Every few months sees another Christian pundit publicly wishing The Youth would just get a grip and do as they’re told. It usually goes something like: the “young evangelicals” just want to be accepted by the world, they’re just bitter, they only define themselves negatively, they reflexively oppose anything traditional or conservative, they’re self-absorbed egotists, etc. And while I no longer consider myself an evangelical, this tired, dismissive non-critique is so blatantly self-serving that I can’t help defending the Youngs whenever someone attempts to trot it out as serious analysis.

The latest attempt at this comes from my friend Anthony Bradley, who has written a post about “evangelicalism’s bitter 20-somethings.” Here’s the first bit:

Is it me or does it seem that many kids reared in affluent conservative evangelical communities become bitter people in their 20s? I’ve recently read blog posts and articles by 20-somethings reared in suburban evangelicalism that seem to be committed to doing one thing: attacking the very community that raised them and doing it bitterly. I call them “the Bitters.”

…Adding to that, Bill Bishop, in The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, writes that children of abundance become post-materialist young adults who lose interest in organized religion and become increasingly focused on personal spirituality. Economic growth and military security decline in political importance and are replaced by issues like personal freedom, abortion rights, social justice, and the environment. These young adults are less inclined to obey central authority and lose trust in hierarchical institutions. Finally, they harbor resentment for the big organizations that created America’s modern, industrial society: big business, traditional church denominations, traditional family structures, and so on.

The Bitters, who 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.” Bitters define themselves by what they are not. If their parents are Republicans they become staunch Democrats. If their parents are in a conservative church, Bitters will find a more liberal church. Bitters choose “the left” because it’s not “the right.” There is no greater sin for Bitters than sounding like you might be “conservative.”

Let’s get one thing straight: A lot of young adults of all demographics feel the need to distance themselves from their parents. It’s almost an American rite of passage: you’re not an adult until you’ve rebelled against a major pillar of your parents’ lifestyle or belief system. Maybe that’s individualist and a little bit irrational, but it’s the way things are. So of course there are young Christians out there who have to try a different political party or denomination because it’s different from what their parents want them to do. Of course.

But conservative evangelicals, and they do tend to be conservative, want to stretch that obvious, banal reality into an explanation of the church’s current Young People Problem, which this blog has described at length. It’s a classic type of denial: if we can convince ourselves the young peoples’ discontent is all their own problem, then we don’t have to sweat as much about fixing it. And the young people hear the tone-deaf dismissal and rightly conclude that the Christian establishment just doesn’t care all that much about working with them. They don’t even seem to like younger people. So the Youngs become “leavers” or “nones,” or just regular Christians isolated from a community because finding one that doesn’t talk down to you, ply you with pieties or infuriate you with right-wing politics—not to mention one that really cares about real people—is in so many cases just too spiritually draining.

Now, about the Bill Bishop quote. The thesis of The Big Sort is a fascinating one, and, as generational sociology, there’s nothing wrong with quoting it here. But is it just me, or do I detect an unmistakable whiff of disapproval? There’s an underlying annoyance that the Youngs “harbor resentment for the big organizations that created America’s modern, industrial society” and as a result feel like there is a “conservative conspiracy” afoot. If this is true, it’s very interesting. But in typical fashion, Bradley is more interested in defending the old order rather than wondering: Hey, these twenty-somethings who got into a lot of debt for the careers they may never be able to havemaybe they have a crucial point of view about this mess. Maybe they actually care. And maybe they have a point when they’re critical of a political party that wants to double down on the let-the-market-run-wild philosophy that played a huge role in the economic meltdown. But no, in the youth-hating evangelical punditry, the only reason someone would question “big institutions” and conservative dogma is out of bitterness, immaturity, or desperation for attention.

Next, Bradley reveals that not only are the Youngs bitter, but they are cowards:

To define one’s identity in terms of being “not like them” seems cowardly.

