A recent article in Christianity Today cited a study that looked into Generation Z and their relationship with the Church and Christianity. What they found about participation was no surprise: 18 to 22 year olds are half as likely to identify as Christian as 13-17 year olds are. Generations X, Y, and Z are all far less interested in organized religion than every generation before them, but this is true for those earlier generations as well. Many pundits and badly informed “experts” have blamed organized religion as the culprit (we are partly to blame, no doubt), but studies have shown something else; it isn’t the organized part, or even the religion part, that put younger generations off – it’s the lack of honesty. And the bigotry. And the focus on wealth. Younger people have been raised with fewer taboos and restrictions, and even the most religious among them don’t understand how Christians can hate LGBTQ people or say racist things. I hear you. I have felt the same way for decades.
It seems like the most oxymoronic thing, the idea that people who say they follow Jesus can also be so hateful towards others. They fall back on Scripture as the basis for their bias, which only means to me that they haven’t actually read those Scriptures they say they revere so much. If they had taken the Scriptures seriously, they would have challenged inerrancy from the very first time they read them. They would see that the Bible has been used to support all kinds of heinous things, like slavery, genocide, and the mistreatment of women. They would read the different – very different – versions of beloved stories and realize, with a little thought, that these multiple versions cannot all be true or factual.
I went into the ministry at a very young age, and I naively thought that followers of Jesus would like how honest and straightforward, and unafraid to speak the truth I was. In fact, most people did like these qualities – until I challenged their way of life or their misunderstanding of Scripture. Then, they walked away, accusing me of getting political or not staying in my lane. I have had colleagues who were the same way as I was; unfortunately for the church, many of them decided to leave the ministry rather than deal with the conflicts and disappointments that come with truth-telling. Being an American can sometimes come into conflict with being a person of faith; our love of money and power are consistently condemned as idolatry. Our love of war and acceptance of violence is directly opposed by the teachings of Jesus. And don’t get me started on politicians who use Jesus to get elected and then legislate against the very nature of His teachings. They will have a lot of explaining to do, someday.
To all of you, no matter what generation you belong to, please hear this: Not all communities of faith put up with dishonesty and mean behavior. Keep looking for that pearl of great price. I can almost guarantee that there is at least one congregation near you somewhere trying to live justly and walk humbly with God. Don’t give up – we’re out there. You just need to look.
Prayer – Gracious God, give us the courage to tell the truth with love. Give us the courage to stand up for what’s right against the tyranny of the majority, or at least of the loudest. Be with us in our journey to be Your people. Amen.