Life Over Lamborghinis: The Reasons Young America is Trending Pro-Life

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(This article was originally published at TimeofGrace.org.)

My generation, the millennial generation, tends to take a lot of flak for moral relativism, sense of entitlement, and an “everybody gets a trophy” hypersensitivity. Fair enough. I’m not crazy about that either and as a pastor am regularly addressing such issues.

But I’d encourage Christian leaders (and Christians in general) who’ve been disheartened by this generation’s less-than-spectacular Sunday morning church attendance to not write them off too quickly. There’s reason to be optimistic.

Specifically, there is legitimate, renewed hope for Christians that Roe v. Wade, which has made abortion legal in our nation for the past 40-plus years, might eventually be overturned. If so, millennials will have played a large role in it.

For starters, the abortion debate is changing due to the fact that young pro-choice enthusiasts are waning. Since millennials have lived their entire lives with abortion as legal; it’s not really considered by them to be a “right” worth fighting for anymore. On the other hand, pro-life youth are as active and adamant as ever.

Nancy Keenan, former president of NARAL, the country’s oldest abortion-rights group, even knows this. This is the reason she stepped down several years back. She recognized that the face of pro-choice today is a postmenopausal baby boomer. This contrasts the continuously fresh face of the pro-life movement. Keenan herself, commenting on a recent March for Life campaign in D.C., suggested, “I just thought, my gosh, they are so young. There are so many of them, and they are so young.”

Second, millennials are inherently sensitive and, therefore, inclusive. Since the Columbine High School massacre in April 1999, beginning with Georgia, every single U.S. state has adopted anti-bullying legislation. This generation has been taught from day 1 to be inclusive of all, sympathetic to those in need, and go out of their way to protect the oppressed. This is the reason why millennials were the ones who made same-sex marriage the law of the land. Yes, I understand there are no millennials on the Supreme Court. Make no mistake though; this generation’s overwhelming support for same-sex marriage, due to their inclusive and influential disposition, was largely responsible for this.

Here’s the catch: the same impulse that led millennials to protect homosexuals, whom they perceived to be legislatively marginalized, is moving that same group to recognize that aborted children are the ULTIMATE in bully victims. They are the minority with literally no voice. Right or wrong, millennials carry a lot of guilt from the unjust treatment of previous generations, and they’re consequently trying very hard to counteract that.

Third, if we make any attempt to eliminate our biases, the science is suggesting that the tissue being aborted absolutely constitutes human life. Bernard Nathanson, one of the cofounders of NARAL, had a change of heart later in life. What caused his shift in attitude about abortion? The invention of the ultrasound. Advanced technology made it undeniably evident that the cells growing in pregnant mothers were, in fact, fully a human person.

Millennials are inclined to trust the best technology available. They’re smart enough to recognize that if we found the exact same living cell cluster on Mars, NASA would be proclaiming, “We’ve found extraterrestrial LIFE!” So it cuts both ways. If you put those cells in a human woman, you have to call that life too.

Finally, and perhaps most important, we’ve now seen the seventh video released by David Daleiden, the project leader at the Center for Medical Progress. The most recent video shows Holly O’Donnell, a former Planned Parenthood technician, recounting the horror of being asked to cut open a baby’s face in order to harvest its brain. This is the same fetus from which, moments earlier, Holly’s colleague had shown her the still-beating heart. Never mind the “technology.” This woman’s own natural senses told her this was a human.

This video has come on the heels of numerous recorded statements by Planned Parenthood doctors that most have characterized as fairly callous. The most infamous of these comments was made by Dr. Mary Getter, who haggled prices for baby parts over a casual lunch, joking, “I want a lamborghini.” Most generations probably disliked that. Millennials, however, are uniquely calibrated to be disgusted by such a thought of profiting off the weak.

Furthermore, millennials are also conditioned to think that people lie to them. Marketers have been lying to them from birth. That’s the reason these videos are so important. Videos don’t lie. Technology doesn’t lie. There’s no “out of context” argument here. We’re not going to forget all this anytime soon, because its graphic content is available on YouTube, hits counting.

I do want to offer a word of caution here for Christians though, not to stifle enthusiasm that the tide appears to be turning against abortion. If this occurs, many of us would consider it to be the greatest thing that’s happened socially in this generation.

But my encouragement would be to stifle self-righteousness.