It only seems cowardly if you don’t particularly like, sympathize with, or at least understand young people. The modern world is huge and overwhelmingly complex, and figuring out who you are in it and what you think about it takes a very long time—years of careful thought and study and a lot of painful and joyful experience. Trying to sort between competing truth claims and prejudices and remain a decent human being is exhausting work. One can do a lot worse than figuring out what they are not. Hopefully we all have the privilege of finding and following a deep passion for something, but one can do worse than to identify the ideas, institutions, career options and even people they dislike and to stop wasting precious time and energy on them. Twenty-somethings, myself included, for the most part don’t know enough yet to know for sure what they are for. (Nor, for that matter, do many middle-aged adults.) Figuring out what’s wrong, though, is a pretty important step to getting there, and it’s always helpful to have those who went before calling you a coward for trying.

We have at least reached Bradley’s postlude:

The longing for self-expression Inglehart discussed in his thesis may be a longing to be heard and affirmed, because many kids of affluence are ignored in homes where meaningful participation in family life is communicated as optional. Bitters likely feel deeply insignificant, like they don’t matter. They probably weren’t “cool” in high school. Craving affirmation, Bitters want someone to pay attention to them—finally. The easiest way get attention is to protest things dear to the hearts of their elders. “You’re paying attention now aren’t you,” the Bitter protests.

Somewhere, I’m sure the phantom young evangelical described in this amazing paragraph must exist. But in my extensive interactions with and readings about them, I have never met one. Perhaps that explains the appearance of the journalistic code phrase “may be,” which is often slipped in when the author really has no idea what the hell he is talking about.

About The Author

David Sessions

David Sessions is the founding editor of Patrol, and is currently a doctoral student in modern European history at Boston College. His writing has appeared in The Daily Beast, Newsweek, Jacobin, Slate and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter here.

0 Responses to The Non-Critique That Refuses to Die

  1. You’re forgetting the key adjective: affluent. This is all because you were rich!

  2. DMP says:

    Certainly a topic with the potential for hot feelings on either side. But a couple things to get straight: “the let-the-market-run-wild philosophy that played a huge role in the economic meltdown” — what market was being encouraged to run wild? The highly regulated one that introduced cancerous sub-primes into a system that, granted, spread the cancer around in order to minimize risk?

    The sentence quoted above might be a good example of precisely what Dr. Bradley critiques: it mischaracterizes a complicated issue, and does do with a rather flippant, ‘damn conservative ideology’ sort of tone.

    I don’t mean to get into an economic argument, only to point out that the response to Dr. Bradley, both in this sentence and in the tone of the article itself, seems to exemplify exactly what Dr. Bradley laments. And I speak as young, former evangelical myself.

    • DMP: You have a point about the difference between the financial sector and the general market, but like you, I wasn’t writing an argument about economics. I’ve said lots about that in other forums already. I might cop to being “flippant,” but mostly in the interest of being brief. But even if I wrote a dissertation on the economic point I made, I don’t think my term for it would be far from accurate.

  3. Amanda says:

    Anthony Bradley pulled the bitter card? Really?!? Way to go all ad hominem and shut down the opposition without actually engaging the issues at hand.

  4. Anna says:

    Incredible! Thanks, David. You articulate why this article gave me a bad taste in my mouth, which perhaps I was too overcome by to do myself.

  5. David says:

    From the perspective of someone your grandfather’s age, this is a wonderful piece. I can look back on almost three-quarters of a century of conservatism/evangelicalism, which I was once a part, of and tell you that you are seeing from one side of a divide what I can see from this.

  6. Jon Busch says:

    I read that article and thought Mr. Bradley sounded pretty bitter, himself. Basically, all young Evangelicals (having just turned the big 3-o, I no longer count) are a bunch of spoiled whippersnappers who have led such privileged lives that they now think they have a right to actually question authority. In my day, we got our knuckles rapped for those sorts of shenanigans!

    Seriously, though, I can’t believe the number of generalizations he makes in such a short piece. From young Christians not being cool in high school to them not having opinions on economics or national defense. I was the president of my class, thank you very much. And we all know high-school elections are a popularity contest. So explain that, Bradley.

    • Hi Jon, what exactly would you like for me to explain?

