Having lived my life on two sides of the same [Christian] track I have seen a lot of different things, especially when it comes to views of this country. Growing up in a historic African American context I heard much about the United States but not much around National holidays and an unintentional differentiation between. Now that I am in a mostly Caucasian context in the Midwest there is a major ramping up towards National holidays and an unintended conflation of church and state. A great example of this comes around every 4th of July. I have to admit I become uncomfortable in both context for the lack of balance and [right] understanding of the day. My wife and I have had these discussions for years and they basically come to the conclusion that the differences in our culture backgrounds let us view it differently. I have wondered for years how to balance this tension and recently I read an article that helped me better understand my own inner angst. In an article written by Trevin Wax 4 reasons “Why Younger Evangelicals May Feel Uneasy In A Patriotic Church Service” and offers many ways forward. Here are his reasons (which resonate so much with me):
1. Extreme Experiences in the Past
Part of the unease may come from experiencing a sloppy melding of “church” and “nation” in the past…
2. Decreasing Patriotism among Millennials
Part of the unease may be rooted in a decrease in patriotism…
3. Shifting Cultural Currents
Younger Evangelicals have a different approach to political engagement, and speaking within the context of generational shifts.
“Older Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Israel. Younger Southern Baptists are more likely to see the U.S. as Babylon.”
4. Failure to Fully Appreciate Time and Place
Some younger evangelicals see any patriotic expression as a compromise with worldly power. Their approach is to take the flag out of the sanctuary, never sing a patriotic song, and never mention a patriotic holiday.
I know that I am not alone on this (or maybe I am) but I would love to know your thoughts on the church and patriotism. Does Trevin get this wrong? Is there something else we can do? How do we balance this out?
Recently, I was given a recent CNN article “Why Millennials Are Leaving The Church” by Rachel Held Evans. When reading the post it becomes evident that (in my opinion) she is not talking about the “holy catholic church,” but a narrow subculture of conservative American evangelicals but the conversation is afoot none the less. Unfortunately, her post does not [seem to] address why young adults in America are leaving the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, broad evangelical, nor mainline churches. I must admit that her post has struck a chord with a larger swath of readers (see the thousands of comments below her post). She is addressing a perennial topic of conversation among church leaders and church goers: what will happen to the next generation.
Like Rachel, I’m in my early 30’s, right on the border of the millennials, and many of the questions and doubts I hear from the millennial generation resonate with me too, but the analysis offered from Trevin Wax below differs somewhat from Rachel’s.
I guess the questions is simple, If you are below 30 why are you leaving (staying) in the church? I look forward to your comments below.
Rachel thinks millennials are leaving the church due to the perception that evangelicals are
“… too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”
She’s right to decry a vision of Christianity that reduces repentance to a list of do’s and don’ts. I too have noticed that many millennials desire to be involved in mercy ministry and support justice causes. And I couldn’t agree more when she says “we want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation.”
The Church’s Response.
How has the church responded? Rachel sees church leaders trying to update their music or preaching style, and thereby running up against the “highly sensitive BS meters” we millennials have. We’re not fooled by consumerism or performances when churches cater to what they think we want.
“What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.”
I agree with that sentence for the most part, although I would tweak the last line to say “What millennials really want from the church is substance.” Not a change in substance, necessarily, just substance will do.
Too often, our churches have offered a sanitized, spiritualized version of self-help therapy, and Jesus has been missing. And that’s the problem. Like every generation, she says, “deep down we long for Jesus.”
Here’s where Rachel and I part ways – on what communities following Jesus look like in our culture.