Rachel Held Evans sounded off (again) over the weekend on CNN’s religion site. But I think Rod Dreher and Anthony Bradley are more on point. Evans’ critiques don’t really explain what’s happening. For example, Dreher writes:
Crucially, the data cited in American Grace show that the young began to fall away from the church in the early 1990s; around the time that homosexuality, including same-sex marriage, began to be a topic of mainstream discussion. Understand, it’s not that Evangelicals are becoming more liberal, necessarily (though some are); it’s that young people who were raised Evangelical are becoming more liberal, and ceasing to identify with Evangelicalism. In the book, the scholars postulate that sympathy for the gay rights movement among late X-ers and Millennials has a lot to do with it.
But — and here’s the thing — they also found that liberal churches are not benefiting from the culture shift. Bob Putnam has said in interviews (and maybe too in the book, I can’t recall) that if the Christian church wants to hold on to its young, it will have to liberalize on homosexuality. But his own research shows that liberalization on homosexuality has not benefited the churches that have done so. They continue to decline as well. Something else is going on with young Americans and institutional religion.
Update: Tim Keller chimed in (sort-of) via an open Q&A session on Twitter:
Do you have a response to Rachel Evans’ (& others’) predictions of mass defection of American millenials from the church?
#AskTK @RevKevinChilds Millennials will be more anti-institutional. Jury is out if the defection will be worse than the boomer defection.
@JeffersonBethke You are the generation most afraid of real community because it inevitably limits freedom and choice. Get over your fear.