Younger Americans aspire to build a world marked by love and justice. But they don’t see much of that in church. Read Union President Rev. Dr. Serene Jones’s op-ed featured in Religion News Service below or online here.
Far-right politicians and influencers are on a rampage to impose their views on all Americans.
They’re pushing for book bans, unfettered access to guns, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, abortion restrictions and more — all in the name of “God.”
These sorts of hate-filled biblical interpretations might appeal to politicians’ bright-red bases. But overwhelmingly — at the ballot box and beyond — young people are showing us that they will not buy into them.
Quite frankly, for too many young people, religion means embracing weapons that kill their peers. It means stopping them from having control over their bodies. It means restricting people from loving who they want to love.
By and large, young Americans don’t want to be part of that. They want to join communities that provide safety, support and acceptance.
Just look at some of the purportedly “Christian” messages young Americans have heard recently.
This month, Missouri State Rep. Brad Hudson — a pastor and the sponsor of a looming bill to ban gender-affirming care for minors — said that he would advise adults seeking to transition to “embrace the way that God made them.”
North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson — who just launched his gubernatorial campaign — recently stated that God formed him to fight against LGBTQ+ rights and that flying a rainbow flag in a church is a “direct spit in the face of God almighty.”
Days after a shooter slaughtered three children and three adults at Christian Covenant School, far-right influencer Charlie Kirk said that gun deaths are worth it “so that we can have the Second Amendment to protect our other God-given rights.”
And as state representatives debated a draconian 6-week abortion ban in Florida, several lawmakers cited their religious beliefs to support the bill.
Young people are wholeheartedly rejecting these messages. In recent months, young people have spearheaded major protests to condemn a wide variety of far-right efforts — like loose gun rules in Tennessee and the silencing of trans lawmaker Rep. Zooey Zephyr.
Young voters also showed up in unprecedented numbers to resoundingly elect a pro-choice judge to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Simultaneously, young people are going to church less often and increasingly consider themselves religiously unaffiliated. In fact, recent data shows that nearly half of Gen Zers have no religious affiliation.
That’s no coincidence. They simply don’t feel like they can connect with traditional faith institutions. In fact, a brand-new survey from PRRI found that 30% of people who switched religions said that they were turned off by the religion’s negative teachings about or treatment of LGBTQ+ people.
Far-right leaders know they’re losing with young people.
But rather than reexamine their religious messages, they’re doubling down — and hoping censorship will save the day. They’re banning books, stopping truthful discussions of our history and pushing religion in public schools — yet more unChristian displays of power.
The reality is, young people are open to faith and spirituality in some form. Fortunately, beneath the screams of far-right Christian extremists, there is a religious movement that supports progressive, inclusive policies, and it’s growing stronger.
For example, a few weeks ago, thousands of Catholic nuns wrote a letter calling for “the full inclusion of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive individuals.” Many faith groups are also fighting against the scourge of gun violence.
At the school I lead, Union Theological Seminary (UTS), it’s clear that students are clamoring for faith practices that align with their progressive values. Our students — who identify with many different faith traditions, or as spiritual but not religious — are focused on dismantling racism, protecting our planet, supporting LGBTQ+ communities and other social justice goals.
All the while, they’re supported by the message of love and justice from the Bible and other sacred texts. This year alone, we’ve hosted a number of inclusive events, like an evening of singing to cultivate peace and harmony with renowned Buddhist Venerable Sister Chan Khong, a symposium to foster collaboration between Black churches and LGBTQ+ communities, and annual ceremonies to honor members of Union’s LGBTQ+ graduating student body.
Young people can see through the facade of restrictive policies clothed in the guise of religion. And thanks to them, we can move toward a world that God and the Bible actually ask us to build — a world of love, respect and acceptance.