Prominent voices claim that today's young people are leaving the church because they see it as too old fashioned, political, and exclusive. But Jefferson Bethke, creator of the YouTube sensation "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus," claims Millennials themselves are the true "puritans," judging the Body of Christ unfit for their company.
"We can think fundamentalists only wear suits and play boring Christian music, or we can address fundamentalism for what it is – an issue of the heart," Bethke wrote in a Thursday op-ed for the Washington Post. He defines "fundamentalism" as "adding rules to the Bible, or elevating things beyond how Scripture elevates them."
The Christian spoken word poet, whose forthcoming book Jesus>Religion: Why He Is So Much Better Than Trying Harder, Doing More, and Being Good Enough comes out in October, argued that the church doesn't judge Millennials so much as these youngsters judge the church.
In a July CNN op-ed that went viral, Christian author and blogger Rachel Held Evans defended the 20-something generation while explaining "Why millennials are leaving the church." She claimed that "young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."
She attempts to voice the thought of an entire generation. "We're not leaving the church because we don't find the cool factor there; we're leaving the church because we don't find Jesus there."
In discussions of science and faith, gay marriage, and sexual abstinence, Evans asserts the Millennial preference for acceptance and love over legalism.
But Bethke aims to blast that opinion into oblivion. Mentioning young Christians who drink beer or dress down in Church – in the name of "Freedom in Christ" – the aspiring author alleged that "if you care more about flaunting your Christian freedom than promoting Christian unity, you're probably not free," but "actually a slave to your so-called freedom."
By rigidly adhering to new trends and a new morality, young people become the judging, "hateful" purists they claim to despise, Bethke contends.
"To be frank, we need to get over ourselves," he asserted. Nevertheless, he clarified that those who have been hurt by the church "deserve an apology," because many Christians do not live Jesus' love in the world.
"But to those who would rather go to church behind a computer screen, rather than flesh and blood, person on person, we need to realize we are heading towards destruction," he warned. "The beauty of the church is in the vulnerability of its people. And with our social media culture, where we are more cropped and edited than ever before, we have to try even harder to be intentional about this."
Meanwhile, Brett McCracken, author of Gray Matters: Navigating the Space Between Legalism and Liberty, argued that the church should not cater to Millennials – rather young people should listen to their elders in the church. "As a twentysomething, I can say with confidence that when it comes to church, we don't want cool as much as we want real," he wrote.
Like Bethke, McCracken warned about too much focus on perception. "Just like the Photoshop-savvy Millennials," he explained, the church "is ever more meticulously concerned with her image."
As a Christian, McCracken explained that what he really needs from the church "is not another yes-man entity enabling my hubris and giving me what I want," but something "that changes me to be the Christ-like person I was created to be."
In a follow-up article, Evans explained that she did not intend to publish "a list of demands," but rather an articulation of my hope for the church." She acknowledged that the personal work of reconciliation, listening, and serving in the body of Christ proves more important than arguing about political matters.