Millennials and Religion [Part 2]: Gone and Not Coming Back

Millennials and Religion [Part 2]: Gone and Not Coming Back July 24, 2014

[It took me a while to write this, as I thought I’d have a post up last Wednesday on “How to get millennials to come back to Church.” It took so long because, well I didn’t want to agree with my conclusion… but as I expound on in the article below saying that “When it feels as if we are constantly having to defend the humanity of our friends because of their sexuality, you know it’s time to just shake hands, agree to disagree, and go your separate ways.” Yes, some will return inevitably but a vast majority won’t. Love to hear any of your thoughts.]

There are millennials and then there are those who go to Church…

We’re not only two different groups, but we have two very different political stances. Some of my friends say they’re “social libertarians,” anarchist’s even, most are like me, just independent and not too crazy about labels. I would agree that both millennials and church-goers follow Jesus, but the thing is we are following two incredibly different versions of Jesus; one Jesus looks more like a middle class white man, and the other Jesus looks more like a homeless Palestinian Jew.

The religious elite during Jesus’ time was only willing to bow, worship, and accept a messiah that was this angelic judge of the earth with political power, this also seems to be the only Jesus much of the religious right are willing to worship. While, seemingly, the millennial is only willing to bow, worship, and accept a homeless peasant that incarnates an inclusive love.

If you’re not following, what I’m insinuating is that we, Christian millennials and the so-called “moral-majority,”  not only worship two very different versions of God, but we adhere to two very different version of Christianity. These two versions are so far removed from each other that they are not only conflicting but they are two completely differing religions.

So the question still yet remains: How then can we close this divide between two conflicting views, in which worship two conflicting God’s that lead to two very different lifestyles? 

I truly struggled in answering this, because it’s such a personal topic in which I’m so incredibly passionate about, the fact of the matter is, the answer I came up with I’ve refused to accept, but here’s the truth:

We can’t.

We’ve tried.

It’s failed.

We’re not going to close this divide between two conflicting views. When it feels as if we are constantly having to defend the humanity of our friends because of their sexuality, you know it’s time to just shake hands, agree to disagree, and go your separate ways.

It wasn’t, hasn’t, and never will be healthy, productive, or conducive to our relationship and walk with [our version of] Christ. We left behind your version of Church after high school to see what else was out there, surprisingly we found something better and healthier. The grand majority of us have decided that we’re not coming back, at least any time in the near future. This brings very few of us joy but admittedly it has offered many a sense and experience of freedom!

The more I think about it the more apparent it becomes that we were never a “lost generation,” but rather a generation that was misled…

Misled to believe that gender, race, and sexuality determine status.

Misled to believe that morality determined value.

Misled to believe that Christianity was simply a program we attended once a week, for only one hour a week, twice a month, that is, on a good month.

Imagine if the future of the church abandoned labels, rejected a boxed in dogma, and accepted an inclusive version of Jesus.

The Jesus that was known for what He was for as opposed to being recognized for what He stood against.

Christ was for the poor.

Christ was for inclusion.

Christ was for diversity and unity.

Christ was for women and equality.

He spent time with the sick, He healed the lame, and He rescued those who were dying. To us, this is Church! This is something that offers us meaning, and reason to not simply live for, but something to give our lives to. We like Jesus, and we don’t like what we’ve come to know as “church.” We tried doing it your way, and now we’re going to attempt doing it our way. We know that what we do will be far from perfect and incredibly messy. But is this not what the journey of life is: unpredictably imperfect and incredibly messy?

All in all as hard as it is for many of us to accept: We left, and we’re not coming back. 

“Not all those who wander are lost.”

This technological age of information has been weird, but it’s also shown us millennials are not alone. It’s made the world realize that the conservative moral-majority was never actually “moral” and are no longer the majority. As frowned upon as Twitter, blogging, Tumblr, and social media are they’ve shown the world a the silent minority is not the minority and enabled us, or rather encouraged us to stop being so silent.

Please understand that it’s not that we, millennials, are lost, it’s that you no longer have us. I, personally, strongly question whether or not you ever truly accepted us. Thankfully, and ironically, we’ve come to find that Christ has accepted us, despite our sexuality, color, or gender… so we’re just going to follow His lead from here on out.

