During the 2016 presidential campaign, I considered the entrance of Donald J. Trump as a publicity stunt or novelty . . . at first. As the primary continued and he continued racking up victories, I entered a period of concern about the “small” disenfranchised group that would vote for this man. I could not believe that so many people could believe in him, the man I had known as a narcists and a con man for decades. As he was becoming the sure nominee for the Republicans—as an ex-Republican—I grieved the death of the party.
Even on the eve of the election, I reassured my son’s girlfriend—who was very worried that he might win—that he was not electable. I really thought we would see, not only the loss of Donald Trump but the total collapse of the Republican party and the Democrats taking over all three houses (Congress, Senate and WH). I wasn’t worried about that. Hillary was not my favorite candidate, but I could sleep well with her at the helm of the country, but certainly not the Donald.
I sat up that Tuesday night, watching returns pour in . . . in a state of disbelief. The news commentators shared the same feeling as I had, expecting Hillary to win but feeling the wind leaving their sails. It was only a matter of time until all the votes were tallied. It was clear that he had won.
During the first few weeks, after the election, I had “conversations” with about 25 Facebook friends who were evangelical supporters of Trump. We had sparred a few times during the election. However, I was confident that I would be vindicated after the votes were counted. That, of course, did not happen.
After the victory of Donald J. Trump, my pro-Trump evangelical friends became emboldened. They started to celebrate their victory online. I was in a state of mental shock and was almost speechless for a number of days.
Almost immediately after the election, the resistance to Trump started to form and within that group, I felt a new home. I even found some anti-Trump Christian groups. My kids participated in the early marches. My wife and I participated in the women’s march on January 21st. It was during this time my relationship with my pro-Trump evangelical friends took an ugly turn. They were very critical of the marches, while I was defending my family, which had participated in them. They took the position that God put Trump in power because he stood for Christian principles. But then they went further to suggest the marches were satanic. At that point, I could not contain myself anymore.
During this post-election period, a few old evangelical friends—staunch right-wingers—kept comparing the election of Donald Trump to that of Obama. They considered Obama as pure evil (in my candid opinion, it is because Obama’s skin is black but they would never admit that) and used themselves as examples of how good-losers should behave. They argued how they didn’t put on pussy hats and march in the streets when Obama was elected. They pointed out that they were mature and decent people and accepted Obama as president, even though he was evil.
I kept trying to make the point that they were trying to normalize this election as typical partisan bickering. But this was NOT NORMAL PARTISAN BICKERING! I guaranteed them that there would have been no marches in the street, no tears by the masses if ANY OTHER REPUBLICAN had been elected but Trump. Okay, there would be some anxiety if Ben Carson had been elected, but not this horrible sinking feeling that we have entered some new dystopian age of America’s history.
But during that conversation, my evangelical friends started to make the argument that we anti-Trumpers were not good Christians, or good Americans if we did not (now) support Donald Trump as our president. God wants us to embrace him . . . or does he?They painted themselves as the far better Christian. I finally made it clear (in the fog of my disillusionment in the American political system) that I really did want Trump to succeed because he was my president, like it or not.
I have had a change of heart. I also had to jettison all those evangelical Pro-Trump friends, (except for my sister). But now, I must confess that I am a Presidential Schadenfreudite. The German word Schadenfreude is taken from the roots of harm and joy. It means someone who takes pleasure or joy in the harm or failure of someone else. I must honestly say that I want, from the bottom of my heart, for Donald Trump to fail and to fail magnificently. My greatest joy would be seeing him in handcuffs, actually including his entire family, except for Melania, being hauled off to life in prison. Okay, let the kids get out in ten years. My schadenfreude is so severe, that I feel bad during his good weeks and better when he really screws up.
The soul-searching I’ve had to do is to consider if this is sin or not. Schadenfreude, of course, can be sin. For example, take Proverbs chapter 24:
17-18 Don’t laugh when your enemy falls;
don’t crow over his collapse.
