A general consensus exists among an increasing number of churched millennials: Christianity is not all it was cracked up to be.
We’re tired of the rampant hypocrisy that has spread across the West like a festering plague, and of the cultural judgement that spews from so-called adherents. We’re tired of archaic morality, and of megalithic institutionalization. We’re tired of the demonization of art, film, literature, and music. We’re tired of half-baked answers to burning questions almost as much as we’re tired of stale dogma and nebulous theology.
There seems to be no middle ground amidst the war-zone that is modern Christendom: either churches cling to adamantly to centuries old doctrines that have been regurgitated since their pre-Constantinian credence; or churches blithely capitulate to the surrounding culture with nary a blink and a shrug, citing the idea that Christianity must adapt or whither under the overbearing influences of modernity. Yeah, we’re tired of that too.
More, we’re tired of the dramatic polarization of Christianity into mutually exclusive and seemingly irreconcilable denominational camps. At it’s most basic level, we see Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Protestantism, and Evangelicalism. Then we see the Calvinists, Lutherans, Methodists, Pentecostals, Pietists, Baptists, Charismatics, and Anabaptists. Even here, the vast host of unmentioned denominations bear testament to the excessive fragmentation of Christianity.
But wait, the churches are also fractured within denominations as well: Infant baptism? Healings? Tongues? Election? Spiritual gifts? The rapture? Eternal damnation? Female leadership? Hand raising? Hymns? Choirs? Instruments? Pants? Head-coverings? The last days? The list is almost as expansive as the number of Christians who argue over it.
And yet theological frictions only graze the surface of Christian divisions. Further camps have emerged, rifting Christendom into pieces yet again. Having become particularly noticeable since the rapid popularization of apologetics, we are not torn between the thinkers and the feelers, the rationalists and the emotivists, the minds and the hearts. And thus division ferments. There is a saying among Jewry: Two Jews, three opinions. If this is the case, we Christians carry the torch of our Judaic heritage proudly.
This entire fiasco has left an indelible taste on our tongues, bitter with animosity and apathy, that we’re all too eager to retch over the sanctuary floor as we turn tail and bolt for the door, screaming our half-hearted farewells in some vain hope, however fleeting, that someone will follow us.
But our departure is not, as some might erroneously presume, instantaneous. It arrives in incremental stages: realization, dissatisfaction, scorn, and, finally, disillusionment. Under the cautious influence of parents, friends, leaders, and pastors, we continue to grace these church establishments, fractured though they may be, with our quasi-enlightened presence. Yes, we’re tired of the whole disaster, but a swift amputation remains a premature, albeit tempting, evacuation strategy.
The more sensitive millennials among us may find themselves heartbroken by the pieces of Christendom scattered across the world, each lonely fragment fighting for preeminence above the others. Those less inclined to such noble sympathies (myself among them), cast a single trained stare over the wobbling, skeletal mess, swallow a mouthful of disgust and superiority, and wonder at what point in the history of Christianity a handful of bickering buffoons snagged the reins of God’s kingdom on earth. We find ourselves not just a little bit embarrassed in God’s stead, and can’t but wonder, “Is every Christian simply too blind and stupid to see what we’re seeing?” Christianity, for all its worth, looks more like a world-wide, two-millennia-old hot mess. Jesus surely had something in mind when he came to earth, but we’re quite certain this wasn’t it.
Christianity, for all its worth, looks more like a world-wide, two-millennia-old hot mess. Jesus surely had something in mind when he came to earth, but we’re quite certain this wasn’t it.
This perspective breeds into an innocuous whisper of scorn that ferments in the millennial sub-conscious each time we wander through the (increasingly unwelcoming) church doors. Maybe we couldn’t run the circus better, but we could definitely run it less worse.
Those noble millennials among us use their discontentment to make their criticisms known. Blogs unleashing all manner of religious angst are cut loose like the Titans. Facebook is another platform of choice. Twitter is even better, letting us connect with likeminded young adults who share our anger and join us as we verbally spew every ounce of our exasperation over the status quo of the church.
The logic driving such social media rage is simple:
Premise 1: Christianity will change if it can see the problem.
Premise 2: I can show Christianity what the problem is.
Conclusion: My voice can be used to inspire radical change that will overhaul all of Christendom and lead it into a new renaissance.
So, with unabated passion and unchecked rage, we draft our 21st century equivalents of Luther’s 95 Theses and release our polished beauties to the world naively hoping—perhaps even praying—for some kind of instantaneous reformation, or even for the slightest glimmer of hope to bequeath us with faith for Christianity.
