Young Evangelicals Take Their Faith, but Not Their Politics, to the PeopleBy NEELA BANERJEE
Published: June 1, 2008
ST. LOUIS — Southern Baptists, as a rule, do not drink. But once a month, young congregants of the Journey, a Baptist church here, and their friends get together in the back room of a sprawling brew pub called the Schlafly Bottleworks to talk about the big questions: President Bush, faith and war, the meaning of life, and “what’s wrong with religion.”
“We go where people are because we feel like Jesus went to the people,” said the Rev. Darrin Patrick, founder of the Journey.
“That’s where people are having their conversations about things that matter,” the Rev. Darrin Patrick, senior pastor and founder of the Journey, said about the talks in the bar. “We go where people are because we feel like Jesus went to the people.”The Journey
, a megachurch of mostly younger evangelicals, is representative of a new generation that refuses to put politics at the center of its faith and rejects identification with the religious right.
They say they are tired of the culture wars. They say they do not want the test of their faith to be the fight against gay rights. They say they want to broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with H.I.V., according to experts on younger evangelicals and the young people themselves.
“Evangelicalism is becoming somewhat less coherent as a movement or as an identity,” said Christian Smith, a sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame. “Younger people don’t even want the label anymore. They don’t believe the main goal of the church is to be political.”
About 17 percent of the nation’s 55 million adult evangelicals are between the ages of 18 and 29, and many are troubled by the methods of the religious right and its close ties to the Republican Party.
In a January 2007 survey of 1,000 young people for the book “Unchristian
,” one of its authors, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group
, which studies Christian trends, found that 47 percent of born-again Christians ages 40 and under believed that “the political efforts of conservative Christians” posed a problem for America.
None of that means younger evangelicals have abandoned the core tenets of their faith, including a belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus and the literal truth of the Bible. They think abortion and homosexuality are sins.
And so far, there is no clear evidence that supporting a broader social agenda has led young evangelicals to defect from the Republican Party in great numbers, as many liberals have predicted.
But shifts in thinking among younger evangelicals may lead to an easing of the polarization that has defined the country’s recent political landscape, many of them said.
“The easy thing is to fight, but the hard thing is to put your gloves down and work together towards a common cause,” said the Rev. Scott Thomas, director of the Acts 29 Network
, which helps pastors start churches. “Our generation would like to put our gloves down. We don’t want to be out there picketing. We want to be out there serving.”