Hi, I'm back! A couple of weeks of rest and all of a sudden I'm remembering all those hot topics that flew the coop of my tired mind in December.
Tonight, the topic of choice is one of the media's favorite buzzwords ever: Millennials
To give you some background, I am a Millennial. Culturally and ideologically I tend to at least identify with how we as a generation are known to think. I have friends of many generations, both older and younger than me, so I have something to judge my own perspective against many times.
Recently, I have become aware of a trend in media and cultural conversation among the older generations who are in the process of beginning their transition out of cultural power (though not willingly, or quietly). This trend goes something like this:
"Those Millennials are so wishy-washy, they couldn't give you a strong answer if their lives depended on it. Also, they're fiscally irresponsible, and can't handle the complex tasks that jobs demand from them because everyone always coddled them and told them they were all precious snowflakes. We're doomed when they come into power in the culture. They are never going to amount to anything."
Sound familiar? Once I had this trend pointed out to me, I started seeing it everywhere. Basically, unless an article was written by an actual Millennial, there is a 95% chance this theme exists. Sometimes, even the articles written by Millennials contain the same things because it has been preached as us so much, we almost start to believe it ourselves.
Honestly, some of the criticisms are valid. As I said, I've maintained friendships with many who are in older generations, and between that and studying some cultural trends, I can say that we as a generation had a bit of a rocky go of it in the early years of adulthood.
However, a great deal of that is the results of systemic changes in the way education and child-rearing were approached, and significant cultural upheaval that resulted from decades of pressure building up in a variety of hot-button areas.
To clarify, we as a generation were not responsible for the "everyone gets an award" trend, nor did we intentionally set out to acquire record amounts of student loan debt, or resist using the technological tools that were peddled to us as we went through our formative years. If a person in my generation cannot function as an adult without their parent's hand-holding, that is on the parents for never letting go of their precious snowflake's hand. If we have vastly different views on justice, faith, and cultural trends, it's because we were exposed to stories of the world outside our bubbles at an unprecedented volume via the Internet.
A few days ago I was reading one of my favorite publications, Relevant Magazine, and they prominently featured an article on how Millennials coming of age are affecting the landscape of Christianity. As it is a topic near and dear to my heart, I paid special attention to it. Sadly, one of the first statements in this article was, "Millennials, for better or worse, are changing everything. And Christians have to wonder if the Church is next."
There it was, the attitude of, "well, they exist and I guess we have to deal with them now." Cue dramatic sighs. Mind you, this is a publication that SPECIFICALLY CATERS to this population. 99% of the time they do a pretty spectacular job of it too.
Here is my main problem with this statement. This country's culture has been more efficiently impacted by the Millennial generation than any other, because of our internet proficiency and tendency towards large social networks, even if they are mainly digital. It assists in the spread of ideas and in many ways a generational identity that is both widely applicable (our lives are defined by the changing methods of communication) and highly individualized (how we use those methods depends very strongly one what corners of the internet we settle in and make our digital "home").
Gone is the slow generational shift of yesteryear, as people of the younger generation gradually work their way into leadership roles. On the internet, everyone with a computer and a phone can find a platform for their ideas. Even if that platform only consists of a few people, it signifies a distinct shift in how we communicate.
This change is inevitable. It's not "for better or worse." It is happening, or in many cases, has happened. My question is then: Why is the Church just now catching on to the fact that they might have to shift some attitudes towards Millennials, and embrace the distinct gifts and perspectives we bring to the table?
I understand why the business world is slow. They have proven methods of doing earning a profit and it's difficult to take the risks to break from tradition. But even that sector has shifted their strategies for engaging my generation at lightspeed compared to the Church.
This is absolutely tragic. What people don't seem to understand is that the cultural trend is very much going in a direction where Millennials understand that we have OPTIONS. We value our quality of life, and that means a focus on fixing the parts of our life that seem unjust. This includes the world around us.
Millennials who have managed to remain in the Church today deserve some of the highest marks for faithfulness, in my opinion. We have been presented with nearly every other option, and still, Jesus has kept us coming back. At least, that is my reason. I have studied other religions, looked into their beliefs and standards of behavior, and found some that have definite elements of truth in their perspectives. I maintain friendships with people from vastly different belief systems because I am confident enough in my beliefs that I'm not threatened by theirs.
