PEEK

Young People Rejecting Christianity, Have Perception of Religion as Homophobic

Sara Robinson: Evangelical Christianity won't go away, but there's a shift in its essential character afoot, which may even reverse the trend toward minority status over time.
This post, written by Sara Robinson, originally appeared on Orcinus

I've been saying for a while now that the religious right in America finally and firmly jumped the shark over the past few years. But now that that big ol' shark's behind them, there's another bunch of critters looming ahead that may prove to be even more damning. It's that whole big flock of chickens that are finally coming home to roost.

I don't know how long they thought they were going to go on that way, all self-righteous and judgmental, blaming homosexuals and feminists for everything from 9/11 to the price of gas, ignoring the interests of the poor in favor of those of big business, and dismissing any kind of environmental stewardship as nothing more than a way to waste time until the Rapture comes. Clearly, the didn't see anything at all wrong with elevating the most spiteful and amoral among them as their national spokespeople, and rewarding them in direct proportion to the heat of their rhetoric. No, these folks were on fire (we're still not sure if it was Jesus or heartburn), and they weren't afraid to let their bilious light shine on the TV, in the streets, all the way to the White House. They did their best to set it high above the rest of the culture, where none of the rest of us could miss it if we wanted to.

And now, a new study reveals that young Americans, both inside and outside Christianity, have indeed taken note of this righteous spectacle-- and a large and growing majority of them are absolutely revolted by what they've seen.

A study released last week by the Barna Group, a reputable Evangelical research and polling firm, found that under-30s -- both Christian and non-Christian -- are strikingly more critical of Christianity than their peers were just a decade ago. According to the summary report, Barna pollster David Kinnaman found that the opinions of non-Christians, in particular, had slid like a rock in that time frame. Ten years ago, "the vast majority" of non-Christians had generally favorable views of Christianity. Now, that number stands at just 16%. When asked specifically about Evangelicals, the number are even worse: only 3% of non-Christian Millennials have positive associations with Evangelicals. Among the Boomers, it's eight times higher.

When Kinnaman asked senior pastors if they were seeing this too, half of them told him that, yes, they are finding their work to be an uphill battle -- "because people are increasingly hostile and negative toward Christianity." And his research bore this out. When he ranked young non-Christians' most common perceptions of Christianity, nine of the 12 most common attributes they named were negative ones. According to the study, "Common negative perceptions include that present-day Christianity is judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), old-fashioned (78%), and too involved in politics (75%)."

And this wasn't just ignorance talking. The people interviewed had an average of five Christian friends. Eighty percent of them had spent at least six months attending church themselves in the past; and half of them had considered becoming Christian, but rejected it. Familiarity with the faith, it appears, has bred quite a bit of contempt:
"As we probed why young people had come to such conclusions, I was surprised how much their perceptions were rooted in specific stories and personal interactions with Christians and in churches. When they labeled Christians as judgmental this was not merely spiritual defensiveness. It was frequently the result of truly 'unChristian' experiences. We discovered that the descriptions that young people offered of Christianity were more thoughtful, nuanced, and experiential than expected."
Sara Robinson has worked as an editor or columnist for several national magazines, on beats as varied as sports, travel, and the Olympics; and has contributed to over 80 computer games for EA, Lucasfilm, Disney, and many other companies.