      • Jon Busch says:

        Thanks for engaging with us over here at Patrol, Anthony. I’ve been reading your comments and appreciating your perspective more. You probably can’t explain why I was ‘cool’ and evangelical in high school and still a bitter now. I meant that as a joke, but I think it’s indicative of what I found offensive in your piece for World. So many of your commenters over there thought you were right on; you really had us pegged. But so many of your points failed to apply to me personally. At this point, you might be tempted to think that I am not one of the “Bitters” you were trying to describe. But believe me, I am EXTREMELY BITTER. Everyone has their own story, but let’s just take my own experience as a for-instance: I’ve seen elders have affairs with youth leaders, a sunday school teacher arrested for sexually abusing his own daughter, a youth leader divorce his wife and run off with a girl from the youth group, and a pastor who blatantly preached right-wing politics as God’s truth from the pulpit on Sunday mornings, then chastised the congregation about pastoral authority when they cried nepotism as he tried to install his son-in-law as his successor. The church ultimately dissolved.

        These same poeple then have the audacity to confront me b/c I attend an Episcopal Church, known for being ‘liberal’. They’re concerned about my faith. They have an intervention with a friend of mine who dared to intern for Sojourners magazine? What is wrong with this picture? Considering the terrible, hypocritcal examples numerous people in positions of leadership have set throughout my life it is nothing short of a MIRACLE that I still call myself a Christian. I hope you can see why I might bristle at being scolded for challenging the assumptions of my elders. Honestly, you should be shaking our hands and thanking us for staying in the church; for trying to address problems rather than simply quitting (as you tell us that young people in the black church often do, which is sad).

        I realize that this is an emotional response, not an academic or journalistic one. And I know it’s kind of a cheap move for me to pull out personal experiences to try and refute your points. But I suspect that there are a number of people in my generation who have had similarly negative experiences. BUT WE’RE STILL HERE. And that’s what counts. We’re not simply rabble-rousers. If we wanted to cause our parents real grief, we’d be atheists, not just democrats (although I’m not sure which would cause my former pastor more grief). But Jesus snagged most of us when we were really young and now we’re stuck whether we like it or not. Ah, the perseverance of the Saints.

        You really don’t need to explain anything, Anthony. I understand that you wrote the article for World, not Patrol. I feel like you’ve already rewritten your article in a way for this audience in your other remarks, and I really appreciate your willingness to have it out with us. I guess my only question is, have these conversations changed your opinion at all? Have they been at all encouraging? Have they made you even more frustrated with the ‘bitters’?

        • Jon Busch says:

          One other point concerning why we ‘waste our time attacking’ the church rather than simply leaving: As a saved person, the Faith belongs just as much to me as it does to you. You don’t get to define it simply by merit of being here first. Telling us that if we don’t like it we should just get out is like telling us to go to hell (quite literally). I hope you will reconsider this position. We may be a pain in the butt, but as fellow believers, we’re still family.

          One edit to the above: I said you should thank me for staying in the faith, but you should really thank God because without him I know I would be long gone by now.

  7. Michael says:

    Two things:

    1. How does the rejection of hierarchy and traditional church structure jive with the fact that a not insignificant number of these so-called bitters are converting to Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy?

    2. The most frustrating thing about this article is that you want to protest, but anything you say begs the response, “Wow, someone’s sure bitter.”

  8. Hey David, thanks for this. Very helpful. I especially like this point: “The modern world is huge and overwhelmingly complex, and figuring out who you are in it and what you think about it takes a very long time—years of careful thought and study and a lot of painful and joyful experience. Trying to sort between competing truth claims and prejudices and remain a decent human being is exhausting work. One can do a lot worse than figuring out what they are not. Hopefully we all have the privilege of finding and following a deep passion for something, but one can do worse than to identify the ideas, institutions, career options and even people they dislike and to stop wasting precious time and energy on them.” Very insightful.

    I do think you may have missed Ronald Inglehart’s point. He’s been doing this research for about 3 decades around the world. He’s become famous for demonstrating that 20-somethings who grow up in abundance have the same “rite-of-passage” patterns. You could say that that the way in which many 20-somethings define themselves is “the rite-of-passage that refuses to die.”

    BTW (to Mr. Yellis’ point), in America what it means to be “affluent” in this research is middle-class. According to government data, this would be a median household income of $49,000. As such, most suburban evangelical are technically “affluent”–esp., in light of international comparisons. And nearly everyone reared in America suburbs was reared in abundance. That’s just factual. It’s doesn’t mean “rich” or “wealthy.”

