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Sacramento Freethinkers Atheists & Nonbelievers (FAN) Message Board › NYT Article on Young Evangelism

NYT Article on Young Evangelism

A former member
Post #: 27­

June 1, 2008
Taking Their Faith, but Not Their Politics, to the People

ST. LOUIS ? Southern Baptists, as a rule, do not drink. But once a month, young congregants of the Journey, a Baptist church here, and their friends get together in the back room of a sprawling brew pub called the Schlafly Bottleworks to talk about the big questions: President Bush, faith and war, the meaning of life, and ?what?s wrong with religion.?

?That?s where people are having their conversations about things that matter,? the Rev. Darrin Patrick, senior pastor and founder of the Journey, said about the talks in the bar. ?We go where people are because we feel like Jesus went to the people.?

The Journey, a megachurch of mostly younger evangelicals, is representative of a new generation that refuses to put politics at the center of its faith and rejects identification with the religious right.

They say they are tired of the culture wars. They say they do not want the test of their faith to be the fight against gay rights. They say they want to broaden the traditional evangelical anti-abortion agenda to include care for the poor, the environment, immigrants and people with H.I.V., according to experts on younger evangelicals and the young people themselves.

?Evangelicalism is becoming somewhat less coherent as a movement or as an identity,? said Christian Smith, a sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame. ?Younger people don?t even want the label anymore. They don?t believe the main goal of the church is to be political.?

About 17 percent of the nation?s 55 million adult evangelicals are between the ages of 18 and 29, and many are troubled by the methods of the religious right and its close ties to the Republican Party.

In a January 2007 survey of 1,000 young people for the book ?Unchristian,? one of its authors, David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group, which studies Christian trends, found that 47 percent of born-again Christians ages 40 and under believed that ?the political efforts of conservative Christians? posed a problem for America.

None of that means younger evangelicals have abandoned the core tenets of their faith, including a belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus and the literal truth of the Bible. They think abortion and homosexuality are sins.

And so far, there is no clear evidence that supporting a broader social agenda has led young evangelicals to defect from the Republican Party in great numbers, as many liberals have predicted.

But shifts in thinking among younger evangelicals may lead to an easing of the polarization that has defined the country?s recent political landscape, many of them said.

?The easy thing is to fight, but the hard thing is to put your gloves down and work together towards a common cause,? said the Rev. Scott Thomas, director of the Acts 29 Network, which helps pastors start churches. ?Our generation would like to put our gloves down. We don?t want to be out there picketing. We want to be out there serving.?

On a rainy Tuesday night, six couples from the Journey, all under 35, went to Jim and Megan Beckemeier?s home for a weekly Bible study.

?Did you see my boy Barack today?? Mike Fine, 28, said to Mr. Beckemeier, 31, as they sat down, referring to a speech Senator Barack Obama gave earlier that day. ?I thought he did well, really well.?

Some in the Bible study grew up in evangelical homes, others in mainline families, and still others outside the church. Asked if they considered themselves evangelicals, they squirmed.

?I?m comfortable with the word as long as it means a believer of Christ who wants to spread his teaching,? Ryan Witt, 30, said. ?But it doesn?t automatically mean that you are against stem cell research or voting for McCain.?

The older generation, the congregants said, had drifted away from Jesus?s example.

?What the church has done wrong is that it has created these ?holy huddles? of Christian magazines, music and schools that have set them apart from the world because the world is bad,? said Mr. Beckemeier, who grew up in an evangelical family. ?Instead of doing what Christ did, and bring light to the world, they retreat from it.?

Younger evangelicals focus more on ?the ethic of Jesus? than on political issues, said Adam Smith, editor of the religion and culture magazine Relevant. They gravitate toward practical social action, Mr. Smith and others said, like working with poor, academically troubled inner-city schools, a priority at the Journey, or against human trafficking. While older evangelicals are also involved in such issues, younger people shy away from their emphasis on political organizing.

?They are very much turned off by the suit-and-tie power brokers of the evangelical right,? said David P. Gushee, professor of Christian ethics at Mercer University in Georgia.

Within American evangelicalism more broadly, there has been some rethinking of its image and priorities. Younger evangelicals feed that new drive and are beginning to lead it. Their efforts have resonated with some older leaders, but they have also created a backlash.

Jonathan Merritt, 25, is a graduate of Liberty University, the son of a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention and himself a former Republican precinct chairman in Georgia. A seminarian, he now calls himself an independent conservative. In March, he introduced an environmental initiative urging Southern Baptists to do more to combat climate change, saying their current position was ?too timid.?

After beginning with 44 signers, the initiative now has about 250, including pastors, university professors and the current and past presidents of the Southern Baptist Convention. But Richard Land, president of the convention?s powerful advocacy arm, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, did not sign the initiative. He said his group had concerns about it that they had made known to some signers, who then rescinded their support.

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