My kid is rebelling against religion.
She’s not alone. According to a 2007 study from Lifeway Research, 70 percent of young Christians will leave the faith during young adulthood, and only 35 percent of them return.
We can’t blame them. For many of them, evangelical Christianity focuses too much on condemnation and not enough on grace and mercy. There’s no relationship with a holy and loving father, but there are a slew of religious rules and regulations that dictate the “Thou Shalts” and “Thou Shalt Nots.”
Thou shalt eateth the cold spiritual white bread that is laid out before you. Thou shalt not crave a hearty and warm faith stew with meat, spices and complex flavors.
I believe teens like my daughter not only crave the meatier content, they require it to live and grow. Overly simplistic dogma doesn’t resonate with them; they desperately need a faith community that respects their intellect and desire to dive deeper into the hows and whys of Christian life.
So I’m at peace with her rebelling against religion.
Because religion is awful.
- While we taught our kids that grace and salvation were available to all, others in the faith said and demonstrated that those gifts were not for those who failed to meet holiness standards. A gay teen? Condemned to hell. A righteous teen who looks down her nose at a pregnant peer? Come on in, the gates are open.
- While Christ fought humiliating patriarchy by elevating women, others have said and demonstrated that women are eternally “less than men” simply because they came second in the creation story. A woman isn’t worthy to teach or lead men? Tell that to Deborah and Joan of Arc.
- When our teens ask hard questions about why a loving God would allow evil and suffering, they’re met by trite, “God is mysterious” and “You need to read your Bible more/spend more time in prayer” responses. A suicidal teen? Pray more. A young woman who’s watching cancer kill her mother? It’s God’s will.
Despite my initial pearl-clutching, I am now able to embrace my daughter’s situation with honesty and transparency.
I stopped trying to put on the perfect Christian face at church, and I openly shared our struggles with members of our Sunday School class. Within a few days, other parents began to confess their teens were facing the same issues. They too had immensely bright and sensitive teens who questioned the existence of God, who openly despised the hypocrisy and bullying they witnessed from their church peers, and who desperately need real answers to serious questions.
More than anything else, these teens also desperately need grace and mercy – the grace and mercy to question God. They don’t need church to be a hip playground, they need church members and leaders with open hearts and open minds who are willing to listen and talk about the messy, painful and confusing parts of life.
Let’s get messy and ditch the white bread.
A few resources that helped my family:
- Why Not Women : A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership helped me teach my daughter about Christian women and their true value in the faith.
- Is God to Blame? Moving Beyond Pat Answers to the Problem of Suffering provided me with intelligent, faith-based responses to the age-old questions about suffering.