Millennial Morality: Thoughts On A Generation’s Thoughts On Christianity

August 5, 2013 at 5:15 am Leave a comment


Source: urbanfaith.com

Credit: urbanfaith.com

Last weekend, popular blogger Rachel Held Evans, writing for CNN, offered an account of why she thinks those in the millennial generation are leaving the Church.  Her comments are worth quoting at length:

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.

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, between compassion and holiness.

I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex 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.[1]

Rachel Held Evans certainly has her finger on the pulse of contemporary culture.  Research does indeed show that millennials describe Christianity as “too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”  In other words, many millennials view traditional Christian teachings as repressive and regressive.  What Rachel fails to ask, however, is, “Does this popularly held perception of Christianity match its reality?”

There’s a whole army of research out there about how people feel about Christianity.  But what about the research that reveals what is actually being preached and taught from Christian pulpits?  How many sermons on politics are actually preached week in and week out?  How about sermons on sex?  How about sermons that are openly hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people?  Here, the research becomes much more scant.  And, I suspect, the sermons themselves might just be much more scant as well.

Now, I know it’s not hard to skew popular perceptions of what the Christian Church is all about.  After all, it’s usually not the sermon on John 3 and God loving the world that makes the rounds on YouTube; it’s the sermon on Leviticus 20 with the sweaty pastor yelling about the abominations of sodomy that gets 500,000 views.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the objections that many millennials have to some of the teachings of Christianity aren’t so much objections as they are excuses.  In other words, the reason many millennials object to particular Christian tenets is not because they are “too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people”; it is because they simply don’t like parts of what Christianity teaches.  So they accuse Christians of absolutism so they can live in libertinism.  Nathan Hitchen explains it like this:  “When people don’t want to believe something, they ask themselves, ‘Must I believe this?’ and then search for contrary evidence until they find a single reason to doubt the claim and dismiss it.”[2]  In other words, they find that YouTube video with the sweaty, yelling pastor and say, “No way.”

From a theological perspective, C.S. Lewis offers keen insight into the objectionable character of Christian morality:

Christ did not come to preach any brand new morality … Really great moral teachers never do introduce new moralities:  it is quacks and cranks who do that.  As Dr. Johnson said, “People need to be reminded more often than they need to be instructed.”  The real job of every moral teacher is to keep on bringing us back, time after time, to the old simple principles which we are all so anxious not to see; like bringing a horse back to the fence it has refused to jump or bringing a child back to the bit in its lesson that it wants to shirk.[3]

C.S. Lewis minces no words about how tough the task of teaching Christian morality really is.  It’s tough because the “old simple principles” of morality are ones “which we are all so anxious not to see.”  Yet, Jesus, as a teacher of morality, among other things, preached these “old simple principles.”  Of course, such preaching didn’t make Him popular or unobjectionable.  It got Him killed.

So perhaps popularity is not in the cards for Christianity.  This should not come as a surprise.  It wasn’t in the cards for Jesus.  And yet, as Rachel Held Evans finally notes in her CNN article, “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.”  Maybe that’s because, deep down, even if our depravity rebels against it, something keeps telling us Jesus is right.  And if Jesus is right, that means He can make us right with God.

That’s our message as Christians.  And I, for one, intend to keep sharing it.


[1] Rachel Held Evans, “Why millennials are leaving the church,” cnn.com (7.27.2013).

[2] Nathan Hitchen, “Marriage Counter-Messaging: An Action Plan” (The John Jay Institute: 2013), 4.

[3] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York:  Macmillan Publishing Company, 1952), 64.

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