When Millennials No Longer Recognize a PriestApril 12, 2016
For most of us, if we were to read that a Catholic priest wearing his white robes and rosary was mistaken for a KKK member carrying a whip—and sparked widespread concern of threat in the area— we would ask: “How is that even possible?”
Well that happened this week on the campus of Indiana University.
The hysteria caught the attention of many news commentators and pundits who have been shaking their heads in dismay and wondering what is happening on college campuses today. I would argue the hand-wringing is obscuring an important piece of the puzzle, and it started long before the students arrived for Freshmen orientation.
About a year ago, PEW released a somewhat controversial report, America’s Changing Religious Landscape, finding Christians are “sharply” declining in American population. One of the primary factors behind this decline, PEW finds, is “generational replacement” as fewer young people identify themselves with the Christian faith. Described here:
As the Millennial generation enters adulthood, its members display much lower levels of religious affiliation, including less connection with Christian churches, than older generations. Fully 36% of young Millennials (those between the ages of 18 and 24) are religiously unaffiliated, as are 34% of older Millennials (ages 25-33). …Just 16% of Millennials are Catholic, and only 11% identify with mainline Protestantism. Roughly one-in-five are evangelical Protestants.
Much has been said about why this is. I won’t plumb those depths here.
While we may cringe at the latest story out of IU, we should really be asking ourselves a more serious question. As the coming generations become adults…become teachers, doctors, business owners, get married, have their own children…what does it mean that fewer and fewer of them have even been exposed to the Church or the Christian faith?
Certainly there are still Americans who are comfortable living in an environment where the culture and the Church are often on the same page, for better or worse. But according to PEW, they are a diminishing percentage of the population. We experience that shift already on national, political issues like marriage and life—but what are the seemingly unseen ways this culture shift will manifest?
How will we, as Christians, engage with an emerging generation when the basic symbols, norms and values are no longer shared? What’s the prospect even for dialogue when they communicate in ways and about things that we do not understand and when we communicate in ways and about things about which they do not care?
Shifting cultural sands are nothing new and the Church does not stand nor fall on them. So, fear not, this is not a threat, but it is a great opportunity. Think of one person in the next generation, one high school or college student, who is close enough to one of your spheres of influence that you could – if you were so willing – to strike up a conversation. After you have them mind, start praying for them and when God sets the divine appointment where your paths crosses their path, prepare to be a blessing.
On The Reconnect, we want to equip Christians to speak with the mind of Christ—to help you bring God back into the conversation. We are called to be His spokespeople, His ambassadors, His light. And if we do not speak up, who will? So, we hope you will join us weekdays at 3 pm ET.