Many young people think Christianity is too judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay, according to new findings by Christian-based research firm The Barna Group. The group reportedly found that church attitudes about people are creating a negative image of the faith among people 16- to 29-year-olds, and thus driving them away. Are you seeing this within your own faith community? And even if it's not Christian, how do you convey traditional religious messages to youth to keep them interested in the faith?
It's no secret that education in our country is far from what it should be.
Young people are not up to par on math, science and social studies — let alone religious teachings, which are often completely foreign to them. I find that many of the rash statements made about religious organizations being "hypocritical" or "anti-gay" often result from a simple lack of knowledge.
I regularly come across young people (and not-so-young people) who have misconceptions about Judaism. It's my responsibility as a rabbi to educate them, and direct those who are seeking the proper path. Furthermore, it's important for religious groups of all kinds not only to be reactive, but to take a proactive role in communicating their core views to the public. It is critical to put forth our positions on basic issues so that there is no misunderstanding or confusion.
A good example of such misunderstanding is the prevalent misconception that religion is anti-gay. In reality, this is untrue, since the Bible is "pro" all people, gay or straight, and makes a very clear distinction between a person and behaviors. As with all activities that are deemed immoral, it is the activity itself that is disliked and discouraged — but the individual is always to be respected. This is an important distinction, which sometimes gets lost by one side or the other in the midst of overheated debate.
There's an old Jewish saying that "words which emanate from the heart will enter the heart." Ultimately, if a message is delivered with care, understanding, respect and love, it will be accepted. Following this mode of communication is a sure-fire way of reaching our youth and affecting them positively.
RABBI SIMCHA BACKMAN
Chabad Jewish Center
My denomination, the United Church of Christ, is officially pro-gay. That doesn't mean all my parishioners are pro-gay; some very definitely are not.
But the United Church of Christ has ordained openly gay clergy, and I personally am quite proud of us for doing so. The United Church of Christ has also been fighting for the concept of gay marriage, and I heartily approve.
Now, having said all that, I think I agree with the survey: Most Christians are probably anti-gay. My denomination and others are working on our fellow believers to be more tolerant, but currently I would guess that the less tolerant of us are in the ascendancy. I think it's interesting that Jesus had more trouble with the believing community than those the believing community considered outsiders.
Jesus himself said he came to save the lost (i.e., those on the outside). A friend of mine in seminary once yelled in great frustration, "Look what we have done! We have made a church out of Jesus!"
Last Sunday my sermon title was, "Outsiders Welcome," and I think Jesus was trying to stretch the envelope to get all of us religious folk to see the lepers in our midst and to welcome them.
Twenty-first century lepers might include the homeless, the dirty, the hungry, and, of course, the gay community.
What do we say to the young people? If you want to be a follower of Jesus, you might have to suffer some derision from your friends if you befriend the people that Jesus befriended, people for whom the rest of our society seems to have no use.
THE REV. C.L. "SKIP" LINDEMAN
Congregational Church of the Lighted Window
United Church of Christ
La Cañada Flintridge
I don't believe most youth stay away from the church based on the reasons given above.
We are all immersed in a culture that constantly promotes the message that religion and the spiritual path is naïve or without merit.
From early in life we are taught that happiness is found in wealth and possessions. The typical TV sitcom or drama relays the message that sex is great and we needn't be concerned about commitment or consequence. It is difficult for many young people to accept a spiritual path, which itself is often mocked or trivialized by the consumer, "it's all about me" culture in which we live.
In my own tradition, individuals may accept the challenge of faith at any age, and I certainly am blessed to know many young people between the ages of 16 and 29 who are deeply committed to their faith.
I do believe that for many individuals, faith comes with maturity. When, for example, someone discovers how shallow and nonfulfilling life can be when lived for the wrong reasons, they may gravitate back to the faith of their youth. I often see individuals ready to make that transition after a major change in life such as marriage or parenthood.
Committed faith isn't for the faint-hearted or the immature. Real faith demands the complete transformation of one's person from selfishness to selflessness.
