A majority of young people in the U.S. today describe Christianity, and the Christian church generally, as judgmental and hypocritical. Many have abandoned the name “Christian” altogether because of the “baggage” that accompanies the name. A new book released by The Barna Group, which does research of and for evangelical churches, found that church attitudes about many groups of people are driving people ages 16-29 to stay away from the church.
Even churches in the “liberal tradition”-otherwise called mainline denominations-have been heatedly embroiled in debate over the exclusion of a certain segments of the population. “The Christian community’s ability to take the high road and help to deal with some of the challenges that this perception represents may be the … defining response of the Christian church in the next decade,” said David Kinnaman, Barna Group president and author of the book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity.
The findings were based on surveys of samples of young people and included responses from non-Christians and active churchgoers alike. The vast majority of non-Christians – 91% – said Christianity had an anti-gay image, followed by 87% who said it was judgmental and 85% who said it was hypocritical. Such views were held by smaller percentages of the active churchgoers, but the faith still did not fare well: 80% agreed with the anti-gay label, 52% said Christianity is judgmental, and 47% declared it hypocritical.
Kinnaman said one of the biggest surprises for researchers was the extent to which respondents – one in four being non-Christians – said that modern-day Christianity no longer looked like Jesus.
“It started to become clearer to us that what they’re experiencing related to Christianity is some of the very things that Jesus warned religious people about,” he said. “Which is, avoiding removing the log from your own eye before trying to take the speck out of someone else’s.”
Kinnaman said some Christians preferred to call themselves “followers of Jesus” or “apprentices of Christ” because the word “Christian” could limit their ability to relate to people. Even Kinnaman, 33, described himself as “a committed Christ follower,” though he describes himself as an evangelical and has called himself a Christian in the past.
Many see youth and children as the “church of tomorrow”, which does not bode well when we consider the exodus of young people from the church. In reality, however, young people are the church of today-they may be, in fact, the reason the church exists. In this view, the church is being issued a wake up call. It’s not a call to be relevant by making faith “relative” and wishy-washy-but a call to re-examine the true message of Jesus that demands that we “love God with all our heart, soul and mind (in short, with our very being) … and to love our neighbor as our self.”
An interesting evangelical perspective on this issue can be found at Evangelical Griches – are they Christian by my new friend Willohroots.