The New Religious Fundamentalists? Christian Millennials.

Christian Millennials need to get over themselves.

There’s been a lot of craze about Millennials leaving the church the past couple weeks.

All the articles going around center around the church being the problem (or the fact that it isn’t). But, and I know I might get Internet stones thrown at me (boulders for that matter) for saying this, what if we Millennials were just as much to blame?

In this conversation about young people’s faith lives, I think that we put all the blame on the church. Sure, the church has, in the past, become servants of GOP, to ‘family values’, to sin gerrymandering, rather than being followers of Jesus.

But, what I haven’t heard many talk about is the fact that my generation can actually be quite prideful. Quite self-centered. Quite addicted to what’s newest, quickest, fastest, and easiest. And because of those things, if we are not careful, we will turn into exactly what we are critiquing.

(We also have to notice, by the way, that we aren’t the first to critique our mom’s generation. Every generation of late thought their mom’s church was lame. That’s youth; that’s not Millennial.)

My peers and I have too quickly caricatured “fundamentalists,” without realizing we are eerily close to becoming what we say we hate. We can think fundamentalists only wear suits and play boring Christian music, or we can address fundamentalism for what it is — an issue of the heart. An easy way to define fundamentalism is adding rules to the Bible, or elevating things beyond how Scripture elevates them. It’s an attitude of pride. It gets in shouting matches (or tweeting matches) with anyone who disagrees. And in American Christian culture, I still see a lot of that.

There is a weird subsection of young Christians today who are almost reverse fundamentalists, but they are still fundamentalists. They look at the older generation who say in good conscience Christians shouldn’t drink beer, and they respond, “We are definitely drinking beer. Freedom in Christ!” Or they see those Christians who say you have to dress up for church service, and they say, “We are only going to wear skinny jeans and v-neck T-shirts in church.” They are better defined by what they are against than by what they are for. They are doing the exact same thing as what they are defining themselves against. They are elevating behavior, clothing, and other secondary issues as requirements to gain access to heaven. It’s a sickness in all of us to put our righteousness and dependence in absolutely anything except Jesus, and if we think we aren’t doing that, it usually means it’s even worse.

The fundamentalists of our parents’ generation are still around, but they are not nearly as prevalent today. Fundamentalists don’t always wear suits. Sometimes they wear skinny jeans. Sometimes they have a Macbook pro, a vanilla latte (soy of course), and wear that beanie on their head that barely looks like it’s hanging on. Sometimes they say you have to be able to drink beer to be a real Christian. Sometimes they only allow dirty grunge rock in their church service and make flannels mandatory to play in the worship band.

Here’s a quick note though: if you care more about flaunting your Christian freedom than promoting Christian unity, you’re probably not free. You are actually a slave to your so-called freedom.

True freedom is being able to give up all your rights for another out of love — and that’s what the church is supposed to be. A peculiar people who serve one another, give up possessions for each other, who love each other, and who depend wholeheartedly on each other. And if we are honest, my generation is not just repelled to some of those concepts, but we are actually terrified.

To be frank, we need to get over ourselves. Now hear me say this loud and clear — if there’s hurt, if there’s shame, and there’s bruises from the church on you — I’m not talking to you. We owe you an apology. Jesus isn’t like that. You didn’t deserve that. You are more than what happened to you.

But to those who would rather go to church behind a computer screen, rather than flesh and blood, person on person, we need to realize we are heading towards destruction. The beauty of the church is in the vulnerability of its people. And with our social media culture, where we are more cropped and edited than ever before, we have to try even harder to be intentional about this. If we aren’t, we might just become the thing we hate. Defining yourselves by what you’re against is like running in a circle. At first you think you’re running away but sooner or later you’ll be right back where the problem was in the first place.

Image via Matthew Roth.

Jefferson Bethke
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  • mbentz

    Seems like most of the commenters on this article have completely missed the fact that Jefferson targeted his composition to Christians (as in, those who still believe in Christ) who have felt it necessary to leave their Church (not their faith). There is a major difference folks.

    As to the actual message this article delivers, I think this is brilliant. If you left a Church due to its imperfections, you’re missed the real point of Church

  • Hildy J

    While I agree that this is the target of the article, I think the author misunderstands the belief of millennials who have left the church (speaking as the father of two). They don’t continue to have a belief in christ so much as they continue to have a belief in Jesus (as another Jefferson, Thomas, did).

    The moral teachings of Jesus continue to have much to be said for them and many people, inside and outside of churches accept them, for the most part. But the same can be said for the moral teachings of Aesop. You can accept Aesop without believing that talking animals exist. You can accept Jesus without believing that god exists.

