Young worshipers The young woman nervously approached the microphone at the ELCA 2009 convention.  This fall, she will be a high school senior.  With apologies, I paraphrase her plea.

“Give us honesty,” she said.  “My generation is turned off by what they see as hypocrisy in the church. ‘Love your neighbor’ is on the lips of the church, but a cold shoulder is what my generation sees.”

Is she alone in her view?  Not according to Harvard University professor Robert Putnam, who conducted research into the declining participation of youth in religion, which he summarized in advance of publishing his book, “Amazing Grace”.  His research indicates that many youths have turned their backs on organized religion.

While the young may be unchurched, they are not necessarily atheists.

“Many of them are people who would otherwise be in church,” Putnam said. “They have the same attitudes and values as people who are in church, but they grew up in a period in which being religious meant being politically conservative, especially on social issues.”

Putnam says that in the past two decades, many young people began to view organized religion as a source of “intolerance and rigidity and doctrinaire political views,” and therefore stopped going to church.

A commenter on this blog said this earlier this week:

Thanks for writing this. It’s good to hear not all “Christians” subscribe to hate. As a gay man, I hear A LOT of hate spewed from Christians and I’ve been told I can’t be a Christian because of how I was born.

Unfortunately, I believe your efforts may be too little too late. I, along with so many others have moved passed and found peace without “Christian” leadership.

I will never go back to a faith that promotes hate.

While many in the ELCA are wringing their hands, worrying about losing members, wondering how to defend Convention actions, wistful about the loss of a Bible writ in block letters, black and white and bold print, I say this is an opportunity.  An opportunity for mission.  An opportunity to live the gospel and not merely preach it.  An opportunity for honesty.  Let this be a teaching moment in which we plumb the depths of scripture far beyond the literalistic superficialities of the past.  Let us invite, encourage and inspire a new generation by our deeds.

“Jesus said, ‘Be fishers of men,’” says Putnam, “and there’s this pool with a lot of fish in it and no fishermen right now.”