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Friday, October 06, 2006

The Christian Ghetto

Erik Jacobs for The New York Times
Ron Luce, founder of Teen Mania, with concertgoers
at an event in Amherst, Mass., last month that
combined music and evangelical exercises.

Evangelicals Fear the Loss of Their Teenagers
Published: October 6, 2006

Despite their packed megachurches, their political clout and their increasing visibility on the national stage, evangelical Christian leaders are warning one another that their teenagers are abandoning the faith in droves.

At an unusual series of leadership meetings in 44 cities this fall, more than 6,000 pastors are hearing dire forecasts from some of the biggest names in the conservative evangelical movement.

Their alarm has been stoked by a highly suspect claim that if current trends continue, only 4 percent of teenagers will be “Bible-believing Christians” as adults. That would be a sharp decline compared with 35 percent of the current generation of baby boomers, and before that, 65 percent of the World War II generation.

While some critics say the statistics are greatly exaggerated (one evangelical magazine for youth ministers dubbed it “the 4 percent panic attack”), there is widespread consensus among evangelical leaders that they risk losing their teenagers.

“I’m looking at the data,” said Ron Luce, who organized the meetings and founded Teen Mania, a 20-year-old youth ministry, “and we’ve become post-Christian America, like post-Christian Europe. We’ve been working as hard as we know how to work — everyone in youth ministry is working hard — but we’re losing.”

The board of the National Association of Evangelicals, an umbrella group representing 60 denominations and dozens of ministries, passed a resolution this year deploring “the epidemic of young people leaving the evangelical church.”

Among the leaders speaking at the meetings are Ted Haggard, president of the evangelical association; the Rev. Jerry Falwell; and nationally known preachers like Jack Hayford and Tommy Barnett.

Genuine alarm can be heard from Christian teenagers and youth pastors, who say they cannot compete against a pervasive culture of cynicism about religion, and the casual “hooking up” approach to sex so pervasive on MTV, on Web sites for teenagers and in hip-hop, rap and rock music. Divorced parents and dysfunctional families also lead some teenagers to avoid church entirely or to drift away.

Over and over in interviews, evangelical teenagers said they felt like a tiny, beleaguered minority in their schools and neighborhoods. They said they often felt alone in their struggles to live by their “Biblical values” by avoiding casual sex, risqué music and videos, Internet pornography, alcohol and drugs.

When Eric Soto, 18, transferred from a small charter school to a large public high school in Chicago, he said he was disappointed to find that an extracurricular Bible study attracted only five to eight students. “When we brought food, we thought we could get a better turnout,” he said. They got 12.

Chelsea Dunford, a 17-year old from Canton, Conn., said, “At school I don’t have a lot of friends who are Christians.”

The reason people leave fundie churches is because they've been raised in ghetto where they are sold a Christian world and most other people don't live like that. Megachurches are the biggest sign of a decreasing committment to church.

Once, church was a committment like the Rotary Club or the Boy Scouts. Now, it's a movie. You go, you do some other things and you go to watch football. Without a community committment to a church, how can you feel you belong to anything. And then the fear based teaching breaks down when you live on your own and your beliefs change.

Also, a lot of kids think it's bullshit as is. I was watching an HBO documentary on Katie Morgan the porno star. Not only was she like genius bright, IQ in the 160's, but also a former fundie. She hated her upbringing and rebelled as hard as one could.

The fundies turned church from a local community service to ideology and people move away from ideologies as they grow older. Also, many of the conversion techniques, like fundie ministers in the military, are coersive. So when they live on their own, they find their beliefs have changed.

Once you leave the Christian ghetto, the world becomes a vastly more interesting place.

posted by Steve @ 12:27:00 AM

12:27:00 AM

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