Teenage Mutant Christians? Why Do Christians Really Leave the Faith?
When I spotted the CNN headline, More teenagers adopting ‘mutant’ Christianity, followed by “Author: More teens becoming ‘fake’ Christians,” I inwardly groaned and wondered if someone else was making the connection with eclectic spirituality. Instead it was a pitch for Kenda Creasy Dean’s book, Almost Christian, and a story that read like a scare tactic for parents of teens who fear their children will grow up and leave the Christian faith. There’s a lot of blame placed in the article, with the conclusions drawn from the author’s “in-depth interviews” of teens who were indifferent about being Christians. I also read the article as a call to parents to get tougher on their kids.
Two points I’d like to make, both based on my personal observations and in-depth conversations with people of all ages over the past decade.
1. You should be passionate about your beliefs. If not, then don’t call yourself by that religious affiliation. If you’re not passionate about your beliefs, it’s tantamount to fraud.
Maybe these teens are indifferent about their faith because Christian has become the expected way to classify oneself when an American is asked about religion. It pops up everywhere—not just in conversation but in write-ups for awards at work and on dating sites. The same people often will talk about not ever going to church or the social aspects of church and not seem to make the connection with spirituality…which we assume one would find at church. Idle talk at a water cooler about what happened at church last Sunday will more likely include what someone wore and shouldn’t have, who was there with whose ex, or some particularly detestable drama that should have its own reality TV show, “The Real Christians of the Local First Baptist Church.” Sometimes there’s mention of a particularly meaningful sermon, but when the discussion turns to spirituality—when and if it does—the talk is very personal, about the close-to-the-bone situation, about God, about hurt and healing and forgiveness and compassion and figuring it all out. And none of that is specific to Christianity, but the tone is much higher and lighter in purity of spirit. Many of the people I meet who claim to be Christians aren’t practicing Christians. It’s more like they had to choose a religion and Christianity was more familiar than anything else on the list…being it’s the best known religion in America.
Keep in mind that the fastest growing religion in the US is not Wicca or Islam or Satanism or The Cult of Lorna, but none of the above or unaffiliated. For many who would otherwise call themselves Christian, perhaps eh, whatever might be the more accurate classification, even though it would certainly lessen the numbers of “Christian America.”
This news story seems to say that teens leave the Christian faith they’re raised in because they’re not passionate about it. If that’s true, maybe they should be exploring other faiths, other belief systems, to see if they’re more passionate about a different form of spirituality. I definitely recommend exploring different belief systems over forcing your teens into going to church every time the doors open, drilling them to make sure they stick to tightly-structured interpretations of Christian belief out of fear that they might become church drop-outs or “unchurched.”
2. If you want children and others to follow your belief system, then live it yourself and be the best role model for it you can be.
Technically, I am considered by Christians to be “unchurched,” because—even though I’m still an inactive member of the First Baptist Church in Donalsonville, Georgia—I no longer attend Baptist worship services, regularly or irregularly. Never mind that I’ve been a Wiccan Third Degree High Priestess since 2004, that I strive to live each day in the sacred way, that I’m quite often mistaken for a “good Christian” because of my compassion and kindness toward others. To many Christians, I am not considered to have a religion unless I have theirs, and they don’t bother to find out how much we actually have in common or that the God I worship now is the same one I worshipped as a devout Christian. More to the point, they cannot understand why I—or anyone—would ever leave the Christian religion.
My reason is similar to what I hear from many other Wiccans and Pagans who have left behind a religion, but never left behind God. Probably half of the Wiccans I know were raised as Christians, Baptists in particular. Another good percentage of converts came from Catholicism, already rich in ritual and an understanding of Trinity. Most describe it as I have…like “coming home.” Almost every convert from Christianity has a familiar story—either the hypocrisy or mistreatment drove them away. Not one incident, but time and again.
For me, it was the hypocrites, all the way up to the Chairman of the Board of Deacons to the Pastor and his staff. So many of the people telling the youth of my hometown church how we needed to live and what we should believe simply didn’t live it themselves. The ones who made the biggest impression on me actively did not live by Christian principles. So when I left home for college, I left the Baptist Church. It wasn’t, as Kenda Creasy Dean alleges, because I wasn’t passionate about my beliefs, but because my Christian beliefs seemed out of place with so many of the people around me. It was the people in the church itself who caused me to decide to leave it.
I later wanted my children exposed to the Southern Baptist brand of Christianity I grew up with so they could make up their own minds. I also exposed them to other belief systems, so they could find which form of Deity resonated best for them (in other words, which form of God spoke to them). I allowed them to attend church with my dad, but that stopped when my older daughter was nine years old. She came home after witnessing the ongoing mistreatment of several old men by more aggressive adults in the church and announced to me that she wanted absolutely no part of it. I told her it was her choice, that I would not force her to go back, but if she ever wanted to, she could. She didn’t.
Do you think that children don’t notice if you don’t practice what you preach to them? If they notice at the tender age of nine, do you think they’ll still give adults a pass when they hit their teen years?
I’m not saying that Christianity is the only religion with its share of hypocrites. I can attest to having discovered plenty of hypocrites, drama queens, and petty minds in Wicca and paganism as well, with a few being so inept at following their own guiding ethical principles that my children have shied away from involvement with Wicca at times.
I do still think that the best way of encouraging (if that’s what you want to do) someone to join your religious beliefs is to live your life by those standards, being the best Christian/Wiccan/etc you can be. It’s called living by example, and when your favorite teens see what works for you, they’ll be much more likely to continue with it or return to it because they’ve seen first hand what it means to know God through that religion.