God might see, and become very provoked,
and then take pity on his plight. (The Message)
Here is a practical example of such a sinful attitude. Imagine someone cuts me off on the road and then I hope they get pulled over and a fat ticket for speeding. An even more sinister example could be where I wanted a certain position in my church and it was given to someone else. Then, I felt some pleasure when they do a lousy job. These things cannot be out of a good character. I have to candidly admit and I capable of these thoughts.
But is desiring the massive failure of Donald Trump sin? It doesn’t feel like sin. I don’t mean this in a flippant way (as if feelings can discern sin). It is because, I want it to be clear if you are an arrogant, narcissist, asshole, then failure will and should come. This is a principle of God’s kingdom. To have such a bad person succeed (unless there is an incredible repentance first) seems to devalue God’s law. I want him to fail, and to fail in a spectacular way. That is not being un-Christian . . . it is not being un-American. I also want it to teach his supporters the foolishness of their ways. Am I bad?
But I close this thought with this passage for contemplation:
Psalm 94 The Message (MSG)
1-2 God, put an end to evil;
avenging God, show your colors!
Judge of the earth, take your stand;
throw the book at the arrogant.
3-4 God, the wicked get away with murder—
how long will you let this go on?
They brag and boast
and crow about their crimes!
5-7 They walk all over your people, God,
exploit and abuse your precious people.
They take out anyone who gets in their way;
if they can’t use them, they kill them.
They think, “God isn’t looking,
Jacob’s God is out to lunch.”
8-11 Well, think again, you idiots,
fools—how long before you get smart?
Do you think Ear-Maker doesn’t hear,
Eye-Shaper doesn’t see?
Do you think the trainer of nations doesn’t correct,
the teacher of Adam doesn’t know?
God knows, all right—
knows your stupidity,
sees your shallowness.
12-15 How blessed the man you train, God,
the woman you instruct in your Word,
Providing a circle of quiet within the clamor of evil,
while a jail is being built for the wicked.
God will never walk away from his people,
never desert his precious people.
Rest assured that justice is on its way
and every good heart put right.
16-19 Who stood up for me against the wicked?
Who took my side against evil workers?
If God hadn’t been there for me,
I never would have made it.
The minute I said, “I’m slipping, I’m falling,”
your love, God, took hold and held me fast.When I was upset and
you calmed me down and cheered me up.
20-23 Can Misrule have anything in common with you?
Can Troublemaker pretend to be on your side?
They ganged up on good people,
plotted behind the backs of the innocent.
But God became my hideout,
God was my high mountain retreat,
Then boomeranged their evil back on them:
for their evil ways, he wiped them out,
our God cleaned them out for good.
Okay, this is a major digression from previous posts, but had to share it.
The first thing I want to say is that I’m NOT writing this to seek advice. It is not that I, arrogantly, know all the answers. However, I have read countless articles, watched YouTube videos, and practically everyone I meet on the street gives me puppy advice, whether I want it or not. I usually don’t want it. If all of this was not enough, my undergraduate degree (a long, long time ago) was in psychology. In those days, human psychology was under the powerful influence of people like Ivan Pavlov and B. F. Skinner. All we did for four years was train rats . . . which had no practical human application. But I came out of college knowing how to use reinforcement to train animals. The reason I’m writing is so that others, who have gone through this, know they are not alone.
As they say, I’m not new to this rodeo. I tried to count how many pups I’ve “trained.” It is at least seven, including four, which were Saint Bernards. I had one other saint but he came to me full grown from a shelter. His only fault was that (as a result of prior abuse and why he went to a shelter) he wanted to kill most strangers who came on our property and indeed tried a few times.
This puppy, Greta, fooled us at first. After a long car ride from her previous owner/breeder (not to mention a stop in Seattle), she slept the first night nine hours through. But things suddenly went downhill fast and now stretches of two hours of sleep at night is a good night.
So, last night she comes into our bedroom with a burst of energy right when we wanted to go to sleep. We played for a while, but then I wanted her to calm down before I took her to our outside potty-place one more time, before tucking into her crate for the night (which means a couple of hours . . . I hoped). As brought her back in the house, she darted out of her crate, back in the bedroom to rough house some more. We weren’t in the mood as it was getting late and I quickly caught her and put her back inside her “den” and asked her to please go to sleep.