[I wrote this speaking in regards to the millennials experience. I also want to acknowledge that I realize this does not voice how every millennial feels. Each of us has our own unique story and therefore differing thoughts on religion and where they as individuals land. The post is written in a general sense, I paint with broad strokes, so again, I understand not every millennial will agree. All in all, this post is something that is not simply a letter to allow millennials to know they are not alone, but a letter to the parent, pastor, or church attender to recognize it’s unlikely the millennial will return to their version of Church or for this matter, their version of Jesus. I explain why here.]

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  • Calvin

    As a millenial, there is a part of me that wants to be on board with what you’re saying, but I just can’t.

    You speak of wanting to follow an inclusive Jesus who was for diversity, unity, and equality, yet you then advocate for sameness, disunity, and separation. If we truly want to be formed into this inclusive image of Christ, it probably means we should stick with his people, even if it’s not fun.

  • I mean – I hear you, I think that what I’m saying is that we were never the ones “dis-unifying” [I dunno if that’s a word], separating. I don’t necessarily see where I’m “advocating” for disunity so much as I’m acknowledging that we were never truly accepted in the first place, and to stay where we are not accepted as who we are… asian, hispanic, gay, straight, porn addict, calvinist, [or whatever is considered heresy by conservatives]

    Also this is from the perspective of a minority [“person of color”], that grew up within “white evangelicalism.” So the vast majority of those who might disagree and/or misunderstand me are those who are accepted and benefit from this type of Church more than people of color – LGBT – the marginalized, would benefit from it… Though I do think that many not-so-marginalized are also walking away (so don’t want to clump privileged into one group)… so I’m not advocating disunity, I’m advocating walking away from an abusive system that degrades your humanity (i.e. minorities, women, LGBT, non-calvinists, muslims, etc)

  • Haley Wiedenhoeft

    Hi Andy, not sure if you remember me, I met you at youthworks a few summers ago in Denver. I believe you were utility staff? Anyways, this post kinda breaks my heart because I think you are giving the millennials an easy way out of church. You are giving them a way to say, “yeah I love Jesus but I don’t want to be apart of a multi-generational community”. Here is the thing, we have to work to find out who the Real Jesus is, because he has to be some thing in between the homless jew and the middle class guy. Dont you think? Jesus is. He is truth and love and justice. Even though some of us millenials like to forget about the justice stuff. All Im saying is, yes I have a hard time trying to figure out what Jesus really thinks about the social differences we have. But we can’t give up. There can not be a whole generation missing from the church. What effects will that have?

  • Calvin

    Andy – I’m with you on the church being complicit in perpetuating injustice, marginalizing and causing deep pain to others. I never want to defend that, say its okay, or sweep it under a rug. It sucks. It’s wrong (and I’m sorry if you’ve been on the receiving end of it). But the Christ-like answer is not to walk away – its deeper engagement. If we truly want to reform church – and I’m with you on that – then we’ve got to do it with and alongside God’s people. If we leave and start a whole new thing, we keep perpetuating the same problem (fracturing, schisms, and dis-unity).

    For those who maybe don’t feel accepted or marginalized, there is hope in that Christ also was not accepted and experienced marginalization from the very people he came to save – nay – the very people he created. I don’t say this as if it should make things better, but as a sign that there is still hope even when it seems hopeless.

  • Haley! I do remember you! Thanks for your comment – trust me my heart is broken too, but the good news is that it’s healing. I think part of what has allowed this healing has been my acknowledging that staying in this institution, many consider the church, would be unhealthy and (for me) hinder my ability to serve…

    I don’t know if you’ve read any of my past stuff, but personally I believe that the church is not a Sunday morning program. I think I’ve even gone so far as believing that the “religious-right,” “conservative moral-right,” or just plain old “American Christianity” (whatever one might refer to it as) is not Christianity either, let alone anything close to what Christ intended the Church to be…

    So I think that you asked a great question: “There can not be a whole generation missing from the church. What effects will that have?” But I think I see it from a different perspective… I think generation(s) have been missing from the Church and millennials (obviously not all) are going to be a generation in which finally returns to the Church, not a program but a way and means of living their everyday life, serving the poor, loving the widows, and acknowledging the orphaned (and all at the cost of even becoming poor themselves)…

  • This sounds good in theory, but then there is reality… I guess my question for you (not rhetorical) is then what does this look like?