    Most of my post is Bishop’s explanations and distinctions, not mine. The “Bitters,” as I call them, fit with what Inglehart and Bishop describe at length. We actually, then, have the same point that: namely, that this pattern is cyclical. The question I raised was related to there being a different degree of hostility among those that grew up in evangelical communities (which is an indictment about those communities). I grew up United Methodist and I publicly identify myself as “Presbyterian” instead of “evangelical” because I don’t always know what people believe that word to mean. I also don’t publicly call myself a “conservative” because, if you’ve read David Koyzis’ book on political ideology, it would be a bit of an oxymoron. It’s was the “conservatives” who wanted to keep Jim Crow racism in America (because they want to “conserve”–preserve–white privilege). Those are not my people and I’ve never defended them. You said, ” in typical fashion, Bradley is more interested in defending the old.” Is that really accurate? Where have you seem me do this as “typical” (esp. at World Mag). I also don’t know where in the 491-word post I was defending the old. The syncretistic American Republican/Conservative world is not my background and have spent years challenging it directly.

    At any rate, I highlight evangelicalism because in the black church tradition where I was raised, when 20-somethings went through “the need to distance themselves from their parents” process it did not involve public attacks. We just left and didn’t continue doing certain things. There is something particular (that I haven’t figured out yet, honestly) about white evangelical culture raises 20-somethings to have the tone and determination to say the things that I read. Black, Latino, and Asian 20-somethings do seem to put as much energy into this. Minorities 20-somethings just way away and dust of their sandals. I’m curious about what seems to be public bitterness in speech among white 20-somethings. If you can find many black, Latino, or Asian 20-somethings publicly posting similarly I’ll stand corrected. I know there a few but nothing like you find within evangelicalism and “ex-evangelicalism.” Ex-evangelicals seem to be on an “anti-evangelicalism” mission is ways one does not find in other Christian communities–for example, 20-something Catholics, Orthodox, or mainline Protestants just don’t seem to do this. Coming out of Methodism in my early 20’s I just didn’t think about spending time point out “what was wrong” with mainline Protestantism. A bunch of us just moved on.

    In the beginning you said, “this tired, dismissive non-critique is so blatantly self-serving that I can’t help defending the Youngs whenever someone attempts to trot it out as serious analysis.” Actually, it is a real, academic research-based, data supported analytical critique. Again the analysis is from Ronald Inglehart, research professor of political science at the University of Chicago and the World Values Survey ( http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/ ). If you know of any scholars that refute Inglehart’s thesis that 20-somethings reared in abundance do not follow the patterns listed in the Bishop explanation you quoted above I’m open to seeing the data and being corrected on that point as well.

    I guess if I could restate my thesis it could be something like, “does it seem that evangelicalism’s 20-somethings enter the “rite-of-passage-that-refuses-to-die” in ways that seem particularly bitter in tone compared to blacks, Latinos, and Asians which seems to fit with Ronald Inglehart’s thesis from the 1970s. That is, I’m wondering what it is about evangelicalism that does this in ways you do not see the in black church, for example. Since I didn’t grow up in this world I’m wondering what they did to your generation.

    As a GenXer it would be a little odd for me to say something “get a grip and do what you’re told” especially since we were ushered in the emergent church movement before it ended. So that’s in no way my intention. Finally, your generation has some particular challenges that we GenXers did not have in our battles against baby-boomers so I understand your point about finding your own way. I’ll leave with quote from Cornell West, “You can’t lead the people if you don’t love the people. You can’t save the people if you don’t serve the people.”



    PS please excuse any grammatical errors. I think faster than I type.

  9. By the way, it was cool to see my name following “filed under” I had no idea I was important enough for my own tag. Wow. I’m honored.