As it is, we pen our observations in vain. It all too swiftly becomes patently clear that we have zero effect on the largest religion on earth. A second reformation is not on the horizon. Too many arguments, too many voices, too much noise for our shouts to be more than a shallow murmur muted by a dissonant cacophony of opinions. No one is listening. No one cares. Eventually we are driven to silence by the sheer futility of effort. It is akin to shouting into a black hole that not only swallows our screams, but reduces them to less than nothing. The worthlessness of our endeavors spurs us deeper into the rabbit-hole, tumbling heels first after the invisible white rabbit, although, in the shadow of the altar, we gird up our loins, fake a plastic smile, and nod, “It’s okay. I’m fine.”
Thus begins our descent into disillusionment. It’s not for lack of effort that many of us find ourselves in this vast wasteland. We wanted to believe in Christianity. We longed to be the change we wanted to see in church sanctuaries. We almost became a voice alone and bereft in the wilderness, crying, “Not that way! Please, stop! Can’t you see?” We all but became Nietzsche’s madman announcing, “God is dead and the church has killed him.”
Finger-pointing ensues. Blame is subsequently hurled at every imaginable priest, pulpit, and pew by everyone from youth pastors, to parents, to the disheartened millennial’s themselves. We’re all eager to have our say, to sling filth at whomever we hold responsible for our spiritual languor. Who is guilty of dragging our faith into a mire of lethargy from which it could not emerge?
“The church itself!” we cry, our defiant fists raised high in the air. “The church is to blame, along with all those discontented, arguing hypocrites who claim to be a part of it!” This chant becomes the sound of our retreat as we hasten from the corpse-ridden fields of Christianity in droves, surrendering our allegiance to anything but The Church. As the dust of our haste settles over pulpits and state-of-the-art surround sound systems, those who remain scratch their heads in confusion—why are they running?
A certain misconception inundates the echelons of western Christianity: churched millennials are unique among their peers.
A certain misconception inundates the echelons of western Christianity: churched millennials are unique among their peers. They’ve been raised in the shadow of the altar, taken part in the sacrament, been swamped by decades worth of Christian doctrine from the pulpit, learned the words to all the worship songs, memorized verses prolifically until the age of ten, and attended church-run youth group since the fourth grade. Clearly the youths who waltz into our sanctuaries week after week do not reflect the millennials raised in a religious void.
While such assumptions ring, in part, with truisms, they inevitably serve as the syllogism from which a pointed, albeit mistaken, conclusion is drawn: if Christian millennials are a species unto their own, their disillusionment must by necessity stem from something wholly other than the malaise that has swamped the rest of their generation. This spurs a hunt to diagnose which terminal disease has uniquely infected “churched millennials.” Why do they hate church? What causes them to abandon the church in droves? Has the church done (or not done) something in order to inspire this mass migration of millennials from the church?
Research is conducted. Statistics are gathered. Millennials are interviewed ad infinitum. And WHAM! The problem is diagnosed: the church has been getting sloppy. In its lackadaisical slumber it failed to adequately dote on the fragile youth who wandered through its doors. We wanted a Christianity that was bloggable; we found the eye-watering monotony of doctrine. We wanted a Christianity that catered to our hobbies; we found teachings that catered to our souls. We wanted a Christianity that brought God to us so we needn’t waste our time looking; we found ourselves uninspired and spiritually dissatisfied. We wanted a Christianity composed of saints who would ignore and overlook our moral shortfalls; we found churches full of wretched humans seeking Christ to give them strength in their weakness. Perhaps some naive part of us thought that we would find Jesus incarnated in the church, but we walked out reviled when all we found were broken people kneeling at the cross.
Perhaps some naive part of us thought that we would find Jesus incarnated in the church, but we walked out reviled when all we found were broken people kneeling at the cross.
In essence, we churched millennials desired a religion that was tantamount to entertainment: a religion that takes little effort to reap benefits, that has survived the rigors of postproduction and emerged like a cut and polished diamond, and that isn’t inhabited by (God forbid!) humans who are as prone to creating disasters of their lives as we are. We moronically imagined that Christianity works like the greatest diet known to man, requiring no exercise, including all our favorite foods, and is 100% satisfaction guaranteed. But that’s not what we found. And now we’re angry.
So we blamed the church. We blamed denominations. We blamed dry theology and antiquated morality. We blamed anything and everyone.
But we should have been blaming ourselves.