Parents need to be the primary teachers of their children in the ways of faith. At best, churches can support and strengthen that which is first nurtured in the home. Negative images of faith would have no place in an environment where God is allowed to thrive.
FATHER PAUL J. HRUBY
Church of the Incarnation
Among Muslims in America, there is the struggle to keep the youth interested in traditional Islamic values and practices.
It's a matter of giving the youth a sense of purpose and meaning from their perspective as American Muslims.
In chapter 18 of the Koran, titled "The Cave," there is an inspirational story about a youth group escaping religious persecution from their society and seeking refuge in a cave. One of the many lessons conveyed by this story is how God took care of these youth based on their needs and their societal issues with great empathy and compassion.
In the same way, the Muslim community is challenged to appropriately support and inspire the youth to embrace God's teachings.
The inherent nature of God's faith requiring social justice and societal change can actually be an exciting part of the faith that would appeal to the idealistic tendencies of 16- to 29-year-olds.
In order to make religion relevant to youth, faith communities must create the necessary infrastructure to support them and provide healthy outlets for their youthful energy and desire for social networking.
In the local Muslim community, this infrastructure consists of quality, full-time Islamic day schools, Muslim youth groups, camps, conferences and social networks. Such efforts bring like-minded youth together and engage them in meaningful activities.
Many American Muslim organizations originate from immigrant families and, slowly, leadership is being passed along to the second generation of American-born faith leaders.
It is true that not all Muslim youth will embrace God's message, but if Islamic communities (and all faith communities for that matter) are up to the challenge, religion should not be viewed by the youth as judgmental, hypocritical and boring.
If it is, that is not the fault of the youth, but rather the elders falling short of the mark to teach, support and inspire the youth per God's design.
Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge
To me these figures suggest that the church has successfully communicated a biblical standard of morality to this generation, at least for the most part, but we have failed to communicate God's love and forbearance to those who are enslaved by sin.
Perhaps we have failed to internalize the humbling truth that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."
Proverbs 3:3 says, "Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart."
Our real problem is that we have dramatically separated kindness and truth, mostly along denominational lines. On one extreme end are soft-headed, sentimental churches that deny scripture and compromise with the world's immorality.
This only perpetuates people's sinfulness and alienation from God. On the other extreme are hard-hearted, hyper-legalistic churches that accurately communicate God's holiness but fail to communicate His love. The church must renew its vigor to proclaim the cross of Jesus Christ to every generation. There kindness and truth were perfectly united. The cross affirms the truth that our sins merit the wrath of a holy God. But it also demonstrates the perfect kindness of God.
There He offered up His only-begotten Son, who "died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God." (1 Peter 3:18)
PASTOR JON BARTA
Valley Baptist Church
Jesus told us not to judge according to man's perceptions, so of course the verse that we hear forever thrown in our face by unbelievers is; "Judge not, that ye be not judged" (Matthew 7:1 KJV). Yet Jesus did not say, "Act like you can't discern right from wrong;" instead, He said, "The spiritual man makes judgments about all things" (1 Corinthians 2:15). We must judge according to what God has said. Does that make us judgmental? Then God is judgmental, and we can live with that.
Are we anti-gay? Well, we're certainly anti-homosexuality. Why? Because "the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God . . . . Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual" (1 Corinthians 6:9). We don't determine this, God does.
Are we hypocrites? Unequivocally, yes! We're sinners, and though we know God's commands, we fail. Yet God knows this and accepts us anyway through Christ. Pagan homosexuals and the unbelieving fools care nothing for God, and so they're not hypocritical, just blatantly guilty! The saint knows his sin, admits it, and gains clemency because of Jesus.
It's unfortunate if today's youth cannot countenance a Christianity that actually opposes evil and champions righteousness.
Is that the church's fault, or the parents who have relinquished their duty of raising godly children? How often I hear the insipid idiocy of parents who say they won't teach their children Christianity because they want to let them grow up and decide for themselves! Would such parents let their children decide whether to play in the street?
I would that the youth had brains, and used them to inform their souls. For any such that do, come to my church, and I promise not to simply parrot cultural wisdom.
REV. BRIAN GRIEM