Last week I came across an interesting article at The Christian Post entitled: “What Makes Young Evangelicals Less Conservative?” On the surface it appears that the article is simply trading in political issues like social policy or philosophy of values. An excerpt from the article reads:
“White Millennial Evangelicals who did not know any non-Christians or non-whites among their closest associates were more likely than white Millennial Evangelicals with diverse social networks to agree that ‘religion causes more problems in society than it solves,’ ‘under God’ should be removed from the Pledge of Allegiance, and disagree that ‘it is important for children to be brought up in a religion so they can learn good values.’”
A couple of things strike me as odd about this. First, whether they realize it or not, these Millennial Christians are disqualifying their own, professed faith system when they affirm blanketed statements like “religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” Okay, perhaps they are thinking of all world religions on balance. Or perhaps they are thinking of the perceived awful things men do in the name of Christianity. Of course, that’s not what the statement was actually saying. Religion itself is the problem, not what men do in the name of it.
Notice that it is white Millennial Evangelicals that have no close association with non-Christians that are affirming this statement. To me, this reveals something much more interesting; especially when considering that white Millennial Evangelicals with “diverse social networks” break with their peers, i.e. they take traditional, conservative Evangelical stances on morality and culture.
So what’s going on here? The authors of the study “reasoned that Evangelicals with more exposure to the Evangelical subculture are reacting negatively to that subculture.” Perhaps they are. But that doesn’t sufficiently explain why Millennial Evangelicals with more diverse social networks are more traditional or conservative.
Here’s what I think is going on. Those with more exposure across social groups, that is those Christian Millennials who venture out of the Evangelical subculture, have become more exposed to differing beliefs and worldviews. Given those different views, some of which are undoubtedly hostile to Christianity, these Millennial Evangelicals have likely been forced to confront their own beliefs on the truthfulness of Scripture, the need for repentance, and other traditional views held by older Evangelicals.
This is why it is so important to distance ourselves from bombarding youth with constant entertainment and embrace real discipleship training. Youth Pastors, where you at?
J. Warner Wallace suggests that youth pastors and leaders must inoculate their students from false ideas and worldviews. We must train our youth to be soldiers of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3) as if they were preparing for war, because they are (Ephesians 6:12). Inoculation essentially entails exposing patients to a virus in order to develop the antibodies necessary to defeat the virus in real world settings. For us this means introducing arguments for other points of view within the confines of a safe environment like a church youth group. There, young Christians can consider those arguments, ask questions, and develop responses all the while under the careful eye of their youth pastor.
“Youth pastors need to think of themselves as ‘inoculators’; we possess the one true cure that can protect our students from the hazards of the culture,” says Wallace. Consider this boot camp for our young soldiers, folks. But why? Why do we have to do this? Why expose Christians to ideas and belief systems that challenge their faith? Answer: So 1) young Christians (and Christians in general) can be better prepared to defend the faith (1 Peter 3:15) and 2) they can have confidence that the basis for their convictions (i.e. Jesus Christ) is true. Providing youth with these tools is absolutely essential given the reality that they must face once they leave home (and study after study reflects the growing number of young folks that abandon their professed faith after high school). I suspect that Warner’s inoculation method is successful for the same reason that the Millennial Evangelicals mentioned in this study have embraced traditional/conservative stances on morality and culture. The more exposure that Christians get to opposite (often hostile) points of view, the more serious they take their faith.