We have also raised five children. If you have raised children, you will remember the night time tug of war between the parents. “It’s your turn, I got up last.” “No, you didn’t, you slept right through when I got up 30 minutes ago.” The human baby thing was even more frustrating for me, as a dad, because their mom could stick a nipple in the noise hole and it would quieten. I had nothing but my pinky and as soon as they knew it was dry, they would typically bite down hard in protest and then the noise hole would open up to full throttle. But I digress.
Last night was a bad night and I’m not sure why. Maybe it was because Greta knew that the following day was going to be an especially hard day at work for both Denise and me. No nights have been as glorious as the first night two weeks ago. The night became a hazy fog of in and out of deep sleep for me. The second time she cried and Denise elbowed me, coming (out of a dark dream about all of us being forced to speak Russian), I stumbled to the floor. In the dark, I quickly realized that during Greta’s short visit back into our bedroom, just before I put her in the crate, she managed to hide my slippers. I had placed them beside the bed for this purpose. She also pulled the sock off my right foot, which I remember, but went to bed with the single sock on the left foot. So I had to go outside without shoes.
So, I don my coat, which I also laid beside the bed just for this purpose. I open her crate and hooked her leash onto her harness and went out the door. This is north of Seattle and it is March, so of course it is raining. A cold, 38-degree rain.
Per the advice of the books, we have one place in the yard for her to do her business. I took her down the steps to that place. She, then, seemed totally uninterested in pooping or peeing. You can’t tell from the sound of water because it is pouring down, now penetrating my fuzzy jacket. Sometimes hard for me to tell when the little girl is peeing, because it looks the same as sitting. My previous saint, a boy, would cock his leg way up in the air to make it clear he was pissing.
But know, as she has done many times, she lays down on her back like she is sun bathing and then rolls over and finds an interesting stick to play with. She doesn’t even notice the pouring rain.
The books say to be patient. Give them time to do their business. So I wait, standing in the pouring, cold rain. When I keep saying “Greta, go potty,” I think at this point, with her limited human vocabulary, all she hears is “Greta blab blab blab.”
After about ten minutes, being totally soaked, I give up and we head back into the house.
With me walking through the muddy grass, one sock on one foot, I then realize that is not mud squishing up between my toes, it is watered-down puppy shit. With hours of rain, it has the consistency of peanut butter. Crunchy. The kind you buy at Whole Foods, that is natural and like runny oil.
I made my way to the outdoor water hose in the dark and spray off my foot. She doesn’t want to go inside but it is apparent that she has no interest in going potty.
Once inside the house, I put her back in her “den” and pulled off my water-logged sock and put it in the hamper. I climb back into bed. I smell puppy poop aroma coming up under the sheets. It only then dawns on me that I stepped in the crap with both feet and only washed off the bare foot. I got up and washed off the left foot.
By the time my head hits the pillow, she starts to whine again. Whine more. Then her high-pitched bark. I look at the digital clock and it is 2:30 AM. Surely, she isn’t up for the night. I figured that she is trying to con me. I can vaguely remember college when the rats trying to train us to give them food pellets at the same time we trying to train them to run a maze. They would climb up on the side of the box and smile at us.
So, I decided to ignore her. She can’t need to go potty because we were just outside and she was playing with a stick. Now, I figured she wanted to go back out in the rain to play with more sticks.
When the barking continues I finally figure that I must do something. So, I went out in the hall and open her kennel to reach in to get her. About the time I feel pasty stuff on her fur and my fingers, I get an overwhelming smell of puppy shit. It is all over my hands and her. All the books claim that puppies never pee or poop in their dens (unless the kennel is too large, and she is rapidly growing into the largest portable kennel they make, so it is not too large.)
I washed her up. I have to take her kennel outside in the rain and use a hose to flush it out, and “flush” is the right term. I scrub off my hands with soap and water. I take her back to the potty place in the yard. She lays down and finds the same stupid stick to play with. She does not pee or poop. She doesn’t need to as she just did . . . in her kennel.
