NWP
As Social Issues Drive Young From Church, Leaders Try To Keep Them
by NWP
January 18, 2013 at 1:33 PM

As Social Issues Drive Young From Church, Leaders Try To Keep Them

On Friday, Morning Edition wraps up its weeklong look at the growing number of people who say they do not identify with a religion. The final conversation in the Losing Our Religion series picks up on a theme made clear throughout the week: Young adults are drifting away from organized religion in unprecedented numbers. In Friday's story, NPR's David Greene talks to two religious leaders about the trend and wonders what they tell young people who are disillusioned with the church.

According to the Pew Research Center, one-third of Americans under 30 have no religious affiliation. As Harvard professor Robert Putnam told Greene in the piece that kicked off the series, this trend among young people is tied to religion's association with socially conservative politics.

"I think the single most important reason for the rise of the unknowns is that combination of the younger people moving to the left on social issues and the most visible religious leaders moving to the right on that same issue."

Take Melissa Adelman, 30, a participant in a roundtable about religion that Greene had with six young adults. Adelman was raised Catholic but does not call herself one today because she cannot embrace the church's core beliefs on social issues.

"To me a church that would be welcoming would be one where there wasn't a male-only hierarchy that made all the rules, and there weren't these rules about who's excluded and who's included and what behavior is acceptable and what's not acceptable," she tells Greene.

In Friday's story, the Rev. Mike Baughman, a United Methodist minister who runs a Christian coffee shop in Dallas, tells Greene that the church is indeed sending the wrong message.

"If the church was known more for our efforts to welcome the stranger than keep them out, I think the church would have greater credibility with rising generations," says Baughman. "For example, on immigration policies, we've taken the wrong stance on that, and they know. The thing is they're smart enough. A lot of them have grown up in the church and then rejected it. They've read the scriptures that talk about the importance of welcoming the stranger, they've read the scriptures about the importance of caring for the poor, and when they see that no longer on the lips of those who are in religious authority, they see that the God we present is bankrupt, and that we're theologically thin in our ability to even speak our own story."

For Father Mike Surufka, a Catholic priest in the Franciscan order in Chicago, there are indeed issues that are fundamental to the church, but what seems to really matter is more granular: that the parishioner's spiritual needs are being met. For example, he says, he has counseled women in his congregation who have had abortions.

"I knew their pain, and I was not going to bring that to the pulpit," he says. His approach, he says, is to listen to them. "That has more transformative power than just about anything."

Despite the trend among young adults to reject organized religion, both Surufka and Baughman tell Greene that they are hopeful about the future of religions in America.

"I'm full of hope indeed," says Surufka. "There was a theologian from the mid-1900s who kind of described hope as an attitude toward the future that we cannot see, but we trust that somehow it's held by God and that there are possibilities beyond what we can even imagine."

Indeed, some of these so-called nones — dubbed this because they answer "none" when asked for their religious affiliation — have embarked on a quest to see if there's a place for some sort of organized religion in their lives. Writer and lifelong none Corinna Nicolaou, for example, admits she knows little about organized religions and wants to know more, so she has begun chronicling her visits to local places of worship. And in a recent Boston Magazine piece, Katherine Ozment describes her effort to find an organized secular and nonsecular community that makes sense now that she had kids.

Although the series winds down Friday, Morning Edition is likely to revisit the topic. Chuck Holmes, the show's supervising editor, says that as his team was planning the series, there were a lot of conversations about other aspects of religion that didn't end up getting airtime.

"So naturally that leads to more coverage," he says.

The Losing Our Religion series is here.

Replies

  • gemma458
    January 19, 2013 at 7:24 AM

     One of my relatives was raped at gunpoint at 13 years old years ago, the offender went to prison, served his time, and these days is a deacon at a church in that town. The reason my husband can't EVER be a deacon? He's been divorced. It's stuff like that that makes no sense to me. There were many reasons we left the denomination that we had been in for years. Now we attend a non-denominational, contemporary church and LOVE it.


    Quoting GoddessNDaRuff:

    All churches need to work on updating their values. They are not in line with the younger generation. My generation is much more friendly and accepting of others. Churches are for lack of a better term right now xenophobic. It's hard to love a church and love helping out and love the people but hate the message that it is sending out into the world.

