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Friday, June 21, 2024

Mixed signals

A curious confluence of contradictory signs is cropping up about young Americans' changing relationship with Christ. To sort things out, do we need a sign from God? Some experts claim that Christian evangelicals, seemingly at the height of their political power on the national scene, are praying they aren't simultaneously on the precipice of extinction, as church leaders fear an apocalyptic prediction is coming true.

A curious confluence of contradictory signs is cropping up about young Americans’ changing relationship with Christ. To sort things out, do we need a sign from God?

Some experts claim that Christian evangelicals, seemingly at the height of their political power on the national scene, are praying they aren’t simultaneously on the precipice of extinction, as church leaders fear an apocalyptic prediction is coming true.

“Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be ‘Bible-believing Christians’ as adults _ a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation,” according to a report in The New York Times this past week.

Conversely, the author of a new book, “Righteous,” says Democrats need to embrace the burgeoning movement of young evangelicals as a way to stem the loss of followers to the GOP. The Washington Post recently ran a review of author Lauren Sandler’s book that said, “(Journalist Sandler) urges her fellow liberals to embrace the tactics of the evangelical youth movement. An unlikely amalgam of Christian skateboarders, pierced and tattooed pro-lifers, hip-hop and rock musicians, and straitlaced Christian college debate champions, the movement includes creation-science buffs, former drug addicts and the sons of the well-known Christian evangelists James Dobson and Jim Bakker.”

Why should Democrats risk losing mainstream believers, agnostics and nonbelievers, many of whom are alienated by in-your-face evangelism and its attendant proselytizing, if young evangelicals are on the brink of becoming non-believing adults?

To hear evangelicals tell it, church leaders young and old, whether wearing vestigial tabs or Jesus T-shirts, are helpless against the Internet and Madison Avenue. Mainstream culture trumps God’s word. Its magnetic power lures young Americans by mocking religion and making it seem passe. Even a hotline to Jesus does not allow them to compete with a nation they see as glorifying casual sex and hyper-sexuality while genuflecting to rap and hip-hop music whose lyrics preach sex, violence and materialism.

The Barna Group, a California-based polling firm that specializes in Americans’ religious attitudes, may have the answer, which is somewhere in between The Washington Post’s “teen Jesus freaks rule” approach and the Times’ feared loss of young adherents for Christ. More Americans, teens included, are believers, according to the Barna Group. But they’re believing at home instead of joining a church. Barna’s research seems to have uncovered the rumblings of a possible radical shift in the way Americans see religion and Christianity. More of them, young and old, believe faith is in the heart. They are worshiping at home with friends and family, without the guidance of an ordained church official. They see routine churchgoing as unnecessary for an individual’s spiritual development.

What’s facilitating the growth of home churches is, oddly enough, the Internet. We all know American teens are much more technology-savvy than their parents or grandparents. E-communication is making it easier for small groups of like-minded believers to find each other and buck large church organizations.

So while charismatic pastors pass the plate on Sunday to build and maintain ostentatious mega-churches, spiritual teens may be yearning to return to Jesus’ ways in the New Testament. Maybe they have more sense than their parents. Maybe they seek simplicity and yearn to revive the tradition established during Christianity’s first three centuries in which home churches were the norm: “Aquila and Prisca greet you heartily in the Lord, with the church that is in their house.” (1 Corinthians 16:19)

Maybe they’re just smarter than their parents and grandparents in this way. Maybe they realize that speaking in tongues, meeting in a large building on Sundays, and supporting a possibly corrupt and probably self-interested church leadership doesn’t bring happiness and has even less to do with inner peace.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)

20 thoughts on “Mixed signals”

  1. I hope today’s youth realize that no one religion has a corner on spirituality. If religion is ever taught in schools (as some evangelicals fervently hope), I hope it is presented in a mandatory course of COMPARATIVE religions. Right-wing Christians would certainly squawk at that because Christianity’s stance is one of complete intolerance to other religions.

  2. Right on ya’ll! We need to have a National discussion on this subject. True, most people do believe in “God” of some sort, but people’s understanding of the higher power(whatever it may be or not be) and how we should live our lives, varies greatly and is a personal and private matter. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being spiritual. Religiosity, however seeks to control and coerce others into the leaders’ intrepreted point of view. Remember all of humanity past, present or future are fallable. One must look to the “God” inside each and everyone of us to determine spiritual truth for oneself. (and nobody else).