    There are people dying, I mean, literally (i.e. Gaza). There are orphans starving. There are illegal immigrants enslaved (right here in the states). There are teenagers committing suicide because of shame and guilt from their churches. There are single mothers suffering from a americanized version of ghettoization, living on the outskirts of suburbia, the suburbia in which the Privileged American “church” resides.

    So after 20+ years, we keep ignoring these atrocities caused by the so-called church? In order that we avoid a “schism”? Has not the schism already happened? Are not our churches divided on a Sunday morning (racially) for a reason, in which was pushed, backed, and started by THE Church?

    So what you’re saying, again not rhetorical, is that we need to avoid a schism amidst the privileged and powerful? That aaalllll the other schisms are okay? That if at the cost of (as i said in the post) “a program we attended once a week,” that this would be creating a “schism”?

    so I guess I truly am curious… what then does it look like for us to stay? and yet still acknowledge the other schisms? or are you suggesting that immigrants don’t matter and saying to racial segregation, “Whatever.”?

  • Calvin

    I’m not sure I can give concrete or specific indicators of what this might look like, but my initial response is what does love look like in this situation. Those who have been oppressors are called to love those they’ve oppressed and those who are been marginalized are called to love those that have marginalized them. And I just don’t think walking away amounts to a loving response.

  • Joel

    Hi Andy—a friend shared this post with me, and I thought it was serendipitous how similar our faith journeys look (from what I can piece together from your post and your “Andy Gill” blurb). I am headed to Princeton Theological Seminary this September, and I too can be disillusioned when I look at the church tradition I came from. I am also a millennial, although I am not a minority. However, I see the issue much differently than you do. I’d like to share three ways I see it differently, and I’d love to know your thoughts.

    1) “The 70 Faces of Torah”:

    The Jews believe that you can see many different interpretations of Torah at many different depths depending on what face you’re looking at and what perspective you’re looking from. God is similar—this is why we have so many different ways of understanding who God is and what Jesus came to do. Depending on your life experience and faith tradition, you may see a very different Christ than another equally committed Christian does.

    While we can see Jesus very differently from those who have turned the church into an institution, both perspectives can shine light on Jesus’ mission and character. To think that a given perspective is free from blind spots is unwise and arrogant—we need other perspectives to fill in our blind spots, just as we can fill in theirs. There often comes a time when we notice the blind spots inherent to the version of Christianity we grew up with. While this maturation can be upsetting and feel like a betrayal, the largest error we can make is to sever ourselves from that version of Christianity. It’s tempting, but as much as we may hate to admit it, we need them and they need us.

    This leads to my next point…

    2) “Who Will Reconcile?”:

    This point is regarding your seeming blitheness toward the “old guard,” where you conclude that we can’t bridge the gap between “millennials” and the “moral majority.” It looks like you’re throwing the baby out with the bathwater here. Aren’t we given the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Cor 5:18) to everyone? Isn’t God “reconciling the world to himself” (5:19)? How, then, can we pick and choose who gets to reconcile with God and who doesn’t? Didn’t Jesus himself show great care, love, and stubbornness in trying to preach to the Pharisees?

    In short, it seems like you’re advocating blowing up what has been built and beginning anew, no matter who might get caught in the rubble. I’m reminded of a quote, often attributed to Augustine: “The church may be a whore, but she’s still my mother.” When we “grow beyond” our parents, that doesn’t mean we forsake them and think worse of them. In the same way, I don’t think it would be right to abandon those who also worship Jesus, albeit in a different way than we’re comfortable with. Our ministry is to them also, to show them a larger Jesus and reveal their blind spots.

