Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Losing Our Religion: Generations X & Y At Q

From The Huffington Post:

"American Christianity is beginning to look a whole lot different.

Picture hundreds of jeans-clad 20- and 30-somethings filling the floor of a vintage opera hall in Chicago, armed with laptops, smart phones, and iPads. Picture a stage backed by a large screen, dark but for a large white image in the center -- not a cross, but an upper-case "Q." Picture a guy with the shaggy blond bangs of an indie-rock guitarist taking the stage to launch the proceedings with the matter-of-fact acknowledgment that we have entered a new "post-Christian context." Imagine three days of quick-hit presentations on everything from emotionally intelligent robots to nuclear weapons abolition, from fatherlessness to coffee-growing for the common good -- and nary a word about abortion or "reclaiming America for Christ."

If the arrival of the "post-Christian age" is upsetting to this emerging generation of (mostly) evangelicals, they did an awfully good job of hiding it at the recent "Q" gathering -- the signature annual event for these next-generation Jesus followers. In fact, judging from the spirit and energy reverberating through the hall, I get the sense that they find the whole thing liberating.

"Christians can bemoan the end of Christian America," shrugs Q creator and convener Gabe Lyons, "or we can be optimistic about it. What's good is that it forces us to get back to the basics of serving people and loving our neighbors. Through history, Christianity has affected more people from that position than from a position of dominance."

If this is how it's going to play out, the end of Christian America could turn out to be a profound blessing for American Christianity.

You can learn a lot about something from its name. Besides its edgy graphics and stage design, Q provokes surprise and curiosity with that name -- a name that reveals volumes about these young- and mid-adulthood Christians and where they are coming from in their conceptions of the faith and its place in the culture.

As they keenly sense, a major problem with evangelical Christianity in our time has been its bold assertion that is has an answer -- the answer -- to everything, namely, a particular understanding of the Bible and how it applies to present-day issues. Not that they are any less on fire for Jesus, but these Q-generation Christians are comfortable in complexity and ambiguity. The new guard seems to be pleading with the elders: "It's not that simple!"

Hence, the name "Q" and the ethos it suggests. Think of it an ongoing question-and-answer session--Q & A, but minus the "A."

"Having the quick answer to everything doesn't exhibit the humility that Christ exhibited," Lyons explains. "We don't want to project answers to questions that people aren't even asking."

Clearly, one of those questions-they-aren't-asking (or not asking as much) is how to get to heaven. A major focus of conventional evangelicalism, eternal salvation gets less emphasis from the emerging generation. Addressing the hells on earth is what really interests the activists, church-planters, innovators, and social entrepreneurs who form this loose movement.

Between pauses for praise songs and worship, the Q conference buzzed with new possibilities for meeting human need and alleviating suffering around the planet. Among the projects and causes promoted by speakers in their three-, nine-, and 18-minute time slots: gospel-fueled drives for nuclear disarmament and protection of the environment, a shoe company that gives a free pair to a poor child for each pair sold, a plan to reform American education, and a coffee company that grows its beans in Rwandan fields where former enemies now work together. But don't get the impression that this was a grand exercise in leaning left. One presentation, for example, made the case for delaying sex until marriage.

Fewer than a third of the participants at this year's Q are 40 or older. More than half work in professions -- or "channels," in Q parlance -- other than the church world, including business, arts, media, and education. One table included a brain surgeon from Kansas and the creator of a large organic farm in Idaho dedicated to feeding poor people. Appearing on stage were high-profile figures like CNN reporter Soledad O'Brien, who reflected on her recent experiences covering the disaster in Haiti, and Joshua Dubois, head of President Obama's Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

In his new book To Change the World, religion professor James Davison Hunter uses the term "faithful presence" to describe his vision for a new kind of publicly applied Christianity. Hunter, a man in his fifties, is not a part of the Q generation. But he is clearly a sympathizer. He advances a model that that eschews political battles and aggressive promotion of doctrine. Hunter calls on Christians instead to use their lives and institutions as vessels to bring goodness and compassion into their social and professional spheres and the public square.

The 35-year-old Lyons has perhaps an even more compelling way to describe a role for Christians in pluralistic America -- to be a "blessing" to society. A huge and necessary first step, he says, is for evangelicals to break free of the Christian subculture they constructed over the last century and engage with non-evangelicals. "We have a chance now," Lyons says, "to show that following Jesus is not defined by heritage or politics, but by the church serving as countercultural example and as a curious, winsome presence in a broken world."