  10. For anyone’s who is interest in reading Inglehart’s book where he outlines how and why young adults reject the traditions and conservatism of their parent’s generation it’s in his book “The Silent Revolution” (Princeton Univeristy Press, 1977, 482 pages). Here’s a description of his research from wiki:

    In The Silent Revolution (1977) Inglehart discovered a major intergenerational shift in the values of the populations of advanced industrial societies. In his 1989 book Culture Shift in Advanced Industrial Society Inglehart uses a large body of time-series survey data from twenty-six nations gathered from 1970 through 1988 to analyze the cultural changes that are occurring as younger generations gradually replace older ones in the adult population. These changes have far-reaching political implications, and they seem to be transforming the economic growth rates of societies and the kind of economic development that is pursued. Economic, technological, and sociopolitical changes have been changing the cultures of advanced industrial societies during the past several decades. Inglehart examines changes in religious beliefs, work motivation, political conflict, attitudes toward children and families, and attitudes toward divorce, abortion, and homosexuality.

  11. J Mart says:

    I don’t know. Bradley reads like a grown up. Sessions reads like a bitter kid. Just saying…

  12. TimD says:

    As much as I’d like to ignore J Mart’s lack of helpfulness, maybe that comment illuminates something important: are we talking past each other? Are we separated by some massive divide that makes communicating with each other (and therefore understanding each other) impossible? Do we have a translation problem?

    I was offended by Bradley’s article (although his expanded comments here are somewhat helpful) – not that anyone writes to appease me. I’m just frustrated that my spiritual journey (similar to the journey of many in my demographic) gets simplified by evangelical detectives and summarized as fad-chasing, spoiled-brat-bitterness or undisciplined moral compromise. Are you serious? There’s a lot wrong with me, that’s for sure. But I’m not that simple. Lots of days I really wish I could go back to being the evangelical poster child that made everyone so happy. But I can’t. The doubts, the questions, and the sleepless nights have left their mark. I’m doing the best I can – and my desperate attempts to follow Jesus are taking me further away. I can’t go back.

    However, when we try to communicate some of this (as I think Sessions tried to do here), it resonates with those who are living or have lived this type of journey. But it appears to be a foreign language to everyone else.

    We really ought to have a conversation. And if the evangelical church has any desire to learn about what is happening to the 20-somethings, that would be a good start – a conversation. And perhaps you’ll learn that despite our immaturity and foolishness, we’re wrestling with something a whole lot deeper than what you’ve realized to this point.

    • Tim, these are very good questions: are we talking past each other? Are we separated by some massive divide that makes communicating with each other (and therefore understanding each other) impossible? Do we have a translation problem?

      You mentioned that something’s happening to 20-somethings. What would you say that is? Also, you mentioned at the end that many are wrestling with something deeper? Could you explain what you mean? I’m interested to hear more. . .

      • TimD says:

        I’m not sure that the comments section of a blog post is the place for this. I don’t even know where to start in a space this small. Perhaps by email?

        We’re unique individuals with very different circumstances. So I hesitate to say much, as if to pretend that I’m some sort of spokesman. Plus, communication isn’t really my thing. I’m an accountant. There have been better efforts at capturing this on Patrol – Anna’s essay last week is a great example. And Sessions has written a couple times about spiritual journey. Different circumstances but some distinct similarities and common threads. And it’s just not as simple as bitterness, moral compromise, or laziness on Sunday mornings.

        Sure, we are sometimes bitter, sometimes lazy, and sometimes make bad moral choices. But most of us also right-handed too. I get frustrated with the tendency to identify one or two characteristics of church leavers, assume it is a grand discovery, and write as if that fully captures what’s going on.

        Briefly on another point that’s been discussed here. I truly wish I could sever all connections with my religious past and just leave. That would make a lot of things easier. But that would involve severing ties with my family. And that’s not an option. So, I regularly engage with people who think I’ve fallen away from true faith and into some humanistic heresy that lets people drink beer, care about the poor, and want to protect God’s creation.

  13. Dustin says:

    So giving a shit about “the environment…social justice” is being bitter? Caring about Economic Growth and Military Security is being unbitter by extension? I hope Bradley/Bishop are in on their own joke.

    And any institution with a “youth problem” is in good shape. Institutions without youth problems are undynamic and totalitarian. Something the Church always flirts with.

    Also, the next person who refers to “hipster Christianity” gets pooped on. Some of us have crazy ideas like perhaps God asks us to steward the Earth well and maybe look out for our fellow humans instead of expanding capitalism’s gains for those who already have it and making our stockpile of bombs larger at all costs. It’s crazy, yeah, but some of us reach those conclusions via the weird blend of reason/revelation and “giving-a-shit-edness” we might have been given in years of prayer and asking God, and not because we are trying to fit in/rebel with/from any particular group.

