In my early twenties, I remember singing the popular worship song “Give Us Clean Hands” often in a college ministry. These lyrics always stood out to me: “O God let us be a generation that seeks your face, O God of Jacob.” They express hope for the future and devotion to the Lord. I discovered much later that these lyrics came from the Bible, 🤷♂️ specifically from Psalm 24:6. I joined the college ministry group in 2001, about a month after 9/11. Yes, I am an older millennial, but a millennial nevertheless! I was born in 1981, the first year of our generation which extends to 1996.
For much of the 2000s, I was a “cultural Christian” because I went to church on Sundays, but I did not really practice my faith during the week. Other millennials simply canceled Christianity or sought a less formal way to observe it. Overall, we have yet to be a generation that seeks God’s face. Many of us ghosted our family’s churches to be “spiritual but not religious” or totally not spiritual at all. 😞 In this post, I review the sociological roots of this problem. This is my premise: We millennials challenge and distrust authority as a result of our socioeconomic hardship. We then transfer our suspicions to God himself as the Ultimate Exploiter of society. I talk about the legit reasons why we feel salty and shook, and how taking these moods to Jesus helps us stay faithful and woke. We must find solutions rather than humble-brag about our #slacktivism, yet in a way that delights God too. I also discuss that retro vibe which inspires many of us Christian millennials to explore tradition and authenticity in our faith. It turns out those of us who do seek God today do so with more high-key spirit and truth than generations past. 😇
Class Warfare: Boomers vs. Millennials
The novel Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is the third major crisis that defines our millennial generation. I was a young adult for 9/11 and still a few years short of thirty when the 2008 recession happened. Even mainstream media outlets like The Wall Street Journal are pointing out how we cannot catch a break (I know, Wall Street—the irony!). 🤣 Not only do we have these crises, but we also inherited a miserable job market, a legacy of establishment racism, sustained gender inequality, and pressing environmental issues. As a nation, we learned that social issues concerning race, gender, and economics are intersectional—they cross all demographic lines. For the last twenty years, “baby boomers” (1946–1964) threw shade at us for being easily offended, entitled, and lazy “snowflakes.” ❄️ They even dissed us for our attachment to smartphones (i.e., “phubbing”), $5 coffee drinks, and avocado toast of all things! 😒
Their criticisms turned out to be deflections of personal responsibility. To tell the truth, boomers did not want us to figure out how they made profits by exploiting people and the environment. 🤑 Instead of seeing us as their children, many of them—even our own parents—viewed us as their competition. Our memories serve as receipts of their abuse, of which they now gaslight us as if in our own words: “Pics or it didn’t happen.” While they had the resources to help us, many boomers just squandered them on foolish things like fine china and timeshares. We heard talk of “bootstraps” and “walking uphill both ways in the snow.” These were bougie excuses for self-indulgence. The boomers told us to blaze our own trails and to “follow your heart.” So, for two decades, we millennials did just that—until we realized the game was rigged. Bruh? 🤦🏻♂️
A Generation of Endless War & Recession
Beginning with Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001, we fought in the boomers’ endless and costly wars in the Middle East. We also attended college, believing them when they told us a degree will help us get ahead in life. Instead, we found ourselves up to our necks in student debt—to the boomers no less. 😠 We saw the things we were fighting and studying for being withheld from us. We realized the meritocracy was not based on hard work, but on privilege and wealth. This realization grew into the Occupy Movement from 2011 and beyond. Although we no longer “occupy” business districts, our key objectives slay in the government and private sectors. 🏛️
Many of us millennials supported Barack Obama in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. 🗳️ We thought he would end the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. In real life, we expected him to raise living standards and lower student debt. Pres. Obama had some success, but the boomers still found a way to exploit us by profiting from the 2008 economic stimulus. Millions of us backed the democratic socialist Bernie Sanders 👴 for president in 2016 and 2020. We hoped to see a living wage 💰 and healthcare for all. However, our swing to the hard left was not so much about political ideology, but a reaction to exploitation. As a generation, we honestly want socioeconomic justice for everyone. 🗽 We not only grew up hearing the boomer’s racist humor and microaggressions, but we also listened to them gloat about stopping minorities from living in their neighborhoods (i.e., “redlining”) and advancing in their workplaces. Granted, many of the things I am writing here are generalizations, but I experienced many of them alongside other millennials. Some of us “can’t even” with boomers because these trends are personal. Bye Felicia! 👋
Jubilee: The Nazareth Manifesto