  • vijayk

    As the world turns. Brother James addressed this issue in his letter to Believers some 2000 years ago. It equates to Spiritual Bulimia: Chapter 1 19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

    22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. 25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

    26 Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. 27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

  • Hildy J

    I’ve always liked James. As the letter writers go, he seems to be a much nicer guy than Paul. Unfortunately, too much of christianity got hung up on 2:14 (What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him?). I think the world would be a better place if salvation through faith alone had been declared impossible by the early church.

  • Tomb67

    I have no idea what it means to “accept” Jesus. One can “accept” anything, or anybody. I cannot imagine it means much of anything, and has nothing to do with belief, let alone faith. One who does not have faith in God and God’s only son, Jesus, fails not only to have “faith,” but fails to love. Why? Jesus is love, as God is love. To refuse faith in “love,” with eyes open, means one is simply bad, a bad person.

  • Hildy J

    I accept Jesus as a man who taught in the first century. I believe that much of his moral teaching is good and should be followed. I can try to follow his teachings without believing that he is god just as I can follow buddhist or daoist teachings without believing in the religion surrounding them.

    The idea that the majority of people in the world, now and even more in the past, cannot love and are bad people because they don’t believe Jesus is god is absurd and hateful.

    Furthermore, as far as god being love, how does one who love punish innocents for others’ sins? God does: “Exodus 20:5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation”.

  • pjs-1965

    Why do people believe this stuff? Why is Western culture mostly Christian? My thought is that the Roman emperor Constantine faced an empire that was falling apart politically and culturally. He chose Christianity, a popular religion at the time, to hold it together. Getting people to believe in the same thing is powerful. Whether Constantine personally believed in it is questionable.

    Then he appointed a committee to nail down certain canons that were floating around into a single standard and distributed it throughout the empire. This became the Christian Bible. Some decades later as pagan memes were gradually Christianised, emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the official religion of the empire and effectively banned the pagan religions.

    For these reasons millions of people today believe that Jesus as their lord and personal saviour. Had Constantine chosen differently, Christianity and Jesus might be long forgotten and these people would believe something entirely different. Perhaps this discussion would be about how Millennials perceive Mithraism.

  • SimonTemplar

    We Christians have become too sensitive to what others think of us.

    “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” –Jesus (John 15:18-25)

    Those who oppose Christ and His message will define us by whatever negative stereotypes they can find. They will likewise ignore all examples which defy their stereotypes.

    So what!

  • Joe Painter

    O.K. all you guys who misunderstand the verses you toss about being open in ones faith, take ear: “Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” BCP 305

    Again I exclaim that my “Marching Orders” from Matthew 25:31-40. In the Name of the risen Christ.


  • Joe Painter


  • pjs-1965

    I was wondering when you would appear, O Haloed One.

  • vijayk

    James was a cut to the chase guy. Actually I believe that salvation is only possible through faith. The issue with the church as the Bride of Christ is that we are called to obedience in Christ and we have become more like the nagging wife who is always trying to tell Him what to do.

  • arwash

    I listened to a young man on the radio yesterday talk about how his aunt was a former lesbian and decided to not live in that life anymore. She started attending the church where the nephew was a member. One member shared her testimony with the aunt so the aunt responded by sharing hers. The elders came back and told the aunt she could not be apart of the congregation because of her past. That is totally disgusting and why the church is seen as it is today. I don’t promote violence but I would have been so hot I might have thrown a punch instead turn tables over and shout like Jesus did. Too many churches like that worry about image and don’t realize they reflect nothing of the image of God………

  • arwash

    The church is like a hospital. We don’t need the healthy sitting on the church pews and being hearers but not doers of the word. Those in the world who feel sick, (convicted or condemning themselves), need to be taking up those spaces. We need to be the nurse administering whatever the doctor (our Lord) tells us to in order for healing to begin.

  • Sean Trank

    If you don’t have enough seats I know plenty of churches that do. Church is a Kingdom, there is room for all who have an ear to hear.

  • TwoTooth

    Which church? There is no Christian church. There are many Christian churches. And–newsflash–they have many differences, up to and including the nature of Jesus. There may even be among them a Christian church not afflicted with profound misogyny, but I’m not aware of it.

  • Claudia Gold

    I think the real reason people aren’t going to church as much is because it’s outdated and science has proven religion wrong again and again. It’s simply not relevant to our lives anymore. The whole reason religion wants people to go to church on a weekly basis is because religion is so absurd that the only way anyone will believe it is if they are reminded (brainwashed) every single week…

  • Catken1

    The Goddess Freyja is love. To refuse faith in love makes you a bad person. Therefore, Tomb67, you are a bad person.
    Does that make sense to you?