    I am almost 30, and cannot believe this kind of myopia exists in so many of our fellow middle agers right now.

    • Thanks Dustin, you have good insight when you mentioned organizations without youth. I’m curious, have you ever considered joining the United Methodist Church (UMC)? One of the good things about the diversity in the kingdom is that different groups of Christians (usually in the form of denominations) “gives a shit,” to use your language, about different things. The United Methodist Church seems like it be better place for you without any of the frustrations of evangelicalism. The UMC tagline is “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” If you go to their website ( http://www.umc.org ) you’ll find what I think you’re looking for in a group of Christians. Click the “Our World” section of the website. It’s a great denomination and there’s really awesome stuff connects with what I gather your interests are at this point. “Giving a shit,” as you say, about the environment and social justice does not make one bitter. There are about 12 million United Methodist involved in justice issues all over the world and I would never call them “bitter.” However, there are very interesting distinctions about 20-somethings in that world who are leaving versus evangelical kids who are leaving their churches. Totally different attitude and tone.

      I’ll be writing on this soon, but evangelicalism is neither an organization nor an institution but a Christian subculture built on the preservation of a culture of white privilege. Bishop explains this in detail in the book “The Big Sort.” Also read Soong-Chan Rah’s book “The Next Evangelicalism.” As a sociological community, like all Christian subcultures, it’s likely not going to change but splinter into new subcultures. May your generation is about to start another one because it’s about a time for something new. We just went through this the emerging church movement that took off in the 1990’s when I was in college. So it’ll be interesting to see how you all distinguish yourselves from us. In an America that’s increasing it’s racial diversity evangelicals attempting to preserve white privilege have been panicking in ways that I think may have really been damaging to today’s now 20-somethings. That’s where I sensing the tension. But, again, I’m just starting to poke around at that this.

      Also, the conclusions you’ve come to aren’t ones that other Christians haven’t already built institutions around. Join in any of the churches in the National Council of Churches ( http://www.ncccusa.org/ ). Evangelicalism, as Rah argues, is in cultural captivity to white, Western cultural norms, and many people who aren’t apart of that culture are bouncing. I wouldn’t say it’s myopia but it is a pattern. You’re asking many questions and have many doubts that others have already thought through.

      What I’m curious about are the differences between the 20-something United Methodists and the 20-something evangelical kids having the similar Christian understandings but do not know each other at all. The 20-something Methodist, Episcopalians, etc. don’t care about evangelicalism and seem to want know part of it. Whereas many of the 20-something evangelicals departing seem to not be plugging into new communions but rather hang around evangelicalism to point out what’s wrong with believing that it can change it as a subculture perhaps. I’m not sure why. But again, I from a Methodist context so I have no idea what’s like to be raised in a conservative evangelical subculture investing in the preservation of white privilege. Seems to me that if you don’t like evangelicalism at all, leave it and be with Christians that practice what you believe.

      As I said, evangelicalism is what it is and it dying because of it. The “crazy ideas” you have are institutionalized and organized ideas in other places. It might just be less frustrating and more peaceful for you to invest your life in communities like the United Methodist Church or the United Church of Christ ( http://www.ucc.org). Neither one of these denominations would EVER turn you away or dismiss you with passions like environmental stewardship and social justice. Ever. I just recently spoke in a UMC church and have great time. The people there are great!! Check them out! (btw, I’m not in the middle agers group just yet, I’m still in my 30s. Still hanging on–haha!)

      Here’s another good link: http://www.rethinkchurch.org/

      Also, if you want to read how expanding markets helps the poor read non-evangelicals like Pope John Paul II especially his encyclical “Centesimus Annus.” I’d love to hear what you think of it. Here’s the link: http://tinyurl.com/5m32e

      • Fitz says:

        Some good points in here. Thank you, Anthony. I guess the only thing that I would add, as one of the evangelicals who left (or is trying to leave) that subculture, many are actually leaving and defecting to other denominations, mainline or episcopal or Catholic in some cases. But I can see how it appears that we are sticking around and pointing out what is wrong with evangelicalism. Just know, that we are doing it from other denominations, for the most part. That is the former (or post) evangelicals that I know aren’t defecting to nothing, but, as the commenter said below, they feel obliged to critique the culture they grew up in. This, I think, is healthy both for evangelicalism (and whatever it will become) and for those who have moved on from it.

