USA Today featured an article in late March on the way Millennials do faith and politics. I pulled it out, tucked it away and just read it again.
The focus is on a Pew Research Center study showing that those born after 1980 — the first generation to come of age in the new millennium — are seeking alternatives to the religious and political brands of past generations.
As the article’s writer, Stephen Prothero of Boston University, asks: “Can you blame them?” What is it about the polarized political and religious climate that dominates our culture that one would find attractive?
The Pew Report showed that one in four Americans ages 18-29 do not claim affiliation with any faith group. But as Prothero notes, it is not unusual for young people to take that course before returning to their religious roots after marrying, having kids and moving toward retirement.
My former pastor, Bill Self of Johns Creek Baptist Church in Alpharetta, Ga., calls them “church alumni” — and has spent a good part of his long ministry re-engaging them in congregational life.
But the numbers are higher for Millennials. The work of reconnection will be more challenging for churches in the future.
However, Prothero warns that the rise of those who list their religious affiliation as “none” could be misinterpreted. Unaffiliated does not equal an absence of faith. In fact, only 3 percent of Millennials claim to be atheists.
And, as author Diana Butler Bass has noted, those claiming no faith “are rejecting us for the right reasons.” They see the church as too judgmental and hostile toward those with different viewpoints.
Prothero concludes that this generation is not rejecting faith as much as they are branding — both in religious expression and politics.
He offers this insight from the classroom: “Although the independence of the Millennials is often misread as apathy, my college students are deeply engaged both spiritually and politically … They are suspicious, however, of large cookie-cutter organizations that want to ‘brand’ them.”
Church leaders, tempted to tell younger generations what they should think and do, might benefit from more time listening to why they are looking for something different than the polarization that we have been advancing for a good while. In fact, we might learn a better way of being faithful.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.