When I read studies and articles related to the decline of membership in mainline Protestant denominations, they often lead to explorations of generational differences and ultimately to this question: where are the Millennials?
Research from Pew Research Center (in this article and this article) show that Millennials are more and more affiliating as “nones” (persons with no religious affiliation), and additional reading and one-on-one conversations lead to one possible cause: authenticity.
Imagine our Millennial family and friends (those born between 1981 and 1996), raised by thoughtful parents who have passed on hard-earned lessons about critical thinking and making choices for themselves. Is it any wonder that this generation – when faced with religious leaders and others who publicly say one thing while privately doing another – looks with skepticism at organized religion? Our news channels and news feeds abound with people who claim faith and then act in opposition to that same claim.
How can we be believable? How can we show ourselves as authentic human beings and as authentic persons of faith? These are questions that faith leaders continue to wrestle with as we wonder what the future of the Church will be.
One way that I try to be authentic is to be honest about questions and doubts and vulnerabilities, because I have all of those. I have them all the time. And I think it’s important to be open and transparent when we struggle, when we don’t have all the answers, when we’re searching.
Because when we are willing to humble ourselves on this journey, I think we find that we don’t have to endure the journey alone.
I surely have no business calling myself a Millennial, but I do share the desire for authenticity. As soon as someone says they have all the answers, as soon as someone says they have the end-all-be-all capital-T Truth, I find myself skeptical and questioning and wondering about motives. I find myself probing for faults and inconsistencies. I doubt.
Perhaps it is this observation about myself that causes me to engage in conversations differently. Because I don’t think I have the end-all-be-all capital-T Truth. I think that kind of Truth is too big for me to understand, and so I have to describe it in bits and pieces, in fits and starts.
In the words of Kevin Smith’s film Dogma (my favorite theological film, but don’t watch it if you’re offended by language), it is an idea. I experience this idea in my own understandings and perceptions about the world, and I share this idea with humility because I think it’s an idea that’s bigger and better than I can possibly explain it. And so I share it with the understanding that I could be getting it wrong, but with the authenticity that I’m learning alongside the rest of humanity.
What would our religious landscape look like if we were open to the idea of learning from one another? What would our religious conversations look like if we stopped claiming to have all the answers and instead acknowledged that we have as many questions as the person sitting in the pew (or car or table) next to us?
Let us journey together. Let us understand that in our vulnerabilities and in our questions, we can be authentically trustworthy. Let us be open and transparent in our struggling and in our searching. In this Christ-like humility, I believe we can embody and share the most incredible idea.