By Rachel Held Evans
Good News! Young evangelicals are shifting their allegiance.
Much has been said about the mass exodus of young adults from church, with some studies suggesting that seventy percent of Protestants age 18-30 drop out before they turn 23.
While the factors behind the trend are complex, I’m not surprised that young evangelicals like me are feeling less comfortable in the pews these days. Our pastors might not like it, but the world is changing, and we are changing with it. Unless the evangelical church in America can adapt and evolve, it might not survive in a postmodern world.
I know because I almost abandoned it myself.
A child of the culture wars, I knew what abortion was before I knew where babies came from. I grew up scribbling words like “debatable” and “unlikely” in the margins of biology textbooks, fearlessly defending a 6,000-year-old-earth against atheists I only knew in my imagination. When I was in middle school, my family moved to the buckle of the Bible Belt and became residents of Dayton, Tennessee, home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925. There I attended a Christian college, listened to Christian music, and voted my Christian values. People called me “Bible girl.”
This faith of mine didn’t fall apart all at once, but instead eroded gradually, as I began studying science, interacting with people of other faiths, and experiencing a touch of “voter’s remorse” when my pro-life president championed two wars overseas. My questions turned into skepticism, my skepticism into doubt, and I stopped going to church for a while.
My return to faith is something of a survival story that I chronicle in my memoir, “Evolving in Monkey Town” (Zondervan, 2010). The phone calls and emails I’ve received since its publication confirm what I’ve suspected all along: I’m not alone. Young evangelicals across the country are experiencing a collective crisis of faith.
Unfortunately, many leave Christianity altogether. But others, like me, simply undergo a change.
At the heart of this change is a shift in allegiance. For so long, evangelical Christianity demanded our allegiance to range of causes–from young earth creationism, to religious nationalism, to Republican politics. Somehow the radical teachings of a first century rabbi got all tangled up with modern political platforms and theological positions that were never essential to Christianity to begin with.
Young evangelicals are in the process of picking apart and deconstructing this tangled mess of ideas in order to get back to the most basic teachings of Jesus. So you shouldn’t be surprised to bump into more and more and more oddities like me–a young evangelical Christian who votes for Democrats, has gay friends, and believes in evolution.
But don’t be fooled into thinking this shift in allegiance means we’re simply jumping from one political platform to another. At its best this change signals an allegiance first and foremost to the Kingdom of God, which knows no political party or geographic boundary, but instead grows outside of these confines through acts of love, humility, and peace. Instead of protesting outside abortion clinics, for example, we’re championing adoption and supporting single moms. Instead of reducing our Christian service to a duty at the ballot box, we’re looking for practical ways to address hunger, human trafficking, and homelessness.
The bad news for the Religious Right is that young evangelicals are tired of the culture wars. The good news for everyone else is that we’re ready to make peace.
Rachel Held Evans is the author of “Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions.” She blogs at http://rachelheldevans.com.