It’s very easy to fall into “I can’t believe THOSE people did THAT” type of thinking and speaking. So let’s not forget that Scripture is clear that every single one of us is responsible for the murder of God’s innocent Son, Jesus. This was, in a sense, the quintessential abortion, the greatest injustice against a truly blameless child.

“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23,24).

We all caused Jesus’ death. And the debt for all of our sins was paid in full by the blood from that death. At this point then thoughts like “better” or “worse” or words like them or us are not only not helpful; they’re not accurate. We’re all guilty and all saved exclusively by grace. Only when we realize that will we be able to boldly yet humbly share the truth about both the sanctity of human life and the beauty of life in Christ with the world.

Millennials are the generation that is criticized for getting everything they want. Well, as they’re getting older and their values are changing, they might actually now want something we, and the world, actually need—the defense of unprotected life. As our society seems to be moving in this direction, perhaps our hearts will beat more in rhythm with that of our God, who inspired the psalmist to say:

For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well
 (Psalm 139:13,14).

One last thing—if you’ve had an abortion, or know someone who has, I’d encourage you to read this post.

 

Ministering to Millennials (Part II – Who Are They and What’s Driving Them Away?)

(image credit to philosophybistro.com)

(image credit to philosophybistro.com)

Last week we said that the research suggests Americans are less frequently labeling themselves “Christian” and those who are have lost a great deal of Christian orthodoxy in beliefs and practice, i.e. basic Apostles’ Creed truths and regular public worship. The Millennial generation, by far, is the one that is disengaging from Christian churches most, and in historic numbers.

So who are these difficult-to-please “Millennials?”

Technically, someone of the “Millennial” generation was born between 1980 and 2000. However, as mentioned previously, when it comes to worship habits and other areas involving engagement in Christian faith, there is generally a large behavioral difference starting during the college years. So, while as of today, a 15-year-old is technically a Millennial, the faith engagement of a 15-year-old is comparatively quite good in our country. For our purposes here, when “Millennial” is used, it’s primarily then referencing an independent adult somewhere in the ages of early twenties to late thirties. Many generational researchers consider that the better categorization for Millennials.[1]

These Millennials are currently getting a pretty bad rap in the media. In his YAHOO! FINANCE column, Rick Newman notes that CNBC’s research has discovered a general impression of Millennials in the workplace as “narcissistic, godless, precious, lazy.” But Newman makes the case that Millennials are simply products of their Boomer parents. At least in our country, Boomers, rapidly increasing the nation’s debt and emptying the coffers of Social Security and Medicare, will never be remembered as careful stewards of the institutions they inherited. Furthermore, the tremendous institutional skepticism that Boomers birthed, Millennials have now nurtured. Newman says, “Why is anybody surprised Millennials are turning out to be cynical, untrusting and mercenary? In the world they see, those traits are necessary to survive.”[2]

Cable television entrepreneur Bob Buford discussed the uniqueness of Millennials in a fascinating interview he conducted with researcher David Kinnaman. Noting the shift in the self-assessment of various generations, he said that, in his surveying, when the Elder generation was asked to describe themselves, the most commonly used words/phrases were: “World War II and Depression, smarter, honest, work ethic, and values and morals.” Boomers described their generation using terms like “work ethic, respectful, values and morals, and smarter.” Busters (or Gen X) used terms like “technology use, work ethic, conservative or traditional, smarter, and respectful.” And then he noted Millennials. The phrases they most commonly used? “Technology use, music and pop culture, liberal or tolerant, smarter, and clothes.” He concluded, “Where has ‘respectful’ gone? Where is ‘work ethic’? To me, this shows that the next generation is not just sort of different; they are discontinuously different.”[3]

Scott Hess is the VP of Insights at TRU, one of the most respected and influential generational marketing consultants in the world. Hess has been quoted by major periodicals as a foremost authority on American youth. In his San Francisco TED Talk in 2011, his presentation “Millennials: Who They Are & Why We Hate Them” chronicled the major differences between Millennials and the generation before them, the Busters or Gen-Xers.[4] Citing some clear and drastic generational differences, Hess says that where Busters were lean-back slackers, Millennials are lean-forward engagers. Busters were cliquish and judgmental. Millennials are inclusive and tolerant. Busters were anti-corporate. Millennials believe in commerce guided by conscience. Busters perceived parents as authority figures. Millennials perceive them as friends and helpers. Busters consumed mass media. Millennials prefer personal media.[5]