Oh, the joys of puppy potty training. If they weren’t so damn cute and adorable, we would never go through this. Even puppy poop, as nasty as it smells, to us Saint owners, it is like the scent of a flower . . . okay a dead rotting flower. It is getting better, slowly, night after night. I hope that was my worse night.
If you think you have the gift of being a “puppy whisperer” and you can just say things in their ear once and they will be perfect, even using a human toilet and wiping their own butts with toilet paper afterward, please be quiet. The last time I watched a so-called dog whisperer on TV, I later read in the papers where he was arrested for beating the hell out of his dogs off camera.
(If you missed part I, you can find it here).
In an analysis of the 2016 election, the Pew Research Center found that 58% of people who called themselves “Christian” voted for Donald Trump and 39% for Hillary Clinton. However, when they broke the demographics into more precise subgroups, they found that 81% of “White, born again / Evangelicals” (WBAE) voted for Donald Trump and 16% voted for Hillary Clinton. This was the greatest voting margin ever recorded for a group of evangelicals. With this group of WBAEs making up 26% of the electorate and “Christian” making up 52% of the electorate, you could easily make the argument that these groups were the largest voting bloc for making the election of Donald Trump possible. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/11/09/how-the-faithful-voted-a-preliminary-2016-analysis/ ) Many people, especially non-Christians who don’t favor Trump, consider the election of Donald Trump as a uniquely Christian phenomenon. (http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2016/november/trump-elected-president-thanks-to-4-in-5-white-evangelicals.html)
It is too early to have objective information regarding the impact of the evangelical support for Donald Trump on the exodus of Millennials from the Church. You can only make inferences based on supporting data. Time will only tell the full extent of the impact. What I have already established is that Millennials, and others, have been leaving the Church and to a less extent, Christianity in general, by the droves. There is no question about that. Some Christians, however, argue that certain age groups (such as the twenties) have always left the Church, only to come back later, when they are married and “settled down.”
While the leaving and subsequent return may have been true in previous generations, the implication of that trend on the situation today may be in error. A Gallop poll in 2002 (http://www.gallup.com/poll/6124/religiosity-cycle.aspx) suggests that there is a natural decline in “religiosity” from the late teens, until the early thirties, however, the interest starts to rebound (marginally) by the late thirties.
While there could be some return to the Church, it would be easy to over-estimate that return. There is no question that the percent of those who identify with Christianity or church attendance has been on a steady downward turn for almost a century and there is no evidence that is reversing but instead escalating. We are truly living in a post-Christian society.
Amy Gannett, a self-described evangelical millennial, does an excellent job of describing the tension in this past election season in her article, Why Evangelicals are Losing and Entire Generation (https://amygannett.com/2016/07/29/why-evangelicals-are-losing-an-entire-generation/). Amy cites that when she saw the report that the noted evangelical theologian, Wayne Grudem, endorsed Donald Trump (see: https://townhall.com/columnists/waynegrudem/2016/07/28/why-voting-for-donald-trump-is-a-morally-good-choice-n2199564 ), that was her personal last straw with Evangelicalism. She boils down the issue as the evangelical-right seeks a moral view for the country, but they put that morality on a hierarchical tower. The problem is that the Millennials have a very different arrangement of that hierarchy than the evangelical right. I will try to compare the moral hierarchy of the two groups, based on reading many articles and personal discussion with Millennials. I realize that there could be disagreement on the way I have organized this list. I will also point out that Millennials, who still consider themselves evangelical and who still attend church regularly, are skewed towards their adult evangelical counterparts but with many of the mainstream Millennial traits.
