The Barna Group is a well Christian survey firm that is respected for the quality of its work while, at the same time, strongly endorsing a conservative Evangelical approach to the faith, particularly among those whom they call “born again.” So it was a bit of a surprise to receive their latest update on September 24 revealing that a growing percentage of young people between the ages of 16 and 29, both Christians and others, have a negative view of Christianity. Only 16% of non-Christian youth have a positive view of Christianity, according to their findings. And only 3% have a positive view of Evangelicals. They are joined in that attitude by church going youth; apparently 80% of them agree that Christians are judgmental, hypocritical, too political and obsessed with being anti-homosexual. On our local college campus Christians (as represented by a very conservative campus fellowship once a part of the Intervarsity Christian Fellowship) are caricatured as being dull, dense, narrow minded, rude, holier-than-thou, bible-thumping jerks.
For the most part, these attitudes can be laid a the feet of the so-called Christian Right epitomized by a few well known televangelists and certain church related organizations promoting what they call “family values.” I believe that we Episcopalians, and most other “main-line” churches that have been faithful to the classical and progressive traditions of the Church, offer a far different approach that is more deeply rooted in the gospel message and Christ’s commandment to love one another as he loved us. But we have been miserable failures as bold evangelists willing to proclaim that with power and conviction. We have been too much concerned with defending ourselves against fundamentalist accusations or wringing our hands at the daunting tasks that confront us. We have been too easily distracted by a few dissenting voices determined to wreak havoc on our unity in Christ.
The same Barna Group has time and again confirmed that there is a desperate spiritual hunger out there, especially among young people. We know what will satisfy that hunger. We know where to find it. We know how to serve it up in generous proportions. We can assert with all integrity that through Scripture, tradition and reason we offer an intellectually valid and exciting engagement with God in Christ Jesus that encompasses the wholeness of God’s love for all persons. Respecting the dignity of every human being and doing our best to seek and serve Christ in all persons, we recognize that we are but jars of clay full of our own cracks, leaks and limitations. We have no warrant to be judgmental. But we do have a warrant to be bold in proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ that opens all of life, now and to eternity, to all persons at all times in all places with no exceptions.