    3) “Friends and Enemies”:

    Your crowning phrase in this post looks to be “Jesus… was known for what he was FOR as opposed to being recognized for what he stood AGAINST.” I’m not sure I buy that—he stood AGAINST the Pharisaical interpretation of the Sabbath, and that attack on the power of the religious elite ultimately got him killed—but for argument’s sake, let’s assume this to be true. If this is true, and this is the kind of Jesus you want to model your life after, then why are you so dead set AGAINST the church? Wouldn’t it be more logically consistent to be FOR something?

    Jesus preached the good news to anyone and everyone, both to his friends and his enemies. It seems like you’re arguing we should only preach the good news to our friends, and that isn’t what the Bible teaches.


    Brother, I don’t know you. I may observe that our life stories look similar, but I don’t know where you’re coming from, or what pain you’ve endured from the church, or why you’ve reached the conclusion that it’s hopeless to fellowship with the people of the institution anymore. However, in reading your post, a quote from Rob Bell’s book “Sex God” came to mind. Let me share it with you:

    “I often meet people who aren’t part of a church and don’t want anything to do with God because of “all those religious hypocrites.” Often they have great pain that they blame on “the church.” But it’s not possible for an institution, whether it’s the church or a school or a business or even the government, to hurt somebody.

    “Institutions are made up of people.

    “People hurt people.

    “…When I meet someone who has been burned by an institution, my first question is, ‘What was the person’s name?'” (“Sex God,” 45).

    Christ’s church has ALWAYS accepted and rejoiced in millennials and the unique perspective they bring. I’m sorry that you didn’t experience such a welcome. Please know that wasn’t representative of the body of Christ.

  • sadly, this is usually what abusive men who have trapped children, or their counterparts in a relationship think as well… again, agree to disagree – shake hands and walk away. blessings…

  • HeyJoel, thanks for the comment, and an early welcome to the Princeton area!

    Okay, now in response to the second half of your comment: This is the thing, I haven’t been “hurt” persay by the institution, now I have been hurt yes by people. BUT, I mainly benefited off of evangelicalism… i was making a lot of good money off of it. I was promoted with in it, I was speaking from church to church which was fun! But it was easily revealed to me that most weren’t benefiting… so i left. I didn’t leave because of my own oppression, I left because to take part in this was to perpetuate the oppression of others.

    Plain and simple.

  • Joel

    Hi Andy,

    Sorry for the delay–I had a few commitments this weekend, and I wasn’t able to make time to continue our conversation. I appreciate your response, and while I’m sad you chose to leave evangelicalism, I think I understand your reasoning better.

    I’m curious what you think about the decisions of those like Rachel Held Evans, who hold similar views as you seem to hold, yet are stubbornly remaining inside the institution. She has decided–intentionally, not because it’s necessarily easier–to stay within evangelicalism because they are the ones who need to hear what she has to say. This is related to the point I made above concerning blinds spots, and how we all have them, and how as the body of Christ, we need to help one another see them.

    Just as Jesus recognized the teachers of of the law as not simply misguided, but toxic, we can recognize the obsession of some evangelicals over, say, literal six-day creationism as toxic also. Yet, just as Jesus continued to preach in their synagogues and interact with them in (sometimes frustrated) love, we ought to converse and interact with our brothers and sisters also, whether they are hurting others or not. In fact, it may be when others are being hurt that it is MOST important to turn toward them as opposed to turning away.

    This may not be a possibility for you, as the calling to this mission field is not for everyone. Some people have been wounded or have seen others get wounded too grievously to minister to evangelicals.

    However, just because you do not have this calling does NOT mean that no one in the church has this calling. This is a crucial point, and one I think you swung and missed on in this post. The reason it is not hopeless to unify millennials and the evangelical institution is because God is reconciling ALL PEOPLE to himself. So while your calling may be to those who have been wounded by the institution (which is indeed a noble, necessary calling!), please do not speak for all of us in advocating against closing the divide.

    God bless you, brother, and I hope that wherever God has inclined your heart to minister, you are able to do it with love and grace. One thing I DO appreciate about this post is how passionate you are about the oppressed, and that’s where God’s heart is, too. Be careful, though, that you don’t become like the Israelites after coming out of Egypt–having been freed from their oppressors, they themselves began to oppress.