|Trump Platform Priorities||Millennial Moral Priorities|
|America First||All Humans of Value / Support Social Justice Issues|
|Business above environmental concerns||Environmental concerns, especially global warming, more important than business profits.|
|Increasing America’s military spending to keep us safe and America, as a Christian country, strong.||Seeking worldwide peace using international organizations such as the UN.|
|Increasing the rights of Christians to discriminate against transgender, gays, Muslim because the Christian ideology is morally superior and the other ideas will hurt our Christian country||As a part of social justice, giving all people the same rights and stopping the discrimination against any people group for any reason|
|Outlawing abortion or at least making it as difficult as possible to obtain. If limiting a woman’s ability to get contraception is part of that effort (un-funding Planned Parenthood) then that is okay, even if decreased access to birth control = more abortions.||The decision that a woman makes must be kept private between a woman and her medical provider. They see abortion, while not optimal, is a legitimate choice in the case of unwanted pregnancies. The Christian Millennials see being pro-life as meaning all life on the planet, not just a fetus.|
|Anti-immigration / refugee based on the narrative that they are dangerous and take our jobs if not our lives.||Seeing immigrants and refugees through the lens of social justice as human beings deserving respect and assistance. The first-world countries are the most culpable for wars (often wars of proxy between Russia and the US) and therefore are even more responsible for helping those harmed by such wars.|
|Reducing the deficient by helping business (increase growth, will increase tax revenues).||Reducing the deficient by reducing spending, especially limiting spending on things like the military.|
|Consider science as an alternative theory if it counters any of the other priorities. For example, because attempts to curb global warming puts restrictions on some business activities (eg. burning coal), the scientific evidence must be seen as only one theory.||Scientific truth is reliable and not the subject of becoming just an alternative theory if it counters another moral priority.|
The Impact of the 2016 Election
Because, at this juncture, there is very little statistical data on the social outcome of the 2016 election we can only use conjecture based on previous trends. I will isolate this discussion to the Millennials for the sake of time. Here is what we know. Among 18-29 year-olds, of those who voted, 37% voted for Trump and 55% voted for Clinton and 8% for a third party candidate.
Another issue, which is not completely captured in the above table, is the sense of what truth really is. During the campaign of 2016, both sides used misinformation in their tactics to defeat the other side. It is coming to light at this time that foreign interests, such as the Russians, did this on a professional level to defeat Hillary Clinton. We do not know yet if the Trump campaign coordinated that cyber attack. The question was raised what is truth anymore? The independent reviewers at Politico ranked Donald Trump as lying the most, with Hillary Clinton a close second or third, while Sanders and Kasich came out as being the most honest. Time Magazine asked on its cover of its April 2nd 2017 edition, “Is Truth Dead?” For decades, the Church has been talking about the fact we live in a post-modern society, where truth as become relative. In the twentieth century, the Church had been the main bulwark against the relativity of truth and in opposition the relativity of truth. To the Millennials, it now appears that the Church has–full-frontally—embraced the loss of truth and facts for the sake of promoting their personal views, the right (political) agenda.
In this Post-Post Modern Age, the idea of absolute truth has been seriously eroded. However, the Millennials have seemed to have turned the corner on that way of thinking. Some call this new age as the Age of Authenticity, because the Millennials and those younger seem to value authenticity higher than previous generations.
The desire for authenticity has always been a function of youth. Most people start out in life having an idealism about honesty and justice. They then allow that idealism to “go to seed,” through life experiences and the assimilation in to the cynical culture of older adults. But this Millennial generation may be more skeptical and esteem authenticity higher than their predecessors. There could be many reasons for that, but the fact they have been so exposed to, and inoculated by false advertising (thanks to the explosion of media sources in the past twenty years), they are more distrustful. In their disparagement, they desire truth to be clear and founded on factual data. For many, this was one of the greatest distractors from Donald Trump, simply because they could not trust him to be truthful.
The Church and the Great Commission
The Church has long held the doctrine of the Great Commission. Jesus’ last words to his followers were: God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:20, The Message). This has commonly been understood that wherever you are, you are to work to teach and make Christian disciples. There were two choices, intentionally going somewhere else to reach people for Christ (missionaries) or to be an influence on the society around you.
Furthermore, scripture also describes the Church as salt and light:
13 Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You’ve lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.
14-16 Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16, The Message)
If the purpose of the Church (concerning outreach) is to reach the people where you are, then the Church in the west is failing. As mentioned above, with each passing generation the west is becoming less Christianized.