  • claud33433

    Franco32, I don’t think calling random people on the internet who express their views names really exactly makes you a stellar citizen.

  • Hildy J

    Still, it validates Claudia’s point about the church brainwashing people. When one cannot argue the substance, ad hominem attacks come to the fore.

  • pjs-1965

    Franco, Claudia actually gave a cogent reason. In your mere four word rebuttal, you simply called her a “loser.” Nothing more. That is an ad hominem.

  • Hildy J

    It’s not your fault that you accept without question what you’ve been told, reject any evidence to the contrary, and attack those who don’t share your beliefs any more than it was the fault of Mao’s Cultural Revolutionaries that they did the same thing. I suspect you would have no problem calling them brainwashed. But whether it’s Mao’s Red Book or your bible, the technique and result are the same.

  • Hildy J

    What makes you think I’m a liberal? I was a TAR working for Goldwater before you were born. I’ve run for office as the Republican nominee (and lost). If I’m no longer a Republican it’s because the tea baggers and the fundies have hijacked the party. I’m now a Jeffersonian.

  • Hildy J

    And to broaden the point, equating atheism with liberalism is bull crap. There’s much more substantial evidence equating fascism with christianity but that’s bull crap too. Belief in a god is not the same as support of a party or party platform. Bishop Tutu (whom I met and had dinner with when serving on an episcopal missions board) is a died in the wool liberal and one of the most spiritual and committed christians you could ever hope to meet.

    If you want to spew anti-Obama rants – go to the Politics section.

  • Hawaiiexpat

    Franco’s rants are the opposite of Christ-like.

  • An-Toan

    God = rational. Bible = irrational. Fundamentalists think the Bible is a god. Therefore, fundamentalists = ?

    To believe that scripture represents the infallible word of a god is false view. Throughout the Bible, evil qualities are attributed to the god of Western monotheists. Apologists, in my opinion, do not provide logically sound explanations for the wickedness that this atrocious character repeatedly creates or condones: murder and genocide, animal and human sacrifice, torture, child abuse, animal abuse, theft, slavery, pedophilia, rape, incest, cannibalism, betrayal, and lying.

    The notion that new law replaces the old apparently is contradicted by literal interpretations of Matthew 5:17 and so forth, in which Jesus reportedly proclaims: “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them . . . ”

    Moral, rational people cannot ignore these facts. So, what do they do? Conclude that God is evil? That the Bible isn’t true? Or both, and reject Christianity for atheism? Fundamentalism primarily is a conservative social and political movement that is apart from the greater community of Christian denominations. Fundamentalism is irrational, immoral, and anti-democratic. It betrays the essential messages of the Christ.

  • cbanalyst

    One Sunday, my Aunt dropped by and asked why I was not getting ready for Church? I said that I did not have good enough clothes. She told me that whatever my “best” was, God would be satisfied. If my best was dirty jeans, so be it. The important thing was not what you wore, but that you were there with the others, listening to the word of God.

  • cbanalyst

    Faith is the belief in things that cannot be proven. The author, like millions of others, seeks rational explanations. I firmly believe in Jesus, son of God, who died for our transgressions, and rose from the dead. Obviously, he doesn’t-only one of us is right.

  • ForrestHorn

    Every generation seems to have its own struggle with things like “legalism.” Part of becoming Christian is working through that struggle. I’m 70 years old and I still periodically have to struggle with things. I suspect it’s part of being human, yes? : )

  • andy-b

    Franco, it seems illogical to equate atheism with liberalism. However, I believe it seems highly logical to you because your understanding of Christianity is inseparable from conservative political ideologies.

    I’m a committed Christian and happen to be conservative on many issues, but I’d like to remind you as a brother that Jesus didn’t die to establish America.

    Instead of fighting for your country by arguing about “liberalism”, I want to encourage you to fight for your Kingdom by following the example of Christ with humility and service.

  • Rose Chuang

    Wholeheartedly agree with you.

  • VirginiaJim

    Science can’t prove or disprove any existance beyond nature as by definition it is limited to what is seen in nature. Science continually “proves” that science is wrong. It is continually changing what it believes and what it proves today is disproven tomorrow. Science is based on theories and assumptions, both of which are personal choices of the researchers involved. Additionally there are many, many mysteries scene in nature that science can’t explain.

  • VirginiaJim

    Plenty of hospitals are filled with malpracticing doctors. Churches like people fail, Jesus does not.

  • VirginiaJim

    Actually, Western culture may be Islamic in twenty years as the secular humanist culture the West evolved to seems to generate a far lower birth rate than Muslim societies.

