Richard Stearns

How Conservative Evangelicals Misunderstand Millennials

Young people at a coffee shop, wavebreakmedia /

Young people at a coffee shop, wavebreakmedia /

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.

World Vision's Gay Marriage Flip-Flop Reflects Evangelical Angst as Culture Shifts

RNS photo by Kevin Eckstrom.

Supporters of gay marriage rallied outside the U.S. Supreme Court last year. RNS photo by Kevin Eckstro

Nearly two years ago, Chick-fil-A CEO Dan T. Cathy caused a backlash when he said he supported marriage between a man and a woman. Gay groups announced boycotts, and Christian consumers rallied around the fast-food chain’s chicken sandwiches.

In a recent interview, however, Cathy said that while he still holds the same position, he regrets “making the company a symbol in the marriage debate.”

Similarly, when Phil Robertson was suspended from his popular reality TV show Duck Dynasty for making controversial comments about homosexuality to GQ magazine, gay groups cheered the decision as evangelical fans swamped the A&E network with complaints. Within a week, Robertson was reinstated.

So it was much the same this week when the evangelical relief group World Vision announced that it would allow employees who are in same-sex marriages. Within 48 hours, the $1 billion Christian organization reversed course, saying on Wednesday that it had made a mistake.

Q&A: World Vision President Rich Stearns on Sponsors, Staff Lost Over Same-Sex Marriage Announcements

RNS photo by Jon Warren/World Vision

Richard Stearns, seen here during a visit to Zambia, is the U.S. President of World Vision. RNS photo by Jon Warren/World Vision

In an attempt to create unity, World Vision managed to create a hornet’s nest around the issue of same-sex marriage. Its president Rich Stearns openly acknowledges the mistakes the relief organization made while flip-flopping on the issue.

Earlier this week, the World Vision announced that it would allow employees to be in same-sex marriages. Within 48 hours, the $1 billion Christian organization reversed course, saying on Wednesday that it had made a mistake. The backlash illustrated how evangelicals will continue to wrestle with a growing cultural acceptance of same-sex marriage.

In an interview with RNS on Thursday, Stearns suggested that the number of sponsors lost was under but around 5,000. Those who sponsor a child pay $35 each month, so the loss could have tallied up to $2.1 million a year.

Stearns also spoke with RNS on how the decision and its reversal has impacted the organization, the number of staff who have resigned and the regret he has had this week. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

British Clergy to Support #OccupyLondon with Circle of Protection, Prayer

occupy london
On Sunday (10/30), the Anglican Bishop of London, the Rt. Rev. Dr. Richard Chartres, met with Occupy London protesters who have encamped for several weeks now on the ground of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, in an ongoing attempt to get the demonstrators to leave church grounds.

Chartres wants the Occupiers to vacate cathedral property and stopped short, in an interview with the BBC yesterday, of saying he would oppose their forcible removal. Other British clergy, however, are rallying behind the demonstrators, saying they would physically (and spiritually) surround protesters at St. Paul's with a circle of prayer or "circle of protection."