As I have alluded to, it is too early to have supporting data for my final conclusions. However, using a bit of abductive reasoning, you can conclude that we have become less of salt and light to the modern society, by supporting the election of Donald Trump. I’ve heard from many TV and radio interviews, as well as my own conversations with Millennials, that not only do they feel deeply hurt by the election, but that evangelicalism, as a whole, has lost its moral authority due to profound hypocrisy. There is a basis of that hypocrisy as seen through the eyes of Millennials. While most them are unchurched, most have a remembrance of Christianity and the foundational doctrines, such as the Ten Commandments:
1God spoke all these words:
2I am God, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of a life of slavery.
3 No other gods, only me.
4-6 No carved gods of any size, shape, or form of anything whatever, whether of things that fly or walk or swim. Don’t bow down to them and don’t serve them because I am God, your God, and I’m a most jealous God, punishing the children for any sins their parents pass on to them to the third, and yes, even to the fourth generation of those who hate me. But I’m unswervingly loyal to the thousands who love me and keep my commandments.
7 No using the name of God, your God, in curses or silly banter; God won’t put up with the irreverent use of his name.
8-11 Observe the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Work six days and do everything you need to do. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to God, your God. Don’t do any work—not you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your servant, nor your maid, nor your animals, not even the foreign guest visiting in your town. For in six days God made Heaven, Earth, and sea, and everything in them; he rested on the seventh day. Therefore God blessed the Sabbath day; he set it apart as a holy day.
12 Honor your father and mother so that you’ll live a long time in the land that God, your God, is giving you.
13 No murder.
14 No adultery.
15 No stealing.
16 No lies about your neighbor.
17 No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s. (Exodus 20 1-2, The Message).
Evangelicalism has always been quite critical of and fought against these behaviors within our society. In previous elections, the evangelicals opposed particular candidates based on knowledge of the violation of one of these commandments (usually adultery). However, in 2016, they fully embraced Donald J. Trump, who blatantly, and often unapologetically, violated many of these commandments. In the eyes of the Millennials, the evangelicals simply sold out for financial or party-loyalty reasons and their commitment to Christian principles.
In summary, the loss of this generation, on the twenty-first century Church’s watch is more than a simple error. Evangelicals seem to believe that they can take power in the government and then legislate Christian values on the masses. This thinking is greatly misguided. I predict that the alignment of the Evangelical Church with Donald J. Trump will go down as the biggest debacle for the Church in the twenty-first century.
Where Do We Go from Here?
It does no one any good to mark the boundaries of a problem without suggesting solutions. I will try to do the same. Here are some of the choices that we have.
- The Evangelical Church, which supported Donald Trump, including their most visible leaders (Franklin Graham et al.), could come to a profound repentance. This would mean, giving a clear message to the Millennials that they (the evangelicals who supported Trump) made a huge mistake because the policies of the Trump platform go against Biblical concepts. The chance of this happening is virtually impossible. It is very hard for someone to repent from a very public decision.
- Another approach is to cut our identification with evangelicalism and to create a new Christian label of witness. We need to drive a deeper wedge between the part of the Church that identifies with the political right and American nationalism, and the part that supports the basic Biblical principles. We need to create daylight between them and the rest of the Church. The previous title of Evangelicalism should not be all-encompassing. In the early twentieth century, the term meant that we considered Jesus the only way and therefore the Gospel worthy to be dispersed (evangelism). Evangelicalism means something very different to the Millennial generation. We need a new name or description of what we stand for.
Several appropriate names for Christians, who are not right-politically, are making their way into the English vernacular, such as progressive Christians. That’s a good name. I prefer the term Natural Christianity; however, I must explain what I mean by that. The term, as meant by the Swiss philosopher, Jean Jacque Rousseau, implied a state that was devoid of human modifications. It is a popular adjective today referring to many things. The thinking (which I don’t always agree with) implies that products including food, medicine, and etc. are better when humans have had minimal roles in their production.