    Western culture has aborted a large portion of its “next generation” and torn down traditional marriages, now we will reap the fruit of that choice, or should I say “pro-choice.”

  • An-Toan

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. Well, I probably do not know enough about Western theology to ask many intelligent questions. I like to study philosophy of religion and the history and practices of mysticism in Christianity. There are so many wonderful Christian mystics who offer great insights for all of humanity.

  • VirginiaJim

    I actually seek to balance the mystical with the rational – both have much to offer to those who seek to understand and obey God – the leap of faith seems to me to be more mystical. I have (and continue) to seek to understand other religions though I am a committed follower of Jesus.

  • Catken1

    Well, Jim, when you’re willing to yield up to government the choice as to who gets to use your body and body parts and when and how, in order to save lives the government deems more worthy than yours, you can ask the same of women.
    And if you have no more faith or idea of the worth of your own religion or life choices than to suggest that they can’t survive competition-by-breeding, as if they can’t be convincing unless they’re brainwashed into a child from birth, then that’s your problem.

  • Catken1

    “The first question you need to ask is “if every objection was answered, would you accept the Lordship of Jesus, even if He asked you to change how you live?””

    Would he still be burning and torturing the vast majority of my siblings, forever and ever, for choosing the “wrong” faith in the religious Russian roulette game he apparently asks us to play, or for falling in love with the “wrong” person and not giving up entirely the idea of love and marriage?
    Anyway, IF all rational objections were answered, would you choose Islam or Hinduism or any other faith over your own? Fact is, that no religious faith in the world can answer all rational objections, because religion demands a certain level of irrational belief.

  • VirginiaJim

    Explored Zen, Maoism, Islam, not extensively into Hinduism though. Still study, but Jesus showed me what I needed to believe in Him.

    Catken1, you seem to be blinded by anger at whatever understanding you have of the last Judgment. We have choices and then blame God when we suffer for them. The Book of Proverbs states it well, “When a man’s folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the LORD”. (Pro 19:3). If you are so concerned about people suffering eternal judgment, then stop trying to turn them away from God and help them find the path of eternal life.

    God doesn’t condemn loving any person, He condemns sexual immorality. There are many men that I love deeply; it would be wrong to express that love sexually. I love my mom deeply, knowing that it would be a grievous sin for me to marry her or have intimate relations with her.

    Some people don’t believe in God because of their misunderstanding or lack of understanding of His nature. Some people don’t believe in God because they are angry with how He ordered the universe.

    I do agree that there is a limit to how far reason can take you, though it can be very far for some. The question is can it take a person far enough for the “leap of faith.” Science (and atheism) demands leaps of faith too – assumptions & theories.

    Everyone has a different approach in making that faith decision. Blaise Pascal’s approach went as follows:

    1. If you believe in God and God does exist, you will be rewarded with eternal life in heaven: thus an infinite gain.
    2. If you do not believe in God and God does exist, you will be condemned to remain in hell forever: thus an infinite loss.
    3. If you believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded: thus a finite loss.
    4. If you do not believe in God and God does not exist, you will not be rewarded, but you have lived your own life: thus a finite gain.

    That doesn’t work for me. In my story snipet I gave what did. I pray you find what works for you.

  • Catken1

    “We have choices and then blame God when we suffer for them. ”

    Our choices being “hope you guess the right religion, but don’t you dare blame God when you guess wrong, just because he didn’t see fit to provide you with any tangible, provable evidence to help you make your decision and set an unbelievably appalling penalty for guessing wrong.” Right? I’m sorry, when someone is legislator, judge, jury, executioner AND the creator of the defendant, who made the defendant unable to avoid breaking the law, it is not unfair to call them to account for a hideously out-of-proportion penalty for most of humanity.
    Incest with your mother is generally considered to be wrong because it has damaging consequences for offspring. But the ban on incest does not stop you from having any sexual or romantic relationship with anyone to whom you can be biologically attracted. A ban on homosexual sex does that, for a lot of people, with no more explanation for why their loves and families are wrong than “my god said so, and no, I can’t prove he exists or give any real evidence as to him saying so, you just have to have FAITH.”

    ” Science (and atheism) demands leaps of faith too – assumptions & theories. ”
    No, it doesn’t. All the “leaps of faith” in science are subject to test and experiment. Provide substantial scientific evidence for your god, and we won’t need faith.