    Jim, you are completely on target when you say the “business” of religion, because that is exactly what religion is and has always been. And I totally agree with you again about the Amish’s reaction. Wasn’t that amazing in these ultra-hypocritical times we are living in? And as our hopefully future Governer (Kinky Friedman) says, “may the God of your choosing bless you.”

  3. The “business” of religion, especially the so called Christian Right should all take a lesson from the Amish. Their recent reaction to the senseless murder of four young girls is precisely what Christ taught. I don’t necessarily agree but at least they live their faith, even in extreme circumstances. Compare this to Jimmy Baker, “lean over Baby. God told me to do this”, and Jimmy Swaggert, and all the rest of the Oscar quality actors in the “busines”.

  4. I’m with you at Hooters! This Christian Right stuff is a pure greedy, power mad, stampede. All of the leaders even look-a-like to me. I think they have the same hairdresser. You are so right! They want you to give up your life to Christ. Let make all of your decisions. You have no responsibility for anything that happens. What a crock.

    The God I know gave me a perfectly good mind to figure things out and take responsibility for my actions. I have owned up to my mistakes all my life, lost jobs, lost friends. But they were always things and people that needed to be lost. I am a far better person for this chance to grow and to become better than I was.

    The Christian Right is full of lies. If one more tells me I’m going to Hell I think I will have to punch his lights out. where do they get off with that crap. Guess that’s how they got so many members – scare them into it.

    Now they want to regress to a life style that is 2,000 years old. That’s rich. No one will learn anything new or make any progress in their lives. It’s time for religion to go back into the closet.

  5. The manner in which MANY of religious faith deny and deflect responsibility and accountability for their actions, as the current executive, legislative and judicial branches of government are doing may be why the United States is wallowing in failure regarding Afghanistan, Iraq, lechery in Congress, etc….

    As long as one can proclaim one’s actions to be the will of God, personal responsibility and accountability can be denied and deflected to the God of one’s own choosing and then righteousness prevails and perverts. What a relief, murder, torture and destruction in the name of God are justified because one’s own God is right and all other Gods are false. Sound familiar? TWO RELIGEOUS FANATICS BELIEVING THEY ARE RIGHT FIGHTING A WAR THAT THREATENS THE WELL BEING OF THE REST OF HUMANITY. Whether this be the Israelis and Palestinians or Bush and Bin Ladin, both will avidly welcome you and require you to take the side of their self imposed world of insanity. If you’re not on their side then it is death or prison or both for you.

    It is important for those of all faiths to recognize these four religious TRUTHS:

    1. Muslims do not recognize Jews as God’s chosen people.
    2. Jews do not recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
    3. Protestants do not recognize the Pope as the leader of the Christian
    4. Baptists do not recognize each other at Hooters.

    All should worship at Hooters on Sunday and buy rounds for the Baptists. You are either with me or against me TRUST ME ON THIS ONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Although the Christian and Muslim religions do have a lively life of the spirit, Buddhism seems to be much better because its hero is a teacher – not a magician.

    Of course the worst religion is virulent militarism and nationalism. That will have to disappear if we are to fight global warming.

  7. Just as it is in Europe, mainstream religion is in its last throes in this country. At least I hope so. Unfortunately, there is much of the globe that foments fanaticism regardless of its sect, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or what ever. The problem with religion, in general, is that it is inherently self centered. While almost all religions preach love and tolerance, its believers are mostly intolerant and promote hatred of those who are not believers in their particular sect. I’m for a world that is free of religion!

  8. Will the time ever return when one can arrive at church where there will be a reverent atmosphere, the music adores God (as in Psalm 100; and I don’t think Psalm 150 was either predicting or encouraging ‘rock n’ roll in church) and leads the congregation in worship, where an educated pastor will deliver a sermon with a beginning, a middle and an end, where the congregation contributes their time, art, and substance for the benefit of others less fortunate and then leaves with a feeling and sense of renewal rather than “what happened? Where did ‘church’ go?”

  9. If the trend continues, the ‘business of religion’ is in trouble. Many of the ‘leaders’ are only interested in what you can put in the plate. To me they come off as using religion as a way to separate the faithful from their assets.

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