When Natural applies to Christianity, it is correct. It implies a very simple and raw form of Christianity, without human political or philosophical influence. Christians certainly can have political views, but they just don’t mix those views with their basic Christian faith. Paul wrote to the Colossians to warn them about such human philosophies mixtures here:
8-10 Watch out for people who try to dazzle you with big words and intellectual double-talk. They want to drag you off into endless arguments that never amount to anything. They spread their ideas through the empty traditions of human beings and the empty superstitions of spirit beings. But that’s not the way of Christ. Everything of God gets expressed in him, so you can see and hear him clearly. You don’t need a telescope, a microscope, or a horoscope to realize the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you, too. His power extends over everything. (The Message, Col 8-10)
We need to approach the Millennials and all people with a very simple, refreshing, and confirming type of Christianity. Simply that God created all that we see, and he created it pure and great. It has been harmed by the fall so none of it, including our thinking, is perfect. Because God loves that which he created, he sent his son to bear the consequence of that fall and to bestow upon all, a colossal exoneration. We only need to receive it. Going forward, our simple mission is to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with God. We have Titanic freedom in the cultural expression of that simple story. It can be within Catholicism, forms of Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and others. It can also be anywhere along the spectrum of political views. But you can’t hold any view that denies justice, opposes kindness, and promotes arrogance and still be considered Christian. We must boldly proclaim our support for these ideals. We must fight for the respect and dignity of all human beings and all of creation because it is God’s stuff. This is how we start to undo the damage, which has been done.
I see this article as a starting point for discussion and welcome other ideas of how we move forward.
How Many Were Leaving in the Pre-Trump Era?
A Pew Research survey in 2015 showed that one-third of millennials were not associated with any church, which was up 10% since 2007. It also showed that 85% of people born before 1945 considered themselves Christians, while just 56% of those born between 1990-1996 do the same. The number one reason cited, in that survey, for leaving the church wasn’t some deep philosophical change but simply boredom with the Church. (http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/12/millennials-increasingly-are-driving-growth-of-nones/)
According to Rainer Research, 70% of youth, who were active in youth group, leave the church by the time they’re 22 years old (Christianity Today, November 2010, Vol. 54, No. 11, Pg 40). In a projection of previous research, Barna Group estimates that 80% of those raised in the church will be disengaged by the time they’re 29 years old. Several other studies and surveys confirm the trend: “Millennials (18-29-year-olds), who were raised in the church, are leaving the church in droves” (https://www.barna.com/research/six-reasons-young-christians-leave-church/).
While official government statistics point to 70% of Americans being Christian, only 7-8% of Americans are Evangelical Christians, meaning that they believe in the authority of the Scriptures, they attend a church regularly, and they believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation (John S Dickerson, The Great Evangelical Recession, Baker Books; 37302nd ed. January 15, 2013). On the present trend, this number of “true believers” will drop to 4% in thirty years. We are indeed living in a post-Christian society, and that “post” is profound. While in previous generations youth, who left the church, would return after they married and “settled down,” the millennials are different. They are not getting married or settling down and most likely, will never come back to the Church.
All the above studies and book were written prior to Donald J. Trump announcing his bid to become president.
The General Reasons they were Leaving
According to the author David Kinnaman , “They sense that the established church has internalized many of ‘Babylon’s’ values of consumerism, hyperindividualism, and moral compromise instead of living in-but-not-of as kingdom exiles.” They feel “caught between the church as it is and what they believe it is called to be” (Kinnaman, You Lost Me, Baker Books; Reprint ed., June 21, 2016).
Christians have always had two choices in their view of how they relate to the greater society. It is as exiles (as the Jews in Babylon), where they comply with the amoral societal duties and resist against the immoral ones, as did Daniel’s three friends. But they never equate the general civil society as the same as the body of Christ, or its ambitions. What Kinnaman is alluding to, is the millennials see the church as not resisting the immoral positions of the greater society (such as social injustices, materialism, and greed). Instead, they are absorbing those traits into their own culture. Likewise, they start to blend the aspirations of the greater, secular culture (military or economic domination) with those of the Church. The statement that best illustrates the latter thought is “America is a Christian country and we must return its roots.” Nationalism, which is sweeping many areas of the west, including America, it an egocentric tenet. It can be thought of as the outward projection to the whole of personal self-centered aspirations.
