A CNN blog post that went viral has triggered a debate among Evangelicals and other observers as to why American millennials are leaving the Church.
Rachel Held Evans' opinion piece resulted in close to 200,000 recommendations on Facebook and more than 7,000 comments on the CNN Belief blog after it was published on July 27.
It spawned reactions among other millennials, Evangelicals, Catholics and even atheists.
The New York Times best-selling author said in one on her website her main point was that "church leaders hoping to win twenty-somethings over with coffee shops and concerts may want to go a little deeper and consider substance over style."
Evans, 32, wrote in the CNN post that she identified with millennials, people born roughly between 1980 and 2000, although she was on the edge of that generation.
She said she is often asked to speak to other evangelical leaders about why millenials are leaving the church, which is shown in surveys from researchers such as the Barna Group.
PERCEIVING EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANITY
"I explain how 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," Evans wrote.
"I point to research that shows young Evangelicals often feel they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith, between science and Christianity, between compassion and holiness.
"I talk about how the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules, and how millennials long for faith communities in which they are safe asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt."
Evans criticized church leaders in particular who think "the key to drawing twenty-somethings back to church is simply to make a few style updates - edgier music, more casual services, a coffee shop in the fellowship hall, a pastor who wears skinny jeans, an updated website that includes online giving."
After listing six things she believes millennials want from the church, she wrote, "You can't hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. 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."
On her website, Evans expressed dismay over how she was viewed by some responders.
"Of course, as more and more posts rolled in, the main point of the original post seemed to get a bit lost in the shuffle, and before long I hardly recognized the shallow, entitled church-hating know-it-all many assumed me to be."
BLAMING THE CHURCH
Reacting to her piece, blogger Fred Clark of Patheos.com blamed the flight of millennials from the Church on the belief among many Evangelicals that the earth is not as old as scientists believe.
Like many, blogger Trevin Wax expressed disagreement with some things Evans wrote, but he also signaled that he held similar opinions on other issues.
"She's right to decry a vision of Christianity that reduces repentance to a list of do's and don'ts," Wax wrote. "I too have noticed that many millennials desire to be involved in mercy ministry and support justice causes.
"And I couldn't agree more when she says 'we want churches that emphasize an allegiance to the kingdom of God over an allegiance to a single political party or a single nation'."
Other comments, however, blame millennials themselves for their response to the modern church.
In Christianity Today (CT), Kevin P. Emmert agreed the Church needs ongoing reformation, but he didn't believe Evans and other Evangelicals were leaving it because they didn't find Jesus there.
"My suspicion is they're wagging their fingers at the Church because they don't find the Jesus they want. Evangelicalism certainly isn't flawless," wrote Emmert. "However, I think Evans' claim that Jesus is absent from 'the Church'' is absurd.
"Not only is it theologically false, it's a slap in the face to Christ's bride, a purely rhetorical statement that simply provokes controversy rather than fostering Christian unity."
David French, a lawyer for the American Center for Law and Justice suggested on Patheos.com that the current generation of young adults were narcissistic.
BELIEF SYSTEM OF MILLENNIALS
He cited writings of Christian Smith, who calls the belief system of millennials "Moral Therapeutic Deism." French said, "This is a belief system that efficiently produces sometimes-nice narcissists who don't want much interference from God unless and until they face problems."
Bob Wurzelbacher, associate director for the Office of Youth and Young Adult Ministry of the Catholic Archdiocese of Cincinnati, criticized the nature of the reaction to Evan's post itself.
He asked rhetorically on the Being Catholic blog, "Does anybody still listen to anybody?"
Wurzelbacher suggested in tongue-in-cheek that respondents to Evans' blog post were arguing against statements that were not even put forth by the authors.
"Whatever it is that the Church needs to do to welcome back the droves of Millennials no longer occupying the pews, and whatever it is the Millennials need to do to become more what God is calling them to be, they both go hand-in-hand with what we all seem to be lacking in great measure: love," he said.
Hemant Mehta, a blogger at The Friendly Atheist responded to Evans on CNN by suggesting that atheism was why millennials were departing from the church.
"There are many reasons the percentage of millennials who say they've never doubted God's existence is at a record low, and nearly a quarter of adults under 30 no longer affiliate with a faith," wrote Mehta.
"The Church has pushed young people away, yes, but there are also forces actively pulling them in the other direction.
"It appears that atheists and Christians are finally working together on the same task: getting millennials to leave the Church."
Evans replied, "This is an important conversation to have. Many of these responses were insightful, honest, and wise, even when they were critical"