I struggle with faith. In many ways over the eight years I’ve followed Christ now, I’ve made huge strides in knowing him and growing to trust him. I’ve left behind addictions, took risks sharing my faith, and moved across the country to start a new faith community. Somehow, faith remains an elusive reality. Maybe you can relate.
As a Millennial myself, I believe some of the obstacles we experience are specific to our generation and our unique place in history. 20th century answers no longer satisfy our 21st century doubts. Our goal at Sojourn is to empower Millennials, and starting next year generation Z, to follow Jesus beyond the obstacles we experience.
This post is the first of a two-part series on our biggest faith obstacles and opportunities. The posts will be half confessional and half relating what I’ve heard from other young adults struggling with faith. I hope it puts words to your experience.
Before we begin, I’m not going to respond to any of these obstacles. It’s okay if you don’t understand where these are coming from or don’t think they’re fair. The goal of this post is to give voice to common faith barriers for the purpose of developing empathy. Without empathy, co-faith strugglers remain alone in their journeys.
I’ve experienced other barriers in my journey of faith, however, these are the ones that resonate right now.
1. Faith is divorced from real life.
There are two aspects of this point. First, God seems distant. How can God be worth knowing when he is so far removed? We wonder if God is active in the world around us—or even cares—when we experience evil. When synagogues transform into war zones, we wonder. When sexual assault stories fall on deaf ears, we wonder. When millions of people seek asylum, we wonder. We wonder if we would even want to know a bystander God like that.
The second aspect is the way faith fights against reason. So many churches give the impression, in reality or in perception, that to have faith a person must leave behind their intellect. Millennials who work or study in the “hard” sciences may struggle with this more than anyone. We live in an academic world that values evidence, proof, and peer review. When Christians deny scientific evidence, or even banish their own doubts, it becomes an unpassable hurdle for faith strugglers. The world of faith seems like a place vastly different than the one they inhabit.
2. Diversity surrounds us.
More than any generation in U.S. history, diversity immerses Millennials. Diversity of thought. Diversity of race and ethnicity. Diversity of belief. From the beginning, a melting pot has encapsulated the American cultural psyche. However, historically our melting pot has actually been predominately white Christian soup. This is changing dramatically, particularly in urban centers, as America becomes more diverse.
Our melting pot is more of a vegetable soup. The ingredients in a vegetable soup remain the same, even while they contribute to the whole soup. America is similar. All the different cultures don’t coalesce into a singular American culture; the diversity is part of the soup. We are now having meaningful contact with people from all kinds of places and walks of life. People vastly different than white American Christians. It’s beautiful. It also challenges our faith in new ways.
Questions bombard us through contact with people from diverse backgrounds. How can I claim to know the one Truth for everyone, everywhere? Is that loving or inclusive? How can this be true when there are billions of people in the world, almost all of whom I know nothing about?
3. Christians stand for un-Christlike things.
The way American Christians engage culture and politics makes faith difficult. For myself, this is the most difficult on the list. It’s the one that most often leads me to a sense of doubt, even despair. When we compare the Jesus revealed in the gospels with our modern context, it’s difficult to find a resemblance. Jesus stood for love, justice, and mercy; christians so often stand for the opposite. Popular perception holds that Evangelical Christians are against immigration, environmentalism, gender equality, racial justice, helping the poor, and we could go on. Equally concerning is what Evangelicals seem to stand for— guns, bigger militaries, and tax cuts to big businesses.
Additionally, Christians so often leave their morals behind when issues of politics or diversity enter a discussion. We demonize the people we disagree with. We don’t listen. We sacrifice moral responsibility on the altar of political power.
Millennials are left with a bitter question, “How can I believe in Jesus when it puts me in the same category as people who don’t stand for what he stood for?”
These are biggest faith obstacles I’m experiencing. They’re also the most common I hear from my friends, neighbors, and students. If you’re wrestling with these, you’re not alone.
Be sure to check out the follow up post about the 3 biggest faith opportunities for Millennials!