The Millennials, with Christian upbringing, have been confused by this. The Christian ideals they learned in Sunday school, Awana and youth group were love, kindness, being a good Samaritan, giving to the poor, honesty, and not being hooked on material riches. One of the principal teachings of Jesus was that we, as individuals and a collective group, must be benevolent towards others. It should be the projection of the first shall be last and the last shall be first. But as they grow up, they see the Christian society, aligning with the very opposite. With an honorable aspiration for authenticity, they choose to leave rather than to pretend, like they see the older people doing.
An article from Patheos Insider (online) sates, “Many dechurched millennials—the “Nones”—were hungering for Jesus and didn’t find him in the church. They longed for rich, intense, honest community. They wanted to love their neighbor and enemy alike. They’d didn’t understand why 5% of church budgets (at best) went to help the poor when Jesus said to give it all away. And—contrary to what some of you are thinking—they actually wanted more Bible, more depth, more substance than what they were being fed. And here’s the real convicting thing: They hungered for more intergenerational relationships and didn’t experience these in the church.” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/theologyintheraw/2015/09/why-are-millennials-leaving-the-church-in-droves-part-1/)
What they are Looking for in a Church
• Authenticity. Some have called the present—Post-post-modern—period of western history as the “Age of Authenticity.” While true candor is often an illusion, at least the millennials have the aspiration of being more sincere, or authentic than previous generations.
Taylor Snodgrass of Church of the 20 somethings describes it this way: “Our generation has been advertised at our whole life, and even now on social media,” he says. “Consequently, when a company isn’t being authentic with their story we can easily see through this. If the church isn’t giving you the whole story, if it’s sugarcoated and they’re trying to put on an act on stage, people in their 20s will see through this. This causes us to leave. We’re good at seeing when people are lying to us. (https://exponential.org/5-things-millennials-wish-the-church-would-be/)
• Another want, sounding over simplified, is clarity in the church structure and order. Because many of the millennials have not been church, some feel intimidated when they enter a church building, not knowing the cultural cues or orders. They must have simple and clear guidance, like anyone one entering a new subculture. Signs are helpful, or people to point you where to go. You can’t assume anything. The Barna study found that two-thirds of millennials saw their ideal church as focused on “community” (78%) over “privacy” (22%); and “casual” (64%) over “dignified” (36%).
• The church has become a place of doing and action, rather than a place of rest. The millennials often want a place that is peaceful and restful, not a place that wants to consume their lives with busyness. Many avoid the Church because they know that the church will entangle them in many programs that eat up their time. The church often uses the pressure of guilt such as, “you need to do your share,” to coerce people into joining committees, work groups and other associations. Younger people don’t want those intrusions into their private lives.
• The millennials, while wanting a place of peace, don’t want a complacent place. They want to encounter the difficult questions. These include topics such as why should they abstain from having sex if they are not married? What about social justice issues?
• The millennials want older (baby boomer) mentors. These are not just spiritual advisers but guides in financial issues, professional choices and even relationships. They see value in the older people, but the Church has a tendency to group people and separate them by age groups.
The Deal-breakers, the Last-straw for Leaving
• Churches seem overprotective. One example is home-schooling or the Christian school. While there can be many merits to those choices of education, if it is to protect their children from challenging ideas, such indoctrination may accomplish the opposite.
• Teens’ and twentysomethings’ experience of Christianity is shallow. Many do not believe the faith they were being taught is relevant to practical parts of life, such as career.
• Churches come across as antagonistic to science and reason. Church teaches that you must adhere to certain doctrines, even if the science doesn’t support it.
• Young Christians’ church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic, judgmental.
• They wrestle with the exclusive nature of Christianity.
“Younger Americans have been shaped by a culture that esteems open-mindedness, tolerance and acceptance. Today’s youth and young adults also are the most eclectic generation in American history in terms of race, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, technological tools and sources of authority.”
• The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt.
“Young adults with Christian experience say the church is not a place that allows them to express doubts.”