Something about Evangelicalism isn’t transferring to the next generation. That fact became abundantly clear in the last presidential election, when many traditional Evangelicals were shocked – shocked – to discover that so many Christians had actually voted for Obama.
The Huffington Post writes that Evangelicalism is Failing a New Generation. The writer suggests three major reasons why a younger generation is leaving Evangelicalism: “pernicious sexism, religious intolerance, and conservative politics.”
I’m going to suggest a fourth: extreme close-mindedness – black/white, white/wrong. We don’t seem interested in listening for nuance, for understanding what another is trying to say. We exclusively focus on a word’s denotation (its direct, explicit meaning); ignoring its connotation (things or attributes the word brings to mind, other ideas or notions associated with the word). Yes, you read that right. Words can have other connotations, compounded by the marvelous uniqueness of each human being’s personal vocabulary and experience.
There’s a difference between being open to talking about sexism, religious intolerance, and conservative politics, and accepting these things. We alienate others when we assume that simply by questioning these things, they are are therefore advocating feminism, polytheism and liberalism. It’s possible that young Christians simply want a more engaging way to talk about these things with people they care about.
Is it possible to be tolerant of another religion? Absolutely (if you consider the connotations of those words). I’ve had numerous opportunities to explain my faith to my Persian buddies at my temp job, simply by asking them about the distinctions of their faith. They feel free to ask anything they don’t understand about Christianity, and we mutually educate each other. I accept that they believe differently, and trust that the Spirit will speak to them through the truth of the Gospel. This is one example of another way to understand religious “tolerance.”
The solution to the problem of young believers leaving Evangelicalism isn’t to further clarify where and why they’re wrong. It’s to explore other connotations of their questions, then engage in discussion that helps them reconcile their experience with the truths of our faith.