Millennials, Rachel Held Evans, and the Church

Within the last week, author and blogger Rachel Held Evans has written two pieces that appeared on  In the first, she wrote about why she thinks Millennials are leaving the Church.  In the second, she wrote about why she thinks Millennials need the Church.

In case you don’t know, the term “Millennial” refers to people born from roughly the early 1980’s through the early 2000’s.

I encourage you to read both pieces.  I’ll briefly summarize how I took them, and then offer what I think is a very crucial point that she missed.

In the first article,  she somewhat sideways describes how the church doesn’t fit in with modern thinking.  She writes,

Armed with the latest surveys, along with personal testimonies from friends and readers, I explain how young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  I point to research that shows young evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.

The fact is, given the ground that politics and faith cover, it is not really possible to totally separate the two. Frankly, I can identify with this struggle:  I maintain a separate blog about politics. I would hate for someone to not hear my faith views because they don’t agree with my politics, or vice versa. Nevertheless, both areas touch on so many common issues–the role of authority, how to deal with the poor, how to address sexual issues in society–that if we constructed one of those old Venn diagrams from junior high with faith as one circle and politics as the other, they might well almost look like a single circle rather than two distinct ones.

Though she raises some good points here, I think she’s being somewhat disingenuous complaining about politics mixed in with faith. She refers multiple times to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered issues. She uses what have become political code words like “science”, which generally refers to evolution or global climate change.  She talks about another political term, “social justice”. I think what is really going on here is that she’s struggling to find some of her political views reflected in what she’s hearing in church.

In the second article, she provides what is predominantly a list of religious activities, and says that Millennials can only get those in church.  She writes,

The astute reader will notice that each of these points corresponds loosely with a sacrament—baptism, confession, the anointing of the sick, holy orders, communion, confirmation and marriage.  Some would say there are many others. We could speak of the sacrament of the Word or the washing of feet. But even where they are not formally observed, these sacraments are present in some form in nearly every group of people who gather together in the name of Jesus. They connect us to our faith through things we can eat, touch, smell and feel. And they connect us with one another.

Perhaps more to the point is a statement she makes at the beginning of the article.

[W]hen I left the church, it was Communion I craved the most.

I appreciate her willingness to bare her soul to the world in both these articles. I do the same–though I have a far, far, far lower readership than she does. It is sometimes scary to do this. Well, every time I write about either faith or politics it is scary. But I do it because I feel I should, and I expect she does it for similar reasons.

I also appreciate the latter article. I’m happy for anyone to encourage others to go to church.

But there is a something quite large, quite crucial missing from both these articles.

If her description of the Millennial generation is accurate, then perhaps they are the second “Me Generation,” because most of what she writes is about what meets her needs in church. I think church certainly can do that, but if that is her foundation, it is sand rather than stone. Or to identify it with another parable of Jesus, it is rocky ground, not good soil.

I think the root of true faith must lie in this fact:  there is a Holy God, and only one Holy God. That is why I go to church. I go there in submission to Him, to worship Him, to learn more about Him, to be with other of His people.

Because if I wanted rituals, I could join my pagan friend who blogs constantly about the rituals he engages in.

Because if I wanted like-minded people, I could go to a local meeting of my political party.

Because if I wanted good friends, I could find them among my many atheist, Muslim, and Hindu ones.

But years ago, I came to a realization that there is a Holy God, and that I needed to respond to Him, I needed to recognize Him. And when I do that, all the natural longings He gives me find their proper place in the order He has set. After all, Jesus did not instruct us to pray “My kingdom come, my will be done,” but rather “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.”

I truly hope Millennials won’t walk away from church. But I do hope they understand that it’s about God, and when He is first, everything else will be as it should be.