Whenever someone attempts to introduce a radically different insight to people whose minds have been formed by an old and well-worked-out way of thinking, he or she is up against an obstacle….hence the teacher’s problem: if he leaves in his teaching a single significant scrap of the old system, they, by their very effort to understand, will go to that scrap rather than to the point he is making and, having done that, will understand the new insofar as it can be made to agree with the old – which is, not at all.” Robert Farrar Capon, Between Noon and Three
Bloggers have more than worn out their keyboards and audiences on the topic of Millennials over the past few years. It seems like someone is forever trying to come up with a new way to explain the behaviors of an entire generation. I’m not sure that any of the topics strike such a negative chord as when said bloggers try to explain why these young adults have decided to walk out of the doors of the evangelical church. Now, before that tongue of yours gets too comfortable in the side of your cheek at the irony of my being a blogger who’s about to say something about millennials at this very moment, let me just say… eh, nevermind…embrace that irony.
I was born in 1982, which to my surprise, qualifies me as a Millennial. I just discovered this over the past couple of years, I actually grew up thinking I was a Gen-xer. So, as you can imagine, this new information literally sent me into some sort of identity crisis where I stopped giving a rip about anything except researching protests to join and shaking my thirty-something-year-old-fist at life for not informing me sooner because I could have been getting all sorts of stuff for free, or at least had the benefit of living off of my parents a little while longer, dammit!
Actually, my being part of this particular generation flies in the very face of every stereotype that’s been sold to the general public. I do not come from a wealthy family, in fact, I landed my first job at the age of 14 and started buying my own clothes. My first car cost a whopping $300, that I paid for with my own cash. It was a slate blue, 1980 Plymouth Horizon hatchback. My car was a Gen-exer! I’m a terrible driver, I once cracked my muffler going too fast over a speed bump. This only added to the hysteria, because now my friends could hear me coming from miles away. People expected to see a giant, jacked up truck covered in mud, and here I came, racing around the corner, in my little “pinto mobile” (as it was affectionately called by my boyfriend at the time — he was a privileged Gen-exer who drove a brand new Camaro, total jackass).
I have a hard time reading articles on why an entire people group made a decision about something and buying into that rhetoric, when it wasn’t penned by someone within that group. I mean, think about it. Why did thousands upon thousands of people in one particular age bracket pack up their shit and say, “we are outta here!” Clearly, it’s because they are selfish or lazy or uneducated about the importance of life within the four walls, right? That answer just does not satisfy me. I think it’s easy to stand back and peer at anyone from our own context and make generalizations (read: judgments) all while shaking our heads, trying to figure out a way to put the blame on their shoulders without ever having to do the harder thing. From this safe space, we can turn a giant blind eye, pretend not to see the crumbling dinosaur we stand under, while we roll our eyes because we know they are the future of the evangelical institution — and how dare they risk our future!
But here’s the thing: you won’t get them back by doing that.
Nothing makes me not want to do something more than someone misjudging why I’m not doing it in the first damned place. Shame is historically the worst motivator and I can’t think of a single person who enjoys hanging out with people who are bent on misunderstanding them or worse; trying to appeal to a generation they clearly don’t understand. Hello, button down, snap shirts! Perhaps instead of being bitter or judgmental about why Millennials have left the four walls of the evangelical church, thus keeping them out, what if older generations just started listening with their defenses down? I promise you, it’s not that we don’t care, or that we reject community, or that we are lazy. It’s not that we just want to be entertained — trust me — most of what is offered to us IS entertainment and we just won’t waste our time because the message served alongside the song and dance is watered down. It doesn’t touch the heart of people who have given up the game our parents made us play as children.
I can’t speak for the people who grew up in the liberal side of the church, but I can bear witness for those of us on the conservative side of things, it is a real shit show. We were made to squeeze into uncomfortable clothes and shuffled into pews every single Sunday. We sat there, sure, bored to tears, while some guy thundered away at us about being better people and guilted us about killing Jesus. Then we watched as plates were passed around, and our parents threw money into it. I distinctly remember at one point wondering why we paid this guy to yell at us every week. After a while, like every other good little evangelical girl, I believed that it made God happy. But that’s really not even the worst of it, the truth is, we grew up in the eye of evangelical’s blatant hypocrisy. We sat by and listened to the rules of the church, “don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t chew, and don’t hang with those who do”. Meanwhile, our parents were raging alcoholics with anger issues. We were constantly shamed about our sexuality, meanwhile our homes were filled with pornography and some of us were getting molested by family members. We were trained to hide that stuff, shove it down, and show up every week with a smile on our face, keeping God happy. Sure, not every single home had such violent hypocrisy, but make no mistake about it, everyone was bluffing with all of their chips on the table. There’s a word for this, and it’s not “Christianity”.
With this past election, our frustration with this hypocrisy has come bubbling to the surface. It’s clear that our parents have confused politics with faith, and are now shaming us all for calling foul on the endorsements of the pastors they revere, while conveniently forgetting all about our childhoods. Millennials are well aware that the conservative, evangelical, fundamentalists are still going strong, nothing has changed after all these years. I just read this week, an article by John Piper, a real hero in that movement, scare everyone to death about the possibility that people experience miscarriages as a punishment for their lust issues. All the while, supporting CJ Mahaney, who’s part of covering up the biggest child sex abuse scandal in the evangelical church. Moralism is the biggest smokescreen for deep unrighteousness, and it still sells.
Millennials are communicating to you, with our absence, that we refuse to buy in.
Older generations are not better people than millennials and those who believe they are, are simply disillusioned. It’s not that we can’t handle being around sinners, we just want to be with sinners who can admit it. We don’t have an issue with the Law of God, we just wish the church would preach it to it’s full extent. Millennials are well acquainted with failure and we have been smothered and broken by every attempt to be better people by the Law. If that’s what evangelicals insist on serving us, we will either join the less conservative side of the church, or we’ll insist on staying home and the evangelical church will die out with our parent’s generation. Maybe it needs to. But if older generations want to fight that, then give up the hypocrisy game and come forward as the sinners you are, refuse to confuse your faith with politics, and we will happily meet you there. Preach the gospel to sinners, both converted and unconverted. We need to hear how Christ is the perfect Law-keeper on our behalf. We need to hear about our Savior’s love for us in our failure because we are not disillusioned about it like previous generations before us. We know we are real people with real problems and we know that a very real gospel exists and it has nothing to do with the evangelical church’s politics.
Here’s my advice to those who are critiquing Millennials: start listening and come clean. Blow up the crumbling dinosaur that is the evangelical church structure because the gospel doesn’t compute with your old system. We might be back…
…or we might just decide that it’s time to join/build something new…your move.