If anyone understands the attitudes of younger Americans on questions of faith and culture, it's Lyons. A graduate of Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, Lyons is the co-author, with David Kinnaman, of a highly influential book that used extensive public opinion research to explore and document public perceptions of Christianity. The title of the 2007 volume summed up the findings with a stark phrase: unChristian. Since then, Lyons has been on a mission to help steer Christianity in a direction that makes it more humble, hopeful, and attractive, a vision he describes in his forthcoming book The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America.

The Q cadre has its work cut out. Around the time of their late-April gathering, the news outside was menacing. The storylines about the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were changing from "problem" to "disaster." Anger was boiling over the just-passed immigration law in Arizona. A would-be terrorist almost succeeded in wreaking carnage with a Times Square car bomb.

But in their presentations and intermittent table conservations, the young Christian idealists seemed undaunted. They plotted ways to use social media more effectively to collaborate on projects. They made commitments for serious action that they would take over the next year. They saw opportunities to take immediate action -- and did. Such was the case with one foursome who, when asked for a few coins by an African-American homeless man on their way to a nearby sandwich shops, did him one better and invited him to dinner. What followed was 45 minutes of intense listening, prayer, and, at the urging of their homeless guest, a quick burst of gospel-singing on the street corner.

If this is what the end of Christian America looks like, it portends good things for Christianity. Not to mention the rest of that "post-Christian" society sharing space and time with these galvanized young Jesus followers."

Hmmm... okay, so at first reading this story seems hopeful, especially in light of recent news that most young people in this country are Christians in a very "squishy" sense. But this story bothered me. Like this sentence: "Think of it an ongoing question-and-answer session--Q & A, but minus the "A."" So they sit around listening to a bunch of questions, but not bothering to answer them? Or more likely, choosing NOT to answer them. " of those questions-they-aren't-asking (or not asking as much) is how to get to heaven. A major focus of conventional evangelicalism, eternal salvation gets less emphasis from the emerging generation." Why are they not asking such a major question, one that is central to the Gospel? Even more troubling is, do these young Christians even know the answer?

Don't get me wrong, I believe in helping others. I love doing it. Last year, I donated for research for MS, Breast Cancer, AIDS, to Meals on Wheels, Habitat for Humanity and my husband and I sponsor to kids in Africa. We consider our giving a major part of our faith. But it is NOT our faith.

I read "un-Christian" and enjoyed it. I do feel like Christians have stunk up the reputation of our Lord. Too many of us are self-righteous, hypocritical and self-centered. We have confused political involvement for spreading the Gospel, and in a zeal to change the ever-sinking morals of humanity, have often lost our own morality and hurt humans. BUT- the worse thing to do is wrap ourselves in relativism and lose sight of the Truth. During this life, we'll always have plenty of questions. However, let's never forget that Jesus is the ANSWER.


Don said...

Interesting read.

Can this be the 'ugly thing' which The Book of Revelations speaks of, in the Babylonian sense? Perhaps.

I do not hold a firm grasp upon everything mentioned in The Book of Revelations nor The Holy Bible. Not that I haven't made sincere attempts, I have, but I vaguely recall a moment of truth in Revelations where many proclaimed themselves as sheep and, if I remember correctly, Jesus Christ claimed no affiliation.

If so, I have to believe these occurrences can and will only become worse. Don't you think?

As long as I have known - certain elements of society i.e. television, porn, sports, politics, money, music and rap music, are said to be detrimental towards spiritual growth and adults and children alike.

I am indifferent.

But I never imagined there would come a day where the same could also be said, as it involves Christian values or lack of, as well.

Nowadays, it certainly appears as if hardly anything can be considered as sacred. The Last Days, I swear, we have unknowingly arrived.

Alisha De Freitas said...

"As long as I have known - certain elements of society i.e. television, porn, sports, politics, money, music and rap music, are said to be detrimental towards spiritual growth and adults and children alike."

I think anything can and will become a detriment to one's spiritual life if allowed to fester. TV, in and of itself, is not bad. Really, it's a means to communicate ideas, news, info, music, etc. But the way it is used has become very bad. Children for half a century now have neglected their studies because they become glued to it. Families neglect each other, parents use TV as a babysitter.

If given the chance, people turn anything into their "god"- science, music, pop culture, their kids or spouse, work, etc.

Moral relativism is nothing new, but the fact so many Christians are embracing it as some kind of new light in understanding makes me want to gag.

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