    Like someone else mentioned, I've struggled with it as a child and by the time I was a teen and really asking questions and had read the bible a few times I was totally disconnected. I loved the choir and video/audio ministry. I loved helping with the praise dancers. But one series of sermons were just the straw that broke the camel's back. Many young people in the church were struggling with their sexuality or had come out and were the biggest contributors to anything the pastor asked. The first to volunteer yet were being told they were going to hell because they don't follow heterosexuality. Then you have to look at the church hierarchy itself. They were not mirroring the values they were teaching and I'm sure that's across all denominations. Gossiping about what is confided in them, having affairs and with other members of the church, drugs, pedophilia, domestic violence, misuse of church funds. I'm sure that this sort of thing is found across many churches and my generation and even some older than me are now not open to the idea of organized religion (attending churches). Why send our children to learn "morals" and "values" from such places that don't reflect what were are being taught at home. You can't say "love thy neighbor as thy self" and then tell your congregation to vote against others lifestyles because we disagree.

    The practice doesn't go with the words. But the bible does support the hate depending on how objectively you are willing to read it. Yes it has it's good parts but it has it's evil parts as well which are often denied. Just talk to some staunch believers and it becomes very apparent very fast. The cherry picking of what to follow and when is equally as troubling when dealing with it. It's a turn off.


     

  • NWP
    by NWP
    January 19, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    My dad was abusive to my mother. When she went to the paster for council, he made attempts to help her find what she was doing to deserve it so she could change HER behavior. When she left him, the church exiled her. My dad, who is also a deacon, has gone on to marry and divorse another woman in that church, and got married again for a third time in that same church. It is just one of the failings I witnessed. It happens in churches everywhere.

    We have friends who are mormon. There is only one place for them to worship in our old town. One of the sons (who was 17) of a church official molested thier 5 yo at a church function in a closet while the kids were playing hide and seek. Our friends went to the police immediately. The boy was charged, but never convicted and the church supported his family. Our friends now have to travel over an hour to attend a mormon service in another town.

    Quoting gemma458:

     One of my relatives was raped at gunpoint at 13 years old years ago, the offender went to prison, served his time, and these days is a deacon at a church in that town. The reason my husband can't EVER be a deacon? He's been divorced. It's stuff like that that makes no sense to me. There were many reasons we left the denomination that we had been in for years. Now we attend a non-denominational, contemporary church and LOVE it.


    Quoting GoddessNDaRuff:

    All churches need to work on updating their values. They are not in line with the younger generation. My generation is much more friendly and accepting of others. Churches are for lack of a better term right now xenophobic. It's hard to love a church and love helping out and love the people but hate the message that it is sending out into the world.

    Like someone else mentioned, I've struggled with it as a child and by the time I was a teen and really asking questions and had read the bible a few times I was totally disconnected. I loved the choir and video/audio ministry. I loved helping with the praise dancers. But one series of sermons were just the straw that broke the camel's back. Many young people in the church were struggling with their sexuality or had come out and were the biggest contributors to anything the pastor asked. The first to volunteer yet were being told they were going to hell because they don't follow heterosexuality. Then you have to look at the church hierarchy itself. They were not mirroring the values they were teaching and I'm sure that's across all denominations. Gossiping about what is confided in them, having affairs and with other members of the church, drugs, pedophilia, domestic violence, misuse of church funds. I'm sure that this sort of thing is found across many churches and my generation and even some older than me are now not open to the idea of organized religion (attending churches). Why send our children to learn "morals" and "values" from such places that don't reflect what were are being taught at home. You can't say "love thy neighbor as thy self" and then tell your congregation to vote against others lifestyles because we disagree.

    The practice doesn't go with the words. But the bible does support the hate depending on how objectively you are willing to read it. Yes it has it's good parts but it has it's evil parts as well which are often denied. Just talk to some staunch believers and it becomes very apparent very fast. The cherry picking of what to follow and when is equally as troubling when dealing with it. It's a turn off.




  • Debmomto2girls
    January 19, 2013 at 4:22 PM
    I don't know. We belong to one of the biggest parishes in the city. I am always amazed at how many young people still attend mass. I see tons of teenagers without their parents and people in the 20's.

    Maybe as a whole it is declining, I just don't see it where I live