There’s been quite a bit of response to Rachel Held Evans’ CNN piece last week on “Why Millennials are leaving the church,” so allow me to chime in here.
Why are young people leaving the church? Very often, it’s because the church lied to them.
Specifically, it’s often because the church lied to them about the age of the Earth.
Many young Christians have been reared to believe that this concept of creation is a virtual article of faith that represents the biblical teaching. Those young Christians then go off to college, to a museum or to another source of knowledge where they may be exposed to legitimate geology and are stunned by the force of geologic evidence for Earth’s antiquity. They have been personally confronted with an intellectual and spiritual fixed great gulf that is far wider than the Grand Canyon, between their newfound scientific understanding and the religious views of their youth. Not having been equipped to handle the resulting intellectual and spiritual stresses, they all too often conclude, because the geologic evidence is so persuasive, that what they were taught about creation must be incorrect. To them, the Bible now becomes a flawed book. Sensing that they have been misled about creation by the religious authorities of their youth, they lose confidence in the rest of their religious upbringing. Such students may suffer severe shock to their faith. They were not properly taught the truth about creation, nor were they equipped to deal with challenges to their faith. Christians who are professional scientists have all heard far too many accounts of individuals whose spiritual journeys sound much like the scenario just described. Let’s have no shipwrecks of the faith of young, vulnerable, unprepared Christian youth that can be laid at the door of the pseudo-science promoted by Christians.
Tens of thousands of millennials are among the shocked and shipwrecked former evangelical Christians who wandered into college, or into a museum, or into a library and stubbed their toe on a rock that was obviously and undeniably ancient. And then they know that they’ve been lied to.
The distrust resulting from that lie is proper, just and well-deserved. And when that lie collapses, as all lies must, those young people will be compelled to test everything they have been told and taught in church. Some of them will test everything and find some good to hold on to. Others won’t.
And so they leave.
Young-Earth creationism is a lie. That lie is chasing young people out of the church. Not just millennials, mind you, but X-ers and Baby Boomers before them. That’s why this is a recurring conversation — why we’re now seeing articles on “Why Millennials are leaving the church” that parallel the articles from 20 years ago about “Why Gen X-ers are leaving the church.”
Young people will eventually catch on that they’re being lied to. So will older people. You can only fool them with lies about geology until they encounter a rock. You can only fool them with lies about supposedly monstrous others until they encounter those others. You can only fool them with lies about the Bible itself until they encounter the Bible itself.