Perhaps the best way to illustrate the nature of Millennials is by deconstructing their favorite brand for five years running – Apple. Apple is a premium commodity in its genre, yet still accessible to almost all. There is no such thing as “high end” Apple. Everyone gets the same one, everyone starts in the same spot, but then you can go crazy with templated personalization. The technology is both fun and massively practical. Constant innovations and updates are applauded, not seen as frustrating change. Finally, the Apple brand also feels a bit like a movement. They have added philosophy to form and function, the perception that they are advancing humanity. More than any brand, Apple embodies the spirit of Millennials.

What’s Driving Millennials Away?

We’ve already established that Millennials are leaving churches and that Millennials are “discontinuously different” in their outlook on life from previous generations. But what is driving them away? To simply say “this is a wicked and godless generation” and “the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:3) might apply here, or it might simply be dismissive, failing to acknowledge that we have yet to do the humbling, difficult, personal-preference-sacrificing work the Apostle Paul alludes to when he says, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:22-23) In other words, while acknowledging that they, like us, are sinful and naturally resistant to the truth of God (Rom. 8:7), perhaps ministering to Millennials is primarily a matter of acknowledging that they think differently, not inherently better or worse, but different, from many of us.

For starters, Millennials had a massively different upbringing than previous generations. Kids today are eight times more likely to have come into the world without married parents than were Boomers.[6] Understandably, without the influence of a healthy, functioning parental unit, they are then slower to grow up. And because the two figures (i.e. parents) that humans are created to trust most intrinsically cannot fully be counted on, not as a unit/institution anyways, these young adults are tremendously skeptical. Because their God-given authorities have often proven themselves untrustworthy, Millennials have had to navigate a different route to find authentic authorities. Authority tends to come only after personal investment and communal accountability, i.e. genuine connection, has been established. In other words, don’t expect Millennials to willfully submit to long-standing systems or structures of expertise. Traditional structures have largely failed them from birth. They feel very little sense of obligation and therefore care far less about pre-existing “rules” than their predecessors. Diana Butler Bass states the shift in the perception of authority like this:

“In the post-World War II period, Western societies underwent what philosopher Charles Taylor calls ‘an expressivist revolution,’ whereby obligatory group identity – whether of nation, family, or church – was replaced with a new sense of individual authenticity and the ‘right of choices’ based in personal fulfillment. External authorities gave way to internal ones, as we moved away from conformity to social structures toward the authentic self in society. Whether the switch is good or bad is beside the point. This revolution has happened.”[7]

Without question, personal choice now trumps social obligation. Consumer mentality wins over organizational loyalty. This has significantly shaped the landscape of American church. What is a congregation to do if they try to enact church discipline? Only 59 percent of Americans currently believe in hell and far fewer think there is any chance that they, their loved ones, or the neighbors they don’t even know, would ever go there.[8] This young American “under church discipline” will simply find a new church that will be more accepting of their behavior, beliefs, or desires. Much like the average coffee chain that literally has nearly 100,000 possible options for drinks, the Millennial who doesn’t like some things that his/her church teaches will simply determine that this church “isn’t for me.” Unfortunately, the desperation for growth and survival has led many churches to accommodate. As we’ll see later, this is ironically one of the things that Millennials claim they dislike about churches – they are too shallow and unable to change lives.

Currently, Millennials don’t see much difference between Christianity and other religions, or more specifically, between the Bible, the Qur’an, and the Book of Mormon. Nearly 60 percent of them believe these works offer the same basic spiritual truths as compared to only 33 percent of adults over sixty-four.[9] As disheartening for Christianity is the fact that so few Millennials (less than 1 in 5) consider any sort of spirituality to be important in their lives.[10] In some ways, this is the scariest possible news. If more young adults were actually antagonistic about Christianity, then they’d at least have it on their radar, investigating its claims and considering the cause of their animosity. But they’re default is distrust. They’re agnostic about everything. They have so much difficulty untangling who in their lives they can really rely on that something like supernatural religious claims almost seems too undecipherable.

