The new religious fundamentalists? Millennial Christians.
By Jefferson Bethke, Published: August 8 at 9:50 am
There’s been a lot of craze about Millennials leaving the church the past couple weeks.
All the articles going around centered around the church being the problem (or the fact that it isn’t). But, and I know I might get Internet stones thrown at me (boulders for that matter) for saying this, what if we Millennials were just as much to blame?
In this conversation about young people’s faith lives, I think that we put all the blame on the church. Sure, the church has, in the past, become servants of GOP, to ‘family values’, to sin gerrymandering, rather than being followers of Jesus.
But, what I haven’t heard many talk about is the fact that my generation can actually be quite prideful. Quite self-centered. Quite addicted to what’s newest, quickest, fastest and easiest. And because of those things, if we are not careful, we will turn into exactly what we are critiquing.
(We also have to notice, by the way, that we aren’t the first to critique our mom’s generation. Every generation of late thought their mom’s church was lame. That’s youth; that’s not Millennial.)
My peers and I have too quickly caricatured “fundamentalists,” without realizing we are eerily close to becoming what we say we hate. We can think fundamentalists only wear suits and play boring Christian music, or we can address fundamentalism for what it is—an issue of the heart. An easy way to define fundamentalism is adding rules to the Bible, or elevating things beyond how Scripture elevates them. It’s an attitude of pride. It gets in shouting matches (or tweeting matches) with anyone who disagrees. And in American Christian culture, I still see a lot of that.
There is a weird subsection of young Christians today who are almost reverse fundamentalists, but they are still fundamentalists. They look at the older generation who say in good conscience Christians shouldn’t drink beer, and they respond, “We are definitely drinking beer. Freedom in Christ!” Or they see those Christians who say you have to dress up for church service, and they say, “We are only going to wear skinny jeans and v-neck T-shirts in church.” They are better defined by what they are against than by what they are for. They are doing the exact same thing as what they are defining themselves against. They are elevating behavior, clothing, and other secondary issues as requirements to gain access to heaven. It’s a sickness in all of us to put our righteousness and dependence in absolutely anything except Jesus, and if we think we aren’t doing that, it usually means it’s even worse.
The fundamentalists of our parents’s generation are still around, but they are not nearly as prevalent today. Fundamentalists don’t always wear suits. Sometimes they wear skinny jeans. Sometimes they have a Macbook pro, a vanilla latte (soy of course), and wear that beanie on their head that barely looks like it’s hanging on. Sometimes they say you have to be able to drink beer to be a real Christian. Sometimes they only allow dirty grunge rock in their church service and make flannels mandatory to play in the worship band.
Here’s a quick note though: if you care more about flaunting your Christian freedom than promoting Christian unity, you’re probably not free. You are actually a slave to your so-called freedom.
True freedom is being able to give up all your rights for another out of love—and that’s what the church is supposed to be. A peculiar people who serve one another, give up possessions for each other, who love each other, and who depend whole-heartedly on each other. And if we are honest, my generation is not just repelled to some of those concepts, but we are actually terrified.
To be frank, we need to get over ourselves. Now hear me say this loud and clear—if there’s hurt, if there’s shame, and there’s bruises from the church on you—I’m not talking to you. We owe you an apology. Jesus isn’t like that. You didn’t deserve that. You are more than what happened to you.
But to those who would rather go to church behind a computer screen, rather than flesh and blood, person on person, we need to realize we are heading towards destruction. The beauty of the church is in the vulnerability of its people. And with our social media culture, where we are more cropped and edited than ever before, we have to try even harder to be intentional about this. If we aren’t, we might just become the thing we hate. Defining yourselves by what you’re against is like running in a circle. At first you think you’re running away but sooner or later you’ll be right back where the problem was in the first place.