        • You’re right Fitz. Yeah, I can see that. I guess my question is why is it that when 20-something mainliners leave they don’t tend to feel the same obligation to critique the culture they grew up in. I grew up in the same Methodist church for about 20 years and, of the several hundred of us that left the denomination completely, I don’t know any 20 or 30 somethings who feel the same obligation to critique like those reared in suburban evangelicalism. I’m not sure how healthy it is for evangelicalism because it’s been the same critiques of every generation of 20-somethings that come of age for at almost 5o years. This is what started the Jesus Movement, then the Seeker-Sensitive movement, then the emerging church movement, etc. The basic same critiques since the 1950s. Much of conservative evangelicalism is a sociological demographic with pre-conditioned cultural norms that haven’t really changed, and probably won’t, for some time. This is why many like Rah are saying that evangelicalism is dead in America. I posted that a few years ago and made a lot of people angry. My question is, why waste time critiquing a coffin that is descending 6-feet under? That is, if Soong-Chan Rah is right, and he might be, it’s a wrap on conservative evangelicalism anyway. Any community committed to sustaining white privilege won’t be around much longer anyway. I wrote about it some here: http://online.worldmag.com/2010/05/26/is-your-church-rah-certified/

          • Fitz says:


            I was thinking about this last night, about the urge to criticize evangelicalism by former-evangelicals and why it doesn’t happen in other denominations. In addition to my friend Busch’s comments below, I think a reason is that evangelicalism is a major cultural force, whereas the influence of mainline denominations is barely felt outside the denominations. I think, therefore, it’s not a matter of being bitter about what we came out of, but being concerned, as Busch says, about the way Christianity is represented by arguably the most visible (aside, maybe, from Catholicism) face of the faith in America.

          • Jon Busch says:

            Yes! I had almost written again to express this exact sentiment but I’d already written like a book already in this comment section so I held back.

      • Jon Busch says:

        Anthony, I think this response gets at what I was asking below. I see here that you’re not encouraging us to leave the Church, but simply to find denominations that are more in line with our thinking. Check me off the list – I went from Baptist to Episcopal, although I am not a confirmed Episcopalian, I just like this particular local church that happens to be Episcopal. I think though that the need to critique comes from our sense of belonging to the Church (the holy, Catholic and apostolic one) and that we feel the evangelical church often does a poor job of representing it. I’m very interested to read your thoughts on how the evangelical church is built on the preservation of white privilege. And I would love to hear, from your perspecitve, why the Evangelical church seems to have done such a poor job reaching the black community. I think also that the Evangelical church (at least the one I grew up in) taught against the Episcopal, UCC and Roman Catholic churches. I was taught that they were not true Christians. I think a lot of us now are fighting back against that because we have discovered that this is simply not true; that there are people of true faith in all these denominations.

  14. Andrew says:

    I think Mr. Bradley just seems a little bitter that there are people out there who are not enamored with his worldview.

    • Hi Andrew, I am bitter about a few things but I’m not bitter about people not being enamored with my worldview.

      I am kind’a about white evangelicals regularly doing stuff like this to me: http://abradleyexposed.blogspot.com/

      • Andrew says:

        I have no idea of your writing beyond the one article, so my comment rests there. I would fall in with a lot of the attitudes you mention there, as would a lot of other folks I know…. but we are all in our mid-forties and 50s. My thinking is that perhaps there are issues to be addressed or simply acknowledge that we are on different journeys. People were brought up in a conservative evangelical environment… but then when they heard other ideas, they abandoned much of their upbringing. But, as was mentioned in an earlier comment, I don’t think it is a bunch of spoiled, young kids. I think there are people who simply disagree with your perspective.

        Your statement – “If you’re really “done” with something you don’t waste time attacking it; you just ignore it and leave it alone.” is something I hear Mormons here in SLC say to ex-mormons all the time. But that attitude is just simplistic…. you don’t spend a decade or more getting something drilled into you, that it is the only option, that you will fall under judgement otherwise… then turn it off like a light switch. You can say you are not bitter, but your article painted me an entirely different picture.

