The following article, authored by Rachel Held Evans, appeared in the CNN faith section. It was sent to me by a friend. Take a few minutes and read it. Then see my comments in italics on a second version below the original.
First of all let me admit up front that there is little in this article that I agree with. I don’t disagree that millennials think this. I merely disagree that their arguments have any validity. Also, I should confess that I am jealous. This article received 350 thousand Facebook likes. I was thrilled when I got 700 on one of my columns. But I sincerely don’t think that has influenced my thought process one bit. Instead, it is a testament to the fact that evangelicals have a lot of work to do because apparently a lot of people feel this way. I will also say that I visited Rachel Held Evans’ blog and it is very well done and I think she is a thoughtful person and a sister. So nothing I say is intended to be an attack on her personally. I have deliberately not looked at any of the other replies that apparently came out as a result of this article. My thoughts below are my own. See my comments in italics.
(CNN) – At 32, I barely qualify as a millennial.
I wrote my first essay with a pen and paper, but by the time I graduated from college, I owned a cell phone and used Google as a verb.
I still remember the home phone numbers of my old high school friends, but don’t ask me to recite my husband’s without checking my contacts first.
I own mix tapes that include selections from Nirvana and Pearl Jam, but I’ve never planned a trip without Travelocity.
Despite having one foot in Generation X, I tend to identify most strongly with the attitudes and the ethos of the millennial generation, and because of this, I’m often asked to speak to my fellow evangelical leaders about why millennials are leaving the church.
Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Throughout the article one thing rings clear. Miss Evans is liberal. Her points against evangelicalism tend to be where her liberalism collides with God’s clear word, not with evangelicalism as she would prefer to state it. So with her opening volley she first accuses the church of being unconcerned with social justice. This is one criticism that does have some merit. Too many of our churches are too rich in that they spend too much of God’s money on better facilities and better decorations. This practice can and does extend to the individual members as well. Often too little of God’s blessings are returned to him to help the poor. Still, her use of the term “social justice” raises a red flag with me.
This is a darling term of the left these days to mask various forms and degrees of socialism or even communism. Not only is there no Biblical mandate to practice this frequent failure of an economic model, there are also many verses that make it clear that individual freedom and autonomy under the leadership and direction of God, produce the greatest social justice for all.
Second, Miss Evans really tips her hand for the entirety of the article when she accuses the church (or millennials do the accusing if you prefer I state it that way) of being “hostile” to LGBT individuals. I find this statement ridiculous on its face. For one thing, the church is not at all hostile to gays etc. it is hostile to sin. That’s kind of what Jesus told us to be. We are to be a light in a world engulfed by the darkness of sin. We hold no animosity towards individuals. We hold righteous indignation for sin in all its forms. Therefore if individuals want to come to church in open defiance and have the church welcome them…and their sin…then that will be a problem from now till Christ comes. However, if anyone from the LGTB community wants to repent of their sin then they have been and will be welcome with open arms. By identifying individuals by their sexuality, I am assuming she means individuals who want to continue to practice that form of sexuality. The church has no scriptural authority to allow such behavior within her ranks while maintaining fellowship with such persons. It is no different Biblically than if I was a kleptomaniac that advertised my propensity to steal and who insisted that I be a member in good standing while continuing to steal. This leads me to my second point.
The hostility that Miss Evans refers to is completely being fostered by the LGTB community. I have said on my blog many times, we in the Evangelical church would LOVE to stop talking about (or hearing about) peoples sexuality. The Christian ethic does not teach us to identify ourselves or others in that way. But the militant LGTB movement will not allow us to do that. With everything from suing a Christian baker when he doesn’t want to make a Lesbian wedding cake, to forcing church camps to lose tax exempt status for refusing to hold a gay wedding reception in their facilities, it is the LGTB community that regularly and purposely paints the church into a corner. Then the church is accused of hostility for attempting to defend itself.
