18 October 2019 |
I’ve had a number of responses to a recent short piece on why young people are leaving the faith. Here are a few of them. Thank you all for your interest! (As usual, with correspondence to Aunt Sevvy, we don’t use respondents’ names.)
Dear Aunt Sevvy:
Ask any senior member or minister, why are so many young people gone? Their answer will be wrong. A few years ago I saw a survey conducted by the Adventist church on this topic. It listed social and familial pressures and a few other reasons. Doctrinal failure was not listed.
Most of the people I know who have left (myself included) did so for clear doctrinal reasons. Two of those were Adventist university-trained theologians who left after studying Ellen White a little closer than their training required. A few left due to differences with the church on LGBT+ questions, female ordination, and systemic protection of sex abuse offenders. Social pressures made it easier for some to leave, more difficult for others. Many still go to other churches, some do not at all.
This isn’t easy to hear—in fact no one wants to hear a word about any of this, as your article pointed out. However, there’s enough haystacks for everybody after the service.
Dear Aunt Sevvy:
There are many reasons why young people leave the church, but I believe there is one major reason they leave: they feel that they have been lied to by the church and their parents.
From early childhood they are told that God loves them and answers their prayers.
- Our guardian angel is always with us and will protect us from harm (Ps. 91:7-11). Others will fall, but not us. And then when one’s father gets killed in an accident, there is no explanation.
- We are told in Deuteronomy that none of the diseases will come upon us—but then her mother dies of cancer.
- We are told that we will get whatever we ask in prayer if we really believe. When does that reward come?
- We are told in James 5:14 that the elders should anoint a sick person he or she will be healed—and then a little brother dies of brain cancer at age 4.
- We’ve been told that Jesus is coming soon—and yet he doesn’t appear to make things right, as promised. We’ve heard this for 150 years, yet terrible wars and nonstop killings continue, and children are afraid to go to school. Why doesn’t He come?
- We are told that if we accept Jesus our lives will be changed and we’ll have freedom from sin and yet mom and dad are getting a divorce and life is in a turmoil.
And if they can’t trust these promises, how about heaven? Why believe that will happen?
So, although there are other reasons such as member hypocrisy, conflict with science and the Bible, lack of youth involvement in the church, and others, I believe that the fact that young people can’t depend on what has been promised to them is the main reason they say “The church doesn’t work for me”—and they are gone.
Dear Aunt Sevvy:
People who ask this question tend to expect a single reason, or perhaps a short list of reasons why young people leave. I don’t believe the answer is that simple.
- Some leave because they have no genuine affinity with the SDA church. They drifted in and drifted out. They were window shopping.
- Some leave because they genuinely do not believe one or several of the doctrines. These people are doing the honest thing when they leave.
- Some leave because they expect too much of the church. In their thinking, members and leaders must be beyond bad decisions and above reproach in every thought, word, and deed. We could wish this were true, but we know that every church member and every church leader is still a sinner in need of Christ’s forgiveness and saving grace every moment of life. They expect members and leaders to be merciful and gracious to them, to cut them some slack, but they don’t reciprocate. The person leaving may say “I’m on a spiritual journey.” But every church member and leader is on a spiritual journey that has hills, valleys, and bumps in the road.
Consider this fictitious exchange:
Church: You shouldn’t wear so much jewelry. (Sounds judgmental and condemning to the person leaving. The person leaving feels wounded and justified in leaving.)
Person leaving: The church isn’t very loving. (Sounds equally judgmental and condemning to the person who doesn’t leave the church.The church feels maligned, misunderstood, and wounded, too. They thought they were following James 5:19-20.)
Both sides of this question, church and person leaving, need to take a long, serious look at two things Christ said.
- Matthew 7:3-5: Take care of the log in your own eye before you diagnose the splinter in another’s eye.
- Matthew 13:24-30. The wheat and weeds will grow together until Christ separates them at His second coming.
Both groups need to spend more time at the foot of the cross, and less time pointing the finger at one another.
Aunt Sevvy reminds you how important it is to talk about this right now, especially in light of this recent study by the Pew Research Center, showing that “In U.S., Decline of Christianity Continues at Rapid Pace.”
Let’s continue the conversation!
You can write to Aunt Sevvy at DearAuntSevvy@gmail.com. Please keep questions or comments short. What you send us at this address won’t necessarily be, but could be, published—always without real names. Aunt Sevvy writes her own column, and neither her opinions nor those of her correspondents are necessarily those of Adventist Today’s editors.