Keli Goff: With Trump in Office, Church Could Become Cool Again for Millennials

Keli Goff
Keli Goff

The family separation issue united all denominations in opposition. And even the Southern Baptists are trying to signal they’re changing. Something positive is in the air.

by Keli Goff

While opposition to the Trump administration’s controversial “zero tolerance” policy separating children from their families at the border has emerged as one of the few surprisingly bipartisan issues in recent memory, uniting liberals and increasing numbers of conservatives and resulting in a rare U-turn by the president, the policy has also done something else. It has united religious leaders as few issues have. This is not only good news on its own terms, but it could mark a turning point in the efforts of churches to win back younger people, who have been turning their backs on organized religion.

Research published by the Pew Research Center found millennials are less religious than their parents and grandparents. While only 27 percent of millennials surveyed attend regular religious service, 38 percent of baby boomers and 51 percent of members of the greatest generation do. Baby boomers and their parents were also far more likely to pray, and to admit to “an absolute belief in God.”

According to Barna, a polling institution focused on faith, millennials have very deep, specific concerns about the church. Barna found “substantial majorities of Millennials who don’t go to church say they see Christians as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), anti-homosexual (91%) and insensitive to others (70%).” Just about any company in America receiving this kind of data from their market researchers regarding their brand’s image, would see such numbers as cause for panic and alarm. These numbers should be particularly alarming to a brand that’s supposed to be predicated on values like love and charity.

Yet for any self-identifying Christian the numbers actually aren’t that shocking. Not a day goes by when yet another news story emerges regarding someone waving the flag for people of faith while embodying the worst that humanity has to offer. Just recently, disturbing allegations of racism were lodged against Raleigh White Baptist Church of Albany, Georgia (yes, that’s its real name), resulting in its ouster from the Southern Baptist Convention.

There’s been more trouble in Southern Baptist land: Last month, after reports emerged that longtime Southern Baptist leader L. Paige Patterson had pressured a woman who’d been a victim of domestic violence to stay with her abuser and pressured a rape victim to stay silent, thousands of women signed a petition that resulted in his resignation. Patterson’s contemporary, Judge Paul Pressler, who with Patterson turned Southern Baptists into one of the most powerful political and religious forces in the country, now faces a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse—from a man he once taught in Bible study.

And of course there is the ongoing Catholic Church sex abuse scandal, which not only involved hundreds of priests around the world, but many more who helped aid in the cover up, with thousands of victims left in their wake.

What many of these stories have in common is not simply someone abusing a position of authority and violating the trust that people place in them, but ultimately using their position of power to acquire more for themselves. What has outraged many—those who are religious and those who are not—is the idea that people would use the Bible as a weapon to denounce swaths of people, divorced people or gay people for instance, while simultaneously engaging in behavior that is hypocritical at best, horrifying at worst.

When evangelicals trumpet “family values” but get behind a candidate like Trump, it sends a message to younger people that the values of people of faith are either a joke or for sale. So why should we expect millennials to want to join us on a Sunday to celebrate values we don’t seem to be upholding ourselves? I certainly can’t speak for all people of faith, but I will say that part of how I’ve managed to hang on to my faith even in the face of failures by the church is because I’ve known so many people of faith who are living values I hold dear, not simply talking about values as a political tool.

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SOURCE: Daily Beast

Keli Goff is a Daily Beast Columnist and the Host of Political Party with Keli Goff on NPR affiliate WNYC.