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Sunday, August 11, 2013

Going Liberal: The Church's Magic Bullet for Keeping Millennials

Give Rachel Held Evans credit. She was able to generate a lot of discussion with her post, "Why millennials are leaving the church." Evans's contradictory article, however, is merely another polemic against the conservative evangelicalism she's been battling for years. The solution to winning back millennials? Churches just need to follow her lead and go liberal!

Evans explains that young people are rejecting evangelical Christianity because it's "too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people." When she says "too political," she means too conservative but Evans is just as political as she's always been. She's just switched teams. "Too political" comes down a desire to see evangelicalism embrace the progressive views of the day as she has done.

Specifically, Evans explains that "young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity." Read: evolution. Evans has rejected her past views on creation and now embraces evolution so the church should too. "Evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules." Who is obsessed with sex in the LGBT debate? I would argue LGBT proponents, such as Evans, are much more obsessed with the issue than conservative evangelicals. Apparently, if you hold to a biblical view of marriage, family, and human sexuality, you are obsessed with sex.

"Millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt." "Safe asking tough questions" sounds wonderful but what those like Evans often mean is a desire to hold any view on any issue no matter what Scripture has to say without being told they're wrong. If you don't believe all views are equally valid your church is not a safe place.

Evans mocks pastors who only focus on style updates and conclude: "So what you’re saying is we need hipper worship bands." Evans is merely continuing the narrative that those who don't focus on "substance" by going liberal are old-fashioned dopes who just don't get it. Evans continues, "You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re not leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there." Evans mocks these latte churches with a straight face even as her post begins with a hip promo pic of her holding a cup of coffee. Latte church for me but not for thee.

Evans summarizes what a change in "substance" looks like. "We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith. We want to be known for what we stand for, not what we are against." Progressives desire for an end to the culture wars is sort of like the Islamic understanding of peace: there will be peace when all have submitted to Islam. There will be an end to the culture wars when the conservatives have surrendered to the progressives. Evangelicals-turned-progressives like Evans haven't stopped fighting the culture wars, they've just switched sides. Embracing progressivism is cast as being "non-partisan" and "independent" while conservatism is "too political," "divisive," and driving young people away from the church.

Evans continues, "We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers." Read: free to hold whatever view one wishes apart from any judgments of right or wrong, orthodox or heretical. "We want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation." Again, Evans gets to vote Democrat, hold liberal views, and struggle for the advancement of her principles just as strongly as conservatives do but when she does it it's non-partisan. "We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome in our faith communities." So abandon traditional biblical understandings of sex, marriage, and family in order to attract new members. Question: those who don't hold to progressive views of LGBT are "truly welcome" to be leaders in their faith communities, right?

"Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus." Do we? Her theological understanding of humanity is very different than mine unless she's talking about Christians specifically. If so, this is a version of Love Jesus But Hate the Church / Red Letter Christianity that doesn't really take the entirety of Jesus's teachings very seriously.

Even while mocking a seeker-sensitive approach to church, Evans concludes with this advice: "I would encourage church leaders eager to win millennials back to sit down and really talk with them about what they’re looking for and what they would like to contribute to a faith community. Their answers might surprise you" (drops the mic!). But, wait, wasn't that the approach of the seeker-sensitive movement that she criticized earlier?

In "Millennials and Leaving Church: Really?," Scot McKnight offered a helpful counter-perspective to deflate some of the "myth-making and fear-mongering" over millennials abandoning the church: "there is no compelling evidence for a cataclysmic change." McKnight points out: "Young adults have always been less affiliated; when they get married and have children they return to their faith. Part of the life cycle is reflected in this." Nothing to see here, move along.

Evans's article is a dusted off version of what she and others like her have been complaining about for a long time: people are totally in love Jesus and would fill our churches to overflowing except mean ol' conservatives won't stop being judgmental against gays. If we can rid the church of conservatism, people will apparently flock to the church. More millennials may embrace the church by molding it into the image of the culture but it won't be a church that has much to do with the Jesus of Scripture.

This article originally appeared at ClashDaily.com.

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