An open letter in response to Anthony Bradley’s recent op-ed in WORLDmag.com, “Evangelicalism’s Bitter 20-Somethings.”
Well, it’s true; there are a lot of bitter 20 and 30-somethings out there. And Bradley says a lot of true things about them. The Bitters:
—tend to gravitate toward Christian hipster culture
—are on a mission to expose the “conservative conspiracy” wherever they can find it (or create it) under the guise of “healthy critique.”
—tend to define themselves in terms of being “not like them,” which seems cowardly. (But let’s be honest, if 20-somethings raised in conservative Evangelical churches are doing this, well then the apple just isn’t falling very far from the tree, is it?)
While these critiques of bitter 20-somethings are valid, I believe Bradley is wrong about the motivation behind the bitterness being mere attention-seeking. What Mr Bradley fails to do in this didactic broad-brushing is address the possibility that folks in their 20s and 30s just might have legitimate qualms with conservatism as we know it. I agree that more young adults would do well to understand what Church actually is—that cutting the Church is cutting on one’s own body—this realization leads to a compassionate, heart-broken criticism of the Church’s ills, as opposed to trendy, prideful, the-old-way’s-so-lame diatribes. However, that doesn’t negate the very real grievances many have experienced in church.
It seems from Mr Bradley’s comments about conservatism that he believes conservatism in all its forms—from “Drill, baby, drill!” to “We believe the Bible is true.”—is absolutely right and the only viable way to be a Christian, that the only reason young adults are rebelling against it is because they’re attention-seeking, merely “protest[ing] things dear to the hearts of their elders.” Don’t be patronizing, Mr Bradley. Certainly one does not have to be a Republican to be a Christian.
So what can we do as a church to reach out to 20-somethings? Well, we can do exactly what Mr Bradley is not doing: pay attention, listen, ask their input, enlist them, value them. Don’t cater to them; love them—mentor them, read what they’re reading, and respect them enough to shoot straight with them, lovingly, but straight. Church has to be a safe place for them to experiment with their faith, their political beliefs, and even to some degree, their lifestyle choices. Better they experiment under the umbrella of our loving protection then out from under it. But it can’t be just that; there has to also be room for actual diversity in these areas. It is when we are united in Christ with all our differences that we give the world pause.