Why some young evangelicals are leaving the faith | Kiowa County Press


Young evangelical Christians are faced with a dilemma: follow in their parents’ footsteps or pursue other choices. Nicholas Kamm / AFP via Getty Images

Terry shoemaker, Arizona State University

The extent to which the number of white evangelicals has declined in the United States has been laid bare in a new 2020 Census report on American religion from the Public Religion Research Institute.

The institute’s study found that only 14% of Americans identify as evangelical white today. This is a drastic drop since 2006, when the American religious landscape was made up of 23% white evangelicals, as the report notes.

Along with a decline in white evangelism, data points to a stabilized increase in the number of those who no longer identify as religious at all. Religious scholars call this group the “nuns” and they make up about a quarter of the American population. These statistics are even more drastic when you consider age. In short, older Americans are much more religious than younger Americans, while Millennials are likely not to practice or identify with religion.

This data is important. Although white evangelicals tend to be politically vocal and influential, many are known to quit the faith.

More and more, scholarship follows the emergence of those who abandon religion. Religious studies scholar Elizabeth Drescher’s 2016 book, “Choosing Our Religion,” examines many cases in which people stray from their faith. She notes that people leaving evangelism “tended to express anger and frustration with the teachings and practices of the church of their childhood.”

While the statistics are sure to capture the attention of various readers, the data can only provide a limited insight into the more nuanced perspectives specific to the critique of white evangelism.

For the past six years, I have been part of a team of academics from various disciplines and universities examining the reluctance and rejection of young individuals leaving or attempting to reform evangelism in America. Some young evangelicals are disappointed with the strong and conflicting political positions of their religious traditions and the way in which theology has been used to support these positions.

The experiences of young evangelicals

Between 2010 and 2018, I conducted over 75 interviews with people dissatisfied with their evangelical faith and observed several white evangelical mega-churches.

My interviewees, all white, were generally in their late twenties and early forties and were very critical of the Christian faith of their youth. These interviewees react differently to their dissatisfaction. Some give up their faith completely while others try to reform their faith from within. For the majority, the church was an important part of their social life, and they described rigid expectations for defending their theology, politics, and spiritual communities to outsiders.

Several of those interviewed during my research mentioned how politics influenced the theology of white evangelism in the United States. Rob, who resides in Florida and spent most of his adult life as a musician in a large evangelical white church, told me his church preached “God, the Fatherland, and the Republican Party.” He was even taught as a teenager that “Jesus was definitely a Republican,” and he characterized God as “angry enough, a cosmic arbiter” seeking to regulate the lives of the faithful. Today Rob identifies as a progressive Christian and has a much more generous view of his god.

My research shows that some young evangelicals are tired of white evangelicalism’s allegiance to the Republican Party and specific positions on racism and sexuality. White evangelicals categorize these issues as a “culture war” for the soul of America – an internal struggle for who will define and decide America’s future.

By presenting these issues as a cultural battle, white evangelicals maintain a besieged posture targeting a list of enemies such as liberals, secularists and atheists. As sociologists Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry note in their study of Christian nationalism, white evangelicals nurture a “collective desire to protect their cultural and political territory.”

In addition, in a racially and ethnically diverse and increasingly pluralistic country, the experiences of some evangelicals are transforming their positions on political issues. Take, for example, the issue of immigration policies in the United States. White Evangelicals as a group strongly support restrictive immigration policies.

Reverend Jose Rodriguez of the Waltham Worship Christian Center speaks at a meeting in Boston in March 2018 to draw attention to immigration issues.
Some evangelicals have taken a stand against restrictive immigration policies. AP Photo / Sarah Betancourt

However, Jerry, one of my interviewees who lives in North Carolina and grew up Methodist, cited the white evangelical stance against restrictive immigration policies as a reason to question his faith. Today Jerry identifies as spiritual but not religious; while still an evangelical, Jerry explained, “When it comes to immigration issues, we wanted our children to know what it means to be a foreigner. We want our children to have a global experience. His theological interpretation of the Bible during this time taught Jerry to welcome strangers, and he applied it to national borders.

Political changes can alter religious beliefs. Jerry’s growing cultural awareness eventually replaced his evangelical interpretation of the scriptures. He notes: “Instead of looking for answers in the Bible or the church, let’s have a multicultural world perspective to answer these questions.”

Likewise, Sarah grew up in Kentucky, spending much of her childhood in church services, Bible studies, and Christian camps within a Baptist denomination. “Part of me likes the idea of ​​church,” she said, “but I think I like the idea of ​​helping people more. It’s my idea of ​​what a Christian is, someone who helps others. ” She admits this while asserting that for her personally, religious identity does not matter.

Sarah’s involvement in poverty reduction in Kentucky influenced her attitudes about how she views evangelical white worship today: “The way the church operates in Kentucky is so backward. -class of people watching a big screen with a full group. I think that’s probably the opposite of what Jesus wanted. “

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Why is this happening now?

For those who are trained and disciplined in white evangelism, the insular and authoritarian nature of the faith often creates circumstances where questioning or criticizing the faith seems impossible and can lead to avoidance.

Brandy, Tennessee and raised a Baptist, said her family actually organized a religious intervention, complete with a screen, PowerPoint, and projector, after she quit attending her family’s church. She experienced ostracism: “I felt rejected, ignored, despised,” she says. “I felt isolated from the community. Brandy is still a Christian and regularly attends another more progressive church, but her evangelical family refuses to accept her church as legitimate.

This is just a sampling of the comments from interviewees that I have heard indicating a growing disaffection with the political positions and alliances of white evangelism. They represent a growing movement of “evangelicals” – those who have grown in the faith but have since abandoned it.

The fierce resistance to civil unions, transgender rights and women’s equality, along with the inability of white evangelicalism to challenge its racialized and patriarchal structures, does not match some of these younger perspectives today. hui.

As the report indicates, many millennials reject traditional forms of religion outright.

The conversation

Terry Shoemaker, Professor of Religious Studies, Arizona State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

About Florence M. Sorensen

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