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

  • NWP
    by NWP
    January 18, 2013 at 2:10 PM

    Any thoughts?

  • Sekirei
    by Sekirei
    January 18, 2013 at 2:20 PM

    I agree that the reason some (not all) people are leaving the churches is because of their inability to grow with the  times. They stick to archaic beliefs, when some are simply rules for the time period they were written in. 

    A lot of women, now, would be upset at the prospect of being, technically, sold off to marriage to gain their family a higher station in life, to pay off a debt, etc. It is, now, an archiac way of life, which has evolved into a loving doctrine.

    It also doesn't help that lately, the loudest voices (within the Abrahamic religions) are complete asshats. Anti choice, anti love... etc.


  • NWP
    by NWP
    January 18, 2013 at 2:26 PM

    Yes...also I do not think young people wish to be fed hate messages every weekend. Shouldn't the focus be on love, tolerance and inclusion?

    Quoting Sekirei:

    I agree that the reason some (not all) people are leaving the churches is because of their inability to grow with the  times. They stick to archaic beliefs, when some are simply rules for the time period they were written in. 

    A lot of women, now, would be upset at the prospect of being, technically, sold off to marriage to gain their family a higher station in life, to pay off a debt, etc. It is, now, an archiac way of life, which has evolved into a loving doctrine.

    It also doesn't help that lately, the loudest voices (within the Abrahamic religions) are complete asshats. Anti choice, anti love... etc.



  • Sekirei
    by Sekirei
    January 18, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    Right.  Maybe there would be less of an issue with suicide and bullying if that were the main message. Not the SIN HELLFIRE and REPENT!

    Quoting NWP:

    Yes...also I do not think young people wish to be fed hate messages every weekend. Shouldn't the focus be on love, tolerance and inclusion?

    Quoting Sekirei:

    I agree that the reason some (not all) people are leaving the churches is because of their inability to grow with the  times. They stick to archaic beliefs, when some are simply rules for the time period they were written in. 

    A lot of women, now, would be upset at the prospect of being, technically, sold off to marriage to gain their family a higher station in life, to pay off a debt, etc. It is, now, an archiac way of life, which has evolved into a loving doctrine.

    It also doesn't help that lately, the loudest voices (within the Abrahamic religions) are complete asshats. Anti choice, anti love... etc.




  • Bigmetalchicken
    January 18, 2013 at 2:38 PM

    I see it. The church that I go to is dying. Literally. The members are all elderly, and last year 17 members passed away.  My husband and I are the youngest members, and we are constantly told how excited the members are to have our small children there.  What sucks about it, is our affiliation is not one of the judgier ones. We are all about open hearts, open doors.  And our members so desperately WANT young people, we just don't know how to bring them in.  It is really sad.

  • 12hellokitty
    January 18, 2013 at 2:41 PM

    I think many young people including the ones referenced are confusing social issues of the Church with liberal ideologies.  Example the core social issues of the Catholic Church are not about a male-only hierarchy. And perhaps the Methodist Rev. has presented the wrong image on immigration policies the Catholic Church is leading the way in securing the rights and dignity of all persons, it's one of the core values....

  • NWP
    by NWP
    January 18, 2013 at 2:43 PM

    Vacation Bible School?

    I have seen many parents take their children to every single one in town so they could get "free" daycare during the summer...The materials that come home with the kids speak a lot to the priorities and philosophies of the church. It helped me choose the last church we attended, while ruling out others...and I am pretty sure that is how my family started going to the church we attended when I was a child.

    Quoting Bigmetalchicken:

    I see it. The church that I go to is dying. Literally. The members are all elderly, and last year 17 members passed away.  My husband and I are the youngest members, and we are constantly told how excited the members are to have our small children there.  What sucks about it, is our affiliation is not one of the judgier ones. We are all about open hearts, open doors.  And our members so desperately WANT young people, we just don't know how to bring them in.  It is really sad.


  • Euphoric
    January 18, 2013 at 2:46 PM

     bump

  • MeAndTommyLee
    January 18, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    This was said in my generation as well.  I wasn't about to run for the hills because I didn't like something the Priest said in his homily on Sunday.  I take responsibility for my own behavior, actions and decisions.  I do not and have never need approval from the church.  I have my own freewill like everyone else.  In the end, I will answer for the things I have done, thought or succumbed to.  I believe in God and believe that EVERY religion tweaked his message.  I'm not sure which one is closest to the ideal, but I'm not going to treat God of religion like a political party to be for or against.  That's not me.  I embrace it all, take it in and sort through it all to the best of my ability.  

  • smalltowngal
    January 18, 2013 at 2:51 PM



    Quoting Bigmetalchicken:

    I see it. The church that I go to is dying. Literally. The members are all elderly, and last year 17 members passed away.  My husband and I are the youngest members, and we are constantly told how excited the members are to have our small children there.  What sucks about it, is our affiliation is not one of the judgier ones. We are all about open hearts, open doors.  And our members so desperately WANT young people, we just don't know how to bring them in.  It is really sad.


    We left our old church because it was dieing. I love our new one. The pastor is actually younger than me and the person in charge of Christian education is 27. We have youth night every Wednesday night where kids are dropped off. Some of the older women always cook a meal for the kids and then they have a class and usually finish off with a game of indoor soccer. On Friday night home games, the church hosts an after game activities at the local Y. Our assistant pastor had to call our main pastor for help when 120 kids showed up. The most they had ever gotten before, was 35. They ended up having to order a lot of pizzas that night.