        • Andrew, what perspective did I articulate that they disagree with? Also, like I’ve said before when people leave the mainline Protestant denominations they don’t do commit themselves to doing what I see younger evangelicals doing. I got Methodism drilled for twenty years and then just “turned off the light switch.” It would only make sense for me to be bitter if I was from evangelicalism and was upset that the 20-somethings are leaving “US.”

      • Fitz says:

        Also. That link. Wow. That guy is a jerk. And, I think we’ll all give you a pass on being bitter about that. Can that be considered libel do you think?

  15. Jim says:

    You said: “Somewhere, I’m sure the phantom young evangelical described in this amazing paragraph must exist.”
    On the other side of the coin, I represent a demographic that seems to be missing in many critiques of the “older evangelical crowd” I pastor a church that does get it (or, at least I think we do). We give great place to our young people, and not to simply “fall in line with our views,” but to lead into the future. So, when I read about the critique here of evangelicalism (I read Mere Churchianity as well), I am always wondering “Where does this go on?”
    Not in my tribe,… so much.
    As always, I enjoy the read. 🙂

  16. Justin says:

    Great critique of Bradley’s article. Bradley’s article, while not without insight, seems to betray a misunderstanding of our generation, or at least an oversimplification. However, I was also impressed by Anthony’s comments and willingness to engage discussion on this page.

    I think David makes an important point: “Twenty-somethings, myself included, for the most part don’t know enough yet to know for sure what they are for. (Nor, for that matter, do many middle-aged adults.) Figuring out what’s wrong, though, is a pretty important step to getting there. ”

    The trick here is to always remember that negativity should be a means to an end, and at least hint at the ideal, and that when we define ourselves by negatives, it’s only because we haven’t yet found our way to the point of defining ourselves by positives. Therefore, even brutally honest “negativity” should always be expressed with humility and openness.

  17. Mary says:

    This topic keeps becoming broader and broader. If racial and cultural differences are going to be brought into the conversation, that is a distinction that should have been made in the original article. White people value being direct about their opinions and feelings, while other cultures don’t. I’m not saying one way is better than the other, but I think that is a big factor in Mr. Bradley’s questions about racial distinctions in the comments. Respecting one’s elders as compared to treating them as equals is another factor in the cultural aspect.

    I’m also surprised that no one has mentioned the simple issue of maturity. Young adults are still growing and are still extremely naive. This is not a bad thing either, but it calls for older adults with wisdom and maturity to guide and mentor those younger than them–with patience and respect, I believe, the same treatment young adults should give their elders. Both sides will receive what they give; unfortunately, this seems to birth an endless cycle of unnecessary bitterness.

    I’m 20 years old, and white (though I’m still not quite sure what race has to do with it) and I currently disagree with my parents on just about everything (typical). I don’t fight with them, or publicly humiliate them, and if this happens with other young Christians, then I can see why this might be a problem. However, I find that exploring the flip side of the coin from my conservative upbringing has been one of the healthiest things I’ve done so far. I have grown an extreme amount in my faith, beliefs, values, and maturity from exploring the theologies of different denominations, different political values, etc. Yes, there are certain bad experiences that I’m bitter about within Christianity, but in some cases bitterness is healthy as well. It forces one to ask questions that need to be asked. And I can say that among my peers in my large Christian community, most are seeking out what God wants while maintaining respect (at least publicly) for the older generation.

    • Mary says:

      Also, I should add that the people my age I know who are truly bitter with conservative Christianity are currectly Athiests, or worse. Those of us bitter young’uns who have stayed in the faith give our opinions to our elders because we see problems, we would like to move forward with various solutions, and we want to be listened to (and treated like the rest of adults).

  18. […] been over this a few times before, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I find this line of argument not just […]

  19. […] example, a recent post by David Sessions (a self-proclaimed non-evangelical commentator) regarding this situation has only one small allusion to the biblical treatment of […]

  20. Veja Aqui says:

    It’s kind of hard to talk about religion because we let our emotions take control of ourselves.

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