So, yes, this is where I tell you, “Jesus is the answer.” 😉 Though I am a Christian, I still have that millennial sense of irony when I see tacky evangelism. No, this post is not an exercise in “Brad” or “Becky” tone-deafness. Jesus gave us the Nazareth manifesto, a term that Bible scholars assign to his first public speech. In their New Age mysticism, boomers domesticated Jesus as a sage with some nice things to say. However, this analog facsimile posed no real challenge to their raw exploitation of others. Therefore, they viewed this reading as a mere invitation to “ask Jesus into your heart” rather than the love of God and neighbor. The gospel is a digital reality, one that requires telecommunication over a wide broadcast area by the “hands and feet” of Jesus—yes, the Christian church! (1 Cor. 12:12). ⛪
Here is the Nazareth manifesto: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19; Isa. 61:1; cf. Zech. 9:9-12). Jesus added, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21). His fellow Nazarenes tried to kill him for saying this! Why? For the same reason that the boomers muted it: God’s jubilee is a total socioeconomic revolution that coincides with the Messiah’s arrival. 👑 He directed the Israelites to free literal slaves and convicts, to redistribute actual real-estate back to its original landowners, and to cancel all monetary debts (Lev. 25:8-13; Deut. 15). It sounds like a socialist thing to do, right? What would happen if ‘Murica voted these jubilee regulations into law? Yes, this is what a “Christian nation” would look like. 🦅 The comedian Stephen Colbert was not laughing when he said,
If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it. 🤯 #mindblownStephen Colbert, “Jesus is a Liberal Democrat,” Comedy Central video, 00:03:54–00:04:15, December 16, 2010, http://www.cc.com/video-clips/m38gcf/the-colbert-report-jesus-is-a-liberal-democrat.
Adulting in the Work of the People
In faith-based media and in my personal life, I have seen that most Christian millennials prefer traditional liturgy over contemporary worship. This was true of me when I walked away from a non-denom church with a praise band to be Anglican and, now, Methodist. ♝ In 2019, about 27% of millennials attended worship services each Sunday compared to 38% for boomers and 51% for the “Greatest Generation” (1901–1927). Those of us in that 27%, as well as the 41% of millennials who still believe religion is important, prefer liturgy and church tradition. The stats show that when we do believe, we millennials “adult” about it more than our parents! We simply feel more #blessed to keep it 💯 with God, and we consider praise music basic. We have little need for the emotional ruse of smoke machines and aesthetics to make us feel extra. Ironically, the music boomers describe as “contemporary” predates our millennial generation! We want liturgical styles 🍷🍞 and sacred safe spaces that are deep with pious conviction, sound teaching, historical roots, and multicultural engagement. Unlike the boomers, we do not link relevance to cultural trends, but to an existential assurance from the Holy Spirit. We want to stan Jesus, not to be vainly religious. More of us, however, need to recognize the kinship between following Christ and being part of his fam, which is the church. 🐟
The Greek noun leitourgia (G3009) literally means “work of the people.” We receive this word in English as “liturgy,” or the public service of a church leader’s ministry. Unlike the mainstream praise & worship of megachurches, liturgists arrange hymns, sermons, confessions of faith, intercessory prayer, and communion according to biblical themes instead of pop culture or the business world. We enter the red doors to find our safe space, to venerate God “before anyone else.” 🚪 Yes, church doors were painted red in medieval England to designate safe spaces during times of war! We find spiritual rest from our personal conflicts and the neverending “culture wars.” Liturgy reminds us that we are our lives intersect and that our salvation entails the bonds of Christian fellowship. Liturgy is lit! Some boomers tried to displace liturgy with a trifling fad movement they called the “emerging church” in the 2000s. I say this to their shame because we really do want elders, but we find them lacking in commitment and depth. 🤔 The beauty of tradition will always endure. Paul of Tarsus wrote to us, “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). #goals. He also urged us, “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as to a father, to younger men as brothers, to older women as mothers, to younger women as sisters—with absolute purity” (1 Tim. 5:1-2). 🤐
Conclusion: Let’s Bounce!
Theology Corner, a network for seminary-educated millennials, represents this search for true piety. 🙏🏻 How does this post relate to the historical-grammatical theme of Christian Origins/Current Faith? I usually focus on bringing first-century concepts into the twenty-first, but this is one of my rare explorations into “current faith.” That is not to say my millennial identity does not influence my theology, because it does. I feel if we are throwing back to tradition, we need to go all the way back to Christian origins. 📜🌴 Remember the paleo diet fad a few years ago? Well, I teach a viewpoint called paleo-orthodoxy, first suggested by Methodist theologian Thomas C. Oden (1931–2016). This means teaching Christian doctrine that is true and common for people from all ethnicities and cultures throughout history. It must coincide with scripture and