This fear of other's believing different things is one of the hallmarks of Christian culture in the last few decades. It is evident the True Love Waits/Purity/Modesty/Abstinence movement, or the collective Evangelical hissy fit whenever any legislation passes which guarantees rights for the LGBTQ community, or even just crucifying a leading Christian voice on the internet the MINUTE they say something that challenges your beliefs.
The problem with this fear is that it alienates this compassionate, creative, empathetic generation that is now coming into cultural power. And if the Church is just now catching on to the fact that we might need to course correct, we are too late for many in this generation.
Over the last year or two, I witnessed Christians (mainly conservative in faith and politics) on social media throw tantrums worthy of any toddler over a variety of issues: Syrian refugees (fear), gun control (fear), people protesting against the racial profiling and police brutality nationwide (fear), LGBT marriage being legalized nationwide (fear), and the idea that a transgender individual might want to feel comfortable in the bathroom (fear, and frankly an insulting fear at that. Throwing out the "keep our women and children safe" argument shows blatant sexism and a deliberate denial of the fact that many trans women and teenagers feel wildly unsafe daily, and not just because of what bathroom they can or cannot use). Also, any sort of "liberal social justice warrior nancy-pants socialist belief," which can be applied to basically any sort of federal, state, or local aid to disadvantaged populations, for the purpose of elevating the general quality of life in this country and lessening the strain on our social systems which are nearly at the breaking point as it is.
Meanwhile, I'm looking on and talking with my friends in my generation (Christian and non-Christian), and the reaction I often hear is: "Are you fucking kidding me?"
I relate to this. I relate to being raised in a Christian culture that was so rigid it didn't even have room for the people already in the Church, let alone for the masses who cry for justice outside of the culture. I have often said that if I didn't meet Jesus the way I did in college, I would not still consider myself a Christian today. I would have walked away. I would have gotten fed up and peaced out, without a second look.
Honestly, sometimes I wonder if there's any way to fix it. I've stayed the path, spoken out for my generation and our value time and again, but the persistent refusal of mainstream Christianity to acknowledge that our generation may care about people more than we care about rules is discouraging at best. I am still here because of Jesus. If it were based on the people of the Church, I sadly would have left years ago.
There are people who are restoring my faith. Leaders who have been willing to stand in the face of the culture we were all raised in and strongly declare that we need to get ourselves straight. Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, and Jaime the Very Worst Missionary (and their friends) have acted as an antidote to the poison of people like Jerry Falwell Jr and Franklin Graham, among others. Christians who maintain that the focus on justice and equality that exists in this Millennial generation is not counter to the Gospel, but rather inherent in the Good News of Jesus's love for us.
Still, all the people I just mentioned are on the list of people who have been crucified by significant portions of the Church for daring to believe the Bible over cultural Christianity, and hundreds of years of systematic injustice being woven into the doctrine of the Church. I mean, I love my faith. I love my Jesus. That doesn't change the fact that Christians have actively used Scripture to justify war, xenocide, slavery, harmful colonialism, and oppression.
My generation sees this. We watch, and we take in the vitriol from all sides, and we try to find the good in the midst of it. I would like to think we aren't swayed by the poisonous division, but that may be a sign of my optimism rather than my realism.
If the Church wants to keep this generation, how about you try to meet us where we are at. Stop blaming us for all of society's ills, stop actively insulting and protesting against our friends who hold different beliefs, stop shouting at us that we have no understanding of the world simply because our understanding was formed so differently from yours.
If you're just now wondering how the Church will have to change to keep this generation, you're already too late. I only hope that forgiveness can happen on both sides, but I'm kinda gun-shy right now. I have been shot at a few too many times over the last couple of years.
If you just scrolled down here to see when I would stop the rant, here's what I want you to take away:
Just because Millenials think differently, and are the product of a variety of social factors we had no control over, don't villainize us. Millenials are not the devil, I swear. Respect us, and we are much more likely to respect you. We may not end up agreeing, but at least give us the benefit of the conversation.