    “If you are so concerned about people suffering eternal judgment, then stop trying to turn them away from God and help them find the path of eternal life. ”

    No, I’ve got more respect for my fellow beings than to tell them, “The abuse you get from your brutal father is justified, because you were disobedient and married the wrong person/believed the wrong thing. You should be like your kissup favorite-child siblings, who flatter and fawn on Daddy and get special privileges as a result, while they watch their sisters and brothers burn with a shrug and tell them they deserved it.”

  • Catken1

    Easy to say someone doesn’t fail when they’re only a figure in the sky, with no tangible presence here for their successes and failures to be tested. And when you can excuse all apparent failures by saying, “Oh, it can’t really be failure, Jesus doesn’t fail. So it’s got to be a part of his secret successful plan that we can’t know about because we’re not supposed to.”

  • Catken1

    Pascal’s leap ignores several other options. What happens if you guess the wrong God?
    What happens if God prefers honest dissent to self-serving flattery in hopes of getting privileges? What happens if you believe in God, and follow your faith as best you see fit, but God decides you ate the wrong brand of cookie once and sees fit to punish you eternally because you never repented of that until too late? Etc.

  • VirginiaJim

    To Catken1, agree the Pascal argument has weaknesses. As I said, Pascal’s leap doesn’t do much for me. In my agnostic period, I ran through many, many logical arguments for and against. Athesim didn’t make sense as it is nearly impossible to “prove” a negative in a near infinate universe when we are finite organisms.

    I merely was pointed out that different paths work to bring different people to that choice of faith.

  • VirginiaJim

    Here’s a couple of thoughts on the “unfairness”, “Russian roulette” issue of “punishing people for picking the wrong faith”.

    Atheist evolutionists don’t consider natural selection “unfair” because there are winners and losers, in fact more seem to believe that natural selection is a positive factor, yet they generally rail against the “unfairness” of the Christian message of coming judgment – though it is certainly more “fair” than natural selection as it is based on personal choice.

    Personally, I believe that God goes beyond fair for everyone, because through Jesus Christ, man has access to mercy. However, it seems strange to me that an atheist would reject examining the message of the Gospel because they think it unfair that others did not get a chance to hear the message. They actual do not know whether others had a “chance” or not or how God will judge them. If others knowlingly “picked wrong” then that was an exercise of free will.

    The issue of the judgment and “fairness” of a judgment against those who had not been “lucky” enough to know God’s law was addressed in the first and second chapters of Paul’s letter to the Romans. He pointed to the witness of the creation revealing a creator and the fact that humans by nature have a conscience (though that “imprinting” is debased by practicing sinful behavior). This is part of what St. Paul said.

    “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (Rom 1:18-21)

  • agnivac

    “There’s been a lot of craze about Millennials leaving the church the past couple weeks.”

    No there hasn’t!

    “An easy way to define fundamentalism is adding rules to the Bible, or elevating things beyond how Scripture elevates them.”

    Okay, this may help explain why we find that after two thousand years Christianity still have difficulty differentiating between the psychic, or phenomena of the mind of man, and the supernatural, or phenomena of deity. This may also include why Christians have fought among themselves from the days of Peter and Paul through the wars between Protestants and Catholics and modern conflicts between liberal and conservative Christians or Christians and other Abrahamic religions.

    It may help explain why the best that a number of Christians can do at evoking the supernatural is threats of “fire and brimstone” for non-compliance to order, or claims of supernatural causation through prayer for actions merely mundane. They proclaim divine retribution for natural calamity and human weakness for unanswered prayers.

    It may help explain why we occasionally find Christian outcries of victim and secular oppression as the reason for failing churches and the rise of modern society displacing Judeo-Christian values rather than their own shortcomings.

    It may help explain why Jesus, cried out that only the sinless may cast a stone at the sinful woman, but “Christians” parade in front of abortion providers crying out “murder” and “sin” against those with nary the “breath of life.” (Ecc 11:15 Exd 21:22, Gen 2:7) Perhaps they do not know that Augustine shared his opinion on ensoulment with Aristotle.

    But how about this . . .

    In the context of Christianity, fundamentalists may have difficulty telling the difference between simplicity and purity.

    This definition may work for some.

    It can be a simple thing to read or interpret passages of scripture, it is not so simple providing a raison d’etre through a promise for a just future that one may not

  • agnivac

    … live to see.

  • Cdnxian

    Mr. Bethke states “True freedom is being able to give up all your rights for another out of love”.

    And although I don’t disagree with the sentiment; there are times in a church’s life when it is in the best interests of Christianity to stand up for Evangelical freedom, against those who clamour for these extra rules and regulations. Certainly Martin Luther’s overthrow of medieval Catholicism’s sexual mores, where 200-250 days of the year were out of bounds for legitimate conjugal relations, for instance.