Consequently, Millennials rely heavily upon what feels right. What seems fair is more powerful to them than what someone tells them is objectively right. Since so many truth claims are scientifically untestable, and since Millennials grew up hating the relational dissolution they experienced with their parents, they are constantly pushing for unity. Boomers were often skeptical of others but caustic in their attitudes. Millenials want to get along. They are forgiving and relational and have great difficulty understanding why other generations don’t feel the same way. They love family. They long for togetherness. They hate constant negative speech about other political parties, have no time for comments that suggest racial bias, and will opt out of any Christian church that is obsessed with pointing out the flaws in other Christian churches.

Perhaps surprisingly, in light of all that that’s been said, Millennials still largely believe in God. While Millennials tend to be the most unbelieving in the United States, still only 1.6 percent of the overall American population claims to be atheist. When you add together the percentages of Americans who are certain of God’s existence with those who say they have some doubts, you get to approximately 92 percent of the population.[11] That number is fairly historically consistent with previous generations.

So why are so many Millennials leaving churches? David Kinnaman says:

“When someone uses this idiom (“You lost me”), they are suggesting that something hasn’t translated, that the message has not been received. ‘Wait, I don’t understand. You lost me.’ This is what many (Millennials) are saying to the church…it’s not that they’re not listening; it’s that they can’t understand what we’re saying…The transmission of faith from one generation to the next relies on the messy and sometimes flawed process of young people finding meaning for themselves in the traditions of their parents….But what happens when the process of relationships and sources of wisdom change? What happens to the transference of faith when the world we know slips out from under our collective feet? We have to find new processes – a new mind – that make sense of faith in our new reality.”[12]

Are Millennials a lost cause? Of course not. Let’s not forget, the Holy Spirit’s basic work is to take those who are dead and make them alive (Eph. 2:1-5). It’s no less miraculous that God awakened believers in previous generations where universal morality, recognized authority structures, and belief in biblical inerrancy weren’t in question. God can and will accomplish what he desires with this generation as well. However, he has tasked us with the unique, beautiful, messy responsibility of mission work to this “discontinuously different” generation.

The things that obviously don’t change? First, we continue to recognize that our true power to make impact for God’s Kingdom is the dynamite of the gospel (Rom. 1:16). Second, we come before God’s throne in prayer, asking for wisdom, opportunity, and blessing (1 Tim. 2:1-4). Third, we approach mission work to Millennials with the humility that comes from having applied the gospel to our own hearts, understanding that the only reason we count ourselves as God’s children is because, by sheer grace expressed through our Savior Jesus, while we were dead in sin, God rescued us (Rom. 5:8). We can unabashedly and accurately admit to Millennials (and mankind) that we are all fundamentally more alike than we are different – we are all sinners gifted with salvation by the grace of Christ Jesus.

With that in mind, we can work to overcome the most common negative perceptions that Millennials undeniably have about churches and the Christians who attend them.

….

What are those negative perceptions? I’ll have 8 of the most important ones for you next week. Thanks for reading! 

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(image credit to aldianews.com)

[1] Jason Dorsey. “The Top 10 Millennials & Gen Y Questions Answered” http://jasondorsey.com/millennials/the-top-gen-y-questions-answered/

[2] Rick Newman. “If Millennials Are Jerks, Blame the Baby-Boomers” http://finance.yahoo.com/news/if-millennials-are-jerks–blame-the-baby-boomers-200028612.html

[3] Kinnaman, pgs. 37-38

[4] Scott Hess, TEDxSF – “Millennials: Who They Are & Why We Hate Them,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P-enHH-r_FM

[5] Another way of painting the generational difference is to look at late night television. Millennials largely now prefer Jimmy Fallon in contrast to Busters/Boomers, who prefer David Letterman (or Jimmy Kimmel). Many Busters/Boomers consider Fallon a little flaky and Letterman witty. Millennials see Fallon as funny and Letterman as kind of a jerk. Letterman is combative and exclusive. Fallon is self-effacing and inclusive. Who is “better” is largely an issue of generational perception. Consider John Walters’ “Fallon Is the King on YouTube but Not on the Night’s Talk Shows”, http://www.newsweek.com/fallon-king-youtube-not-nights-talk-shows-305629

[6] Kinnaman, pgs. 46-47

[7] Bass, pg. 141

[8] Ibid., pg. 42

[9] Ibid, pg. 51

[10] Rainer, pg. 22

[11] Bass, pg. 49

[12] Kinnaman, pg. 39