Moral relativism is the 'majority opinion' of Gen Z, new study reveals

Bixby Creek Bridge, Monterey, United States
Bixby Creek Bridge, Monterey, United States | Unsplash/Sammie Vasquez

Moral relativism is the “majority opinion” of Gen Z, with most teens and young adults holding to the belief that many religions can lead to eternal life, a new study has found.

Gen Z: Volume 2, a new report from the Barna Group in partnership with the Impact 360 Institute, collected data from 1,503 U.S. teens and young adults ages 13 to 21 between June 15 and July 17, 2020.

Researchers found that two-thirds of teens and young adults (65%) agree that “many religions can lead to eternal life” compared to 58% of teens and young adults surveyed in 2018 for Gen Z: Volume 1.

“That's a dramatic shift because as Jesus clearly taught and John 14:6, ‘I am the way the truth and the life and no one comes to the Father except through me.' So exclusivism in that way is part of historic Christianity. Yet the surrounding cultural context says, ‘No, many religions can lead to eternal life,’” Jonathan Morrow, director of cultural engagement and student discipleship at Impact 360 Institute, said during the unveiling of the study Wednesday.

Additionally, 31% of teens and young adults “strongly agree” that what is “morally right and wrong changes over time, based on society,” compared to just 25% in 2018. Another 43% agree “somewhat.”

“That means literally moral reality ... moral truth shifts as society shifts,” Morrow said. “That will have devastating consequences for everyone trying to live according to God's good design and flourish as He designed them to function in this world as image-bearers.”

Just 10% of young people surveyed “strongly disagree” that what is “morally right and wrong changes over time, based on society.” Morrow described this minority as a group of “convictional people in Gen Z who actually think that objective truth and morality really exist and don't change depending upon people's desires or feelings or society over time, but there is an ultimate reference point, there is an ultimate anchor to moral and spiritual reality.”

“But the simple fact of the matter is, moral relativism hasn't just crept into the worldview of Gen Z,” he stressed. “It is now the majority opinion.”

To help teens and young adults understand and believe that morality does, in fact, have a “fixed reference point in the nature and character and commands of God, rooted in Scripture,” Morrow offered four suggestions.

First, he advised church leaders and parents to teach young people to “move beyond perceived connection to real connection,” particularly in today’s “digital Babylon.”

“There's plenty of data out there on the hyperconnectivity of this generation, at least digitally,” he said. “But the reality is, they need real relationships, real accountability, real friendship, real empathy, real understanding.”

Second, Morrow said Gen Z needs to cultivate the skills to “move beyond what I want to hear to what I need to hear.”

“Not, ‘Does this make me feel good?’ But, ‘Is it true? Personal feelings and experiences are important, but they're not ultimate. Just because I believe or feel a certain way, it doesn't mean reality is that way.”

Teens and young adults must also “move beyond 'us versus them thinking' to embracing the third option” and “move beyond false tolerance to true tolerance.”

“If I can come to see somebody who I might disagree with first, as an image-bearer, that changes the conversation,” he said. “Virtually anywhere in our culture right now, everyone is put in a binary: Us versus them. You pick your us, you pick your them. It's opposing sides, it becomes about power, not understanding, and then they collide. That will have disastrous implications on culture, as well as the next generation and the health of our relationships."

Barna’s 2018 study characterized Gen Z as the “first truly ‘post Christian’ generation,” with only 4% adhering to a biblical worldview.

“Will Gen Z allow the truth of God's Word, His voice, to define what is real and what is true?” Morrow asked. “Or will they rely on their feelings and desires and preferences to be the loudest voice?

And that question comes to us as well as mentors and leaders, pastors, youth pastors, parents, educators: Will we allow God's voice, the truth of God's Word, to be the most significant voice for us? Or will we let our own preferences and desires and feelings be the loudest voice?”

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