    Thanks for the conversation!

  • Joel

    Hi again, Andy,

    I also continued our conversation below, but I thought this point needed addressing. The parallel you draw between sticking with the church and staying in an abusive relationship is a good one, but it fails to take into account one important fact: In an abusive relationship, there are two PEOPLE, whereas in this discussion about millennials and the evangelical institution, there are two GROUPS. Telling another person they need to stay in relationship with you is very different from saying that two groups need to stay connected. Of course, individuals within one group may need to avoid the other group for a variety of reasons, but you are calling for a full extraction of millennials (and those who do church “correctly”) from the evangelical institution. That is very different from a victim leaving his/her abuser, and is divisive by definition.

    You’re calling for unity–great! I agree with you. What happens when we who have “led an exodus” out of the evangelical institution have children, and those children recognize that we are hypocritical, imperfect, and oppressors? (After all, that’s what we tend to do as humans.) What happens when they decide to do the same thing, and walk away, saying that the god we worship is not their God? Suddenly, we find that the freedom we seemingly gained from separating from evangelicals has been replaced with disunity and exclusion. That’s my worry, and that’s why this millennial cannot justify abandoning the institution.

  • 1) Are you insinuating there is no such thing as institutionalized violence? And that certain systems are not constructed to benefit certain demographics more than other demographics (if so would this not be ignoring institutionalized violence/racism?)?

    2) Acknowledging and using the word “Exodus” is to acknowledge an instance in which a group of people left another group of people, in which God ordained… You must understand as Michelle Alexander cited in her book, “The New Jim Crow,” ” We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.”

    It’s truly heart wrenching that you’re not aware of this stuff… The issue of racism and oppression via privileged christianity is the issue, the root of this is ignorance. I’ve noticed a trend, the only people who really are unaware of this are Eurocentric Christian’s (millennials or not), this is what I’m walking away from and many others, until this is understood we’re not staying… It does break my heart.

  • Joel

    Hi Andy,

    Good questions. I don’t intend to insinuate that there isn’t institutionalized violence. I believe your metaphor regarding domestic abuse didn’t have the precision it needed—institutionalized violence is another matter entirely. I was seeking greater clarity in how you addressed Calvin’s points, since I don’t think your example was a valid parallel. If you’d like to talk about institutionalized violence, that’s fine—but I don’t disagree with you around that.

    (Quick note here regarding institutionalized violence: looking at the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we can see that his response to institutionalized violence was greater engagement. He preached in the South, ministered in the South, and advocated on behalf of the people of the South—all while condemning the violence and those who perpetrated it. Yet this is precisely counter to what you’re advocating.)

    Regarding exodus, I agree with your point. Exodus is an example where the people of God left another people—quite violently, I should add! And yet, there are two large holes in this parallel you’re implicitly drawing between Egypt and evangelicalism:

    1) Egypt did not claim to be followers of God; evangelicalism does.
    2) God sent ten supernatural plagues to the Egyptians in order to get their attention; no such thing has happened against evangelicalism.

    I really appreciate your heart—I said it before, and I meant it—and your zeal to make sure others understand how the church can and must be improved. However, simply because I disagree with your conclusion does not mean that I am unaware of the abuse and oppression that plagues the church. I disagree with your conclusion because we have a biblical mandate to partake in the ministry of reconciliation. Maybe it isn’t your job to reconcile the institution to millennials personally, but God will reconcile, since that’s how he rolls. And I hope that God uses you as a voice to call out the abuses of power within the evangelical world instead of calling for an exodus from the church.

    I’m also aware that this is a point on which I likely will be unable to change your mind. That breaks my heart, too, since there are churches—institutional, evangelical churches, even!—who are doing good work, and your response seems to be that they are not worth your time. Think about the rest of what I said after I used the word “exodus” in my post above, since if splitting is your solution to an imperfect church, then there will be more splitting down the line—and I can guarantee you that your way of doing church will be the target of a split as well.

    Thanks again for the conversation, brother. I hope you reconsider and help us in the fight to restore our mother to health. She needs people like you.