Her Views · On Being Christian

the shifting of young evangelicals

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.

4 thoughts on “the shifting of young evangelicals

  1. I checked out Carol Howard Merritt’s article, and now I know that conservative politics are bad and progressive politics are good! Just kidding. I wondered if “pernicious sexism” is causing a younger generation of Catholics, Mormons, and Muslims to leave their houses of worship or if that is only supposedly happening in Evangelical churches.

    The Evangelical church that I attend is expanding rather than “graying,” and I can honestly say that religious intolerance and politics (right, left, or center) are not preached. “Health care became demonized and wars glorified,” writes Merritt of Evangelical churches, or many of them. Not at my church. I wonder if she thinks it would be okay for a church to glorify “health care” (meaning Obamacare or a Democrat bill) and demonize wars. Is her church sanitized of progressive politics? Or can the politics stay because progressives are just doing God’s work? She seems like the flip side of the conservatives she criticizes.

    Sorry to write a book here. I recommend Suzanne Hadley Gosselin’s article dated January 19, 2010, titled “Young Adults Leaving the Church or Not?” (boundlessline.org). Slightly different emphasis, but interesting.

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    1. Thanks KS. I agree that her comments on war, healthcare and global warming seem more like she personally disagrees with those positions and is guilty of the same close-mindedness I’m referring to in this post. On the other hand, churches who make broad-stroke statements about those things simply demonstrate profound ignorance of how the attitudes of their audience have shifted. We’ve got to do better at listening (on both sides) with curiosity instead of condemnation.

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  2. I wouldn’t believe anything the Huffington Post says. It is hardly known for its non-biased viewpoint. It is an extremely left leaning website that will only put other far left leaning writers, articles, comments, and posts on it’s website. I suggest you find a more neutral website to get your news.

    Many Evangelicals voted for Obama because, like many others, they saw a charismatic, articulate, youngish man who inspired hope and was different than John McCain. It was Kennedy vs. Nixon all over again. They believed the hype. You couldn’t turn on a news channel without someone praising how wonderful everything was going to be after he was elected.

    Many liberal websites gleefully announce the end of a Christian, conservative, or Republican belief on a daily basis. What they don’t report is that 18 – 29 year olds are showing themselves to be the most conservative age group when it comes to issues like abortion.

    It’s very trendy in the media to sound the death knoll over one thing over another, but nothing has really changed. God is still on the throne, there are hundreds of Americans accepting Christ, and a year from now the news will be all about how conservatism is making a comeback amongst the young.

    I am a little disappointed in you for seemingly agreeing with how closed minded, sexist, and intolerant all Christans are stereotypically portrayed as being in the media. It’s about having a conviction of what is Truth, while also showing love as a disciple of Christ. Condemnation helps no one.

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    1. You’re absolutely right that 18-29 yr olds are very conservative. To be clear, the article didn’t say it was the death knell for Christianity or conservatism – these people aren’t leaving their faith, they’re specifically leaving the Evangelical “brand” of faith. That is an interesting observation.

      I too acknowledge that God is still on the throne, and am very hopeful. I was merely pointing out that one can maintain a conviction of Truth and still work to have an open conversation about a differing position that is curious and seeks to understand.

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