I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, Poppycock! I am growing weary of shooting holes in this argument. If the millennials would read less Darwin and more scripture they wouldn’t feel this way. If they would learn how science is actually done instead of reading political screeds by the likes of Richard Dawkins then they would see that their faith is in a reasonable and scientific God who created a reasonable and scientific universe and then graced men with a reasonable mind so that they could thrive in that universe. between compassion and holiness. Speaking as one who does science for a living, there are far more holes in many modern day scientific theories (which are in and of themselves far more faith based than Christianity and that reflect more of the atheist philosophy of the researcher than they reflect the proper application of the scientific method) than there are in the so called anti-biblical arguments of the scientific community.
and between compassion and holiness. Ahhh, are we now getting to the crux of the matter? Is this really what this article is all about? Is it Miss Evans contention that that which is Holy is not compassionate. In her view, these two seem mutually exclusive. Surely that was not her point. Instead I think she once again is favoring her political ideology over the clear teaching of scripture. She is reluctant to have the church call sin, sin. It makes her uncomfortable and what’s more it makes her practicing and unrepentant LGBT friends feel self-conscious.
I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex See above. can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt. This may be an issue in churches that Miss Evans attends. This is one area where I agree with her. The church must allow for tough questions. Millennials must then allow for tough answers.
Invariably, after I’ve finished my presentation and opened the floor to questions, a pastor raises his hand and says, “So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands. …” Hope this hasn’t happened much. As you can see, this was not my reaction. But since we are seeing this around the nation it probably is often the response she gets.
And I proceed to bang my head against the podium. Funny, I did that when I read this article.
Time and again, the assumption among Christian leaders, and evangelical leaders in particular, is that the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates – edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated Web site that includes online giving. Again, we agree here.
But here’s the thing: Having been advertised to our whole lives, we millennials have highly sensitive BS meters, and we’re not easily impressed with consumerism or performances.
In fact, I would argue that church-as-performance is just one more thing driving us away from the church, and evangelicalism in particular. This is absolutely correct.
Many of us, myself included, are finding ourselves increasingly drawn to high church traditions – Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, the Episcopal Church, etc. – precisely because the ancient forms of liturgy seem so unpretentious, so unconcerned with being “cool,” and we find that refreshingly authentic. This seems to be contradictory to her first several paragraphs. If she thinks the modern church is too intolerant of sin, try Calvin or Luther.
What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. My comments on this below.
We want an end to the culture wars. So does the church. So stop attacking us. Let us pray in Jesus name in the military. Let military chaplains have a Bible on their own desk without punishing them. Don’t force us to pay for abortions which are an abomination to our faith. I could go on and on. We want a truce between science and faith. Us too. So maybe science should stop fallaciously telling us that their science disproves or trumps our holy book. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against. See all of the above.
We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers.
We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation. Here methinks Miss Evans could take her own advice. However, once again, if a certain political party wasn’t pro-abortion, pro-the perversion of marriage, anti-nativity scene, anti-prayer, and anti-freedom of religion, then I for one might be more inclined to consider that party. Until then, there is only one party that I can come close to fitting into and they don’t really like my beliefs much either.
We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities. Not true. You want your LGBT friends PRACTICES to feel welcome. Your friends are more than welcome, however, no openly unrepentant lifestyle, no matter what the sinful practice, can be welcomed. The moment it is then there is no longer a church. Instead there is something else, a garden club perhaps.
We want to be challenged to live lives of holiness, not only when it comes to sex, It appears that they don’t want to be holy in this area at all. Instead they want to do what they want. But as long as holiness means stuff they like… when it comes to living simply, caring for the poor and oppressed, pursuing reconciliation, engaging in creation care and becoming peacemakers. This is starting to sound an awful lot like the “Jesus” movement of the ‘60’s where Jesus became just a word and not a proper name for an actual being who has revealed himself to us and told us clearly how he would have us to live.
You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there. If this article is an accurate portrayal of millennial’s thoughts, then the problem might be that they don’t find their version of Jesus there.
Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus. Amen and Amen.
Now these trends are obviously true not only for millennials but also for many folks from other generations. Whenever I write about this topic, I hear from forty-somethings and grandmothers, Generation Xers and retirees, who send me messages in all caps that read “ME TOO!” So I don’t want to portray the divide as wider than it is.
But I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community. Their answers might surprise you.
None of what I have said has been intended as hostile to any millennial. And yes, the church (myself included) has in many way’s let millennials down by not adequately disciplining ourselves and them to prepare them for a world hostile to their faith. We have tried to win them with a watered down gospel that cannot stand the scrutiny of a skeptical society. But the solution is not to water it down more, but to speak it boldly and to live it out accurately.