When I became a young adult, I turned my back on churches. It's a familiar story. Growing up in a church, I heard a lot of offensive things uttered by religious folks; racist remarks (subtle and not so subtle), judgmental exclusivism, anti-semitism, a paranoid fear of scientific knowledge, and a general apathy toward the physical well-being of those outside the church. Is it any wonder church became irrelevant to me?
Well, obviously, I found my way back in the church, although somewhat reluctantly. Through a long spiritual journey and countless hours of reading I discovered that the Christian tradition contained a diversity of thought. The Christianity in which I was raised was not the only game in town. I discovered I could follow Jesus in a intellectually rational (although often mysterious) loving way that called me to engage in the world's suffering, not retreat form it. The wider world of biblical scholarship and contemporary theology seemed more grounded in reality as I experienced it. It simultaneously deconstructed and reconstructed my faith.
Cut to a decade later, when Pam and I planted our church. I was determined that no child growing up in Vision would have to endure the misguided ideas about God and the Bible I often heard. I was going to make sure no teenager ever got the idea that we Christians were scientifically ignorant, or homophobic, or condemned people of other religions. We wanted to expose them to a faith that was beyond the stereotype of the fire and brimstone church. Being raised in the richness and deepness of this kind of faith would give them the tools and freedom of thought to move beyond a simple rejection of faith when they hit college age.
Or so we thought.
I am starting to think I was naive. Recently, a kid whose family drifted away from our church told one of our kids, "Why should I be a part of a brainwashed group that thinks everyone else is going to Hell?" If you know me or our church, you realize how far that description is from who we actually are. I have never in my life preached anything remotely like what this kid said. In fact, I have preached quite the opposite. How did this kid get the idea that that is what our church is about?
Occasionally, I read Facebook updates by young adults who, at one time or another, were part of our faith community. Often, they parrot Bill Maher-like criticisms that all churches are full of bigoted hypocrites and homophobes, even though I know for a fact they never experienced that in our church.
Are young people somehow predisposed to reject all religion as narrow-minded superstitious bigotry? Is fundamentalism just too powerful a force for more progressive religious people to counter in the minds of young adults? Do they consider Martin Luther King a Bible-quoting moron?