April 27, 2012
Young people are ambivalent. This is the essential finding of a new study by Georgetown Universitys Berkeley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. The Center, led by FRCs friend Dr. Tom Farr, joined with Public Religion Research Institute to obtain an in-depth portrait of younger Millennials on faith, values, and the 2012 election.
The portrait that emerges in the survey, A Generation in Transition: Religion, Values, and Politics among College-Age Millennials (ages 18-24), is textured by hues of uncertainty. Among its most notable findings:
- Younger Millennials report significant levels of movement from the religious affiliation of their childhood, mostly toward identifying as religiously unaffiliated. While only 11 percent of Millennials were religiously unaffiliated in childhood, one-quarter (25 percent) currently identify as unaffiliated, a 14-point increase. Catholics and white mainline Protestants saw the largest net losses due to Millennials movement away from their childhood religious affiliation.
- Despite holding some moral reservations about abortion, a majority of college-age Millennials support legal abortion, as well as community access to abortion services. Fifty-four percent of those surveyed believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases. Yet a slim majority (51 percent) of Millennials believe that having an abortion is morally wrong, compared to (37 percent) who say it is morally acceptable.
- Millennials feelings toward present-day Christianity are fairly ambivalent. Approximately three-quarters (76 percent) of younger Millennials say that modern-day Christianity has good values and principles, and 63 percent agree that contemporary Christianity `consistently shows love for other people. On the other hand, nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of Millennials say that anti-gay describes present-day Christianity somewhat or very well. And more than 6-in-10 (62 percent) Millennials also believe that present-day Christianity is judgmental.
- Although younger Millennials are divided on the morality of gay and lesbian sexual relationships, a solid majority support allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. Almost 60 percent of Millennials favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to legally marry.
The ideological division among Millennials should come as no surprise. Many of them were raised without fathers and in non-religious homes. They were educated in public schools that taught tolerance as the supreme and integrating virtue, although concurrently they were taught not to extend such to those who believe in revealed and unbending truth. In such classrooms, right and wrong exist only as cultural-linguistic artifacts of an unenlightened era.
Millennials have come of age in a society where promiscuity is exalted in every popular medium, in academia, in sports, etc. Walking into a large department store a couple of years ago, I noticed a photo atop a kiosk of sunglasses that appeared to show two women kissing. Disturbing to me, yet part of ordinary life forAmericas youth.
One of the more striking features of the survey is what it reports young Americans believe about Christianity. They seem to be favorably impressed by Christianity itself (as they understand it), but not by professing Christians, who they view as judgmental.
The extent to which we who profess the Name of Jesus have been harsh or crass is lamentable. May we repent of it. Yet making moral judgments is merely to affirm Christian teaching. According to Scripture and natural law, some things really are right, others really are wrong. Take sexual morality: the Bible makes it plain that all non-marital, non-heterosexual intimacy is against Gods plan for men and women.
To affirm this teaching is to assert that those who differ are in error. This is a moral judgment, to be sure, but it is grounded in neither arrogance nor hatred. Not to affirm scriptural teaching about human sexuality would be to accede to practices and beliefs that do not comport with the glory of God or the good of those He has made in His image. It would be unloving.
Additionally, it would seem that many Millennials have obtained their understanding of Christianity more from the criticisms of iconic cultural figures and antagonistic teachers than from practical experience with believing Christians. Kindness, generosity, integrity, self-sacrifice: These characterize the committed Christians I know far more than the narrowness, bitterness, or hypocrisy for which popular culture indicts them.
Stereotypes are easy to formulate, almost always inaccurate, and difficult to dissipate. Human nature gravitates to the simple and sensational. Thus, the canards that Christians dont care about unborn children after they are born, that we hate gays and lesbians, that we suppress women, etc. gain social credence.
It is for those of us who love the living Savior to dispel the inaccurate perceptions of our age concerning the path of life to which we graciously have been drawn. It is for us to do this without compromise and with compassion, to be filled with both grace and truth, qualities with which Jesus was filled (John1:14).
Surely, there can be few higher callings for any of us than this.