A Letter from a Millennial
Thanks to Rachel Held Evans writing for CNN, the topic of why Millennials are leaving the church and what if anything we should do about it is back on the conversation table for a lot of Christians. Many are very thoughtfully engaging with the topic and realizing that the exodus is a symptom of the huge issues prevalent in the North American church. For those people I am immensely thankful – I probably would have little to do with institutional Christianity if it were not for you.
But I am always amazed and disappointed at how many people shrug off the younger generation as just whining or that we’ll come back once we grow up a little. So I write this post to those shrugging us off, on behalf of my generation:
You’re not listening. If you don’t agree with a single one of our critiques – which is hard to believe if you actually pay attention – and we simply work out some kind of a compromise, that’s generally ok. But usually you just aren’t listening at all, shutting us down without even considering whether we may have a point. I’d bet that some of you have found this page and started reading but have already tuned it out or are busy formulating your counter-points before stopping to actually consider. I’ve seen many blogs where that is clear just by the nature of the comments that blatantly ignore the content, rushing to an angry response. Lower your guard, please. You’re hurting us deeply in ways that we may never recover from, and you don’t show any signs of caring.
Many Millenials think that you have an unhealthy obsession with a false idea of what you consider to be truth. When you tell us that we have to be slaves to your denomination’s rules in the name of “truth,” we want to know why the truth no longer sets us free as Jesus promised. We want to know what these “truths” have replaced the Truth, Jesus himself, as the centre of our faith. Sadly, you don’t answer these critiques, just tell us that we need to grow up which alienates us instead of engaging us.
Oh, but we have to hold the historical tenets of Christianity, you might say. I focused largely on church history in my M.Div., so this one really annoys me. Of course not all Millennials know the history as well as I do, but most still have talked to people outside their denomination and *gasp* even outside the faith entirely. We’ve all come to the realization that not all Christianity is the same and cold hard objective truth is rarely so cold, so hard, or so objective. This doesn’t fit with the fact that many churches/denominations try to present themselves as the only real Church where not even other Christians are worth listening to.
This leads to the unfortunate use of “historical tenets” to usually mean an extremely detailed list of rules determined by your denominational history, often no more than 300 years old out of the church’s 2000 year history. We’re generally not asking you to scrap the Trinity or Jesus’ divinity or the authority of Scripture or the practice of sacraments/ordinances or an ethic centred in love, things that I would say are actually historical tenets of Christianity. But when you present us with a house of cards theology where questioning one minor detail makes everything crumble, no matter what we say you’ll see it as an attack and fight back. We want to help you, too, not just ourselves, but we can’t if you won’t listen.
In fact, we tend to think that we’re doing most justice to the doctrine of incarnation by questioning why the church looks so little like Jesus sometimes. We question why Jesus could say that failure to love is the ultimate sin and that it isn’t our job to judge, but our churches tell us that it is instead homosexuality or getting pregnant before marriage as if God’s primary concern was whose genitals touched whose when. I heard in many apologetics discussions growing up how we need to ignore the church’s faults because we’re only human, but that just doesn’t fit with what Jesus said and did. Isn’t Christ supposed to be living in us and through us? Doesn’t Jesus’ teaching mean anything beyond a few clobber passages we can rip out of context to hurt other people with? Isn’t repentance – the turning away from one way of life toward another radically different one – at the heart of Jesus’ call to follow?
We ask all of these questions and so many more. Instead of answering us, we are often essentially told “because we said so; how dare you question us?” And we can’t help but see more parallels between the (mostly Evangelical) church and the Pharisees than we can with Jesus. And we can’t help but see that Jesus consistently called that out as problems. In fact, those are the only people that Jesus ever publicly criticized (he did occasionally criticize his disciples as well when they showed Pharisee-like attitudes). So I don’t understand how you can act surprised that so many people are following in Jesus’ steps and questioning judgemental and oppressive religious systems that seem to be completely missing the heart of God.
Thousands if not millions of us give up entirely, thinking if the church is that problematic that there can’t be much value to the whole Jesus thing at all. I personally have not left the church in large part because I have been one of the lucky ones. I have had strong leaders who have encouraged me to ask questions and who have wrestled through the answers with me. And don’t be mistaken about the nature of strength; it is not “defend what I think is truth no matter what” but is rather the humbling act of journeying together on this life of faith. Leaders in my life figured this out faster than the average and for this I am immensely thankful. If you really can’t bring yourself to listen to us, at least listen to them.
Trying to shut us up by shrugging us off as immature is not going to work. Even if it were true, that’s hardly the way to show us the love of Jesus to bring us back. We’re tired of being looked down on because we are young (1 Tim 4:12). Choose wisely how you will proceed. I sincerely hope for your sake and for ours that you will change your approach. You need us and we need you.