a disaster for the religious right, which had again tied its faith to the partisan political agenda of the Republican Party — which did lose the election. But Nov. 6 was an even deeper disaster for the religious right’s leaders, because they will no longer be able to control or easily co-opt the meaning of the term “evangelical.”
During this election, much of the media continued to use the word as a political term — as a key constituency of the Republican conservative base. But what the media really means when they use term “evangelical” is “conservative white evangelical.” All other kinds of evangelicals are just never counted.
Just as the 2012 electoral results finally revealed the demographic transformation of America — which has been occurring for quite some time — it also dramatically demonstrated how the meaning of the word “evangelical” is being transformed.
Evangelical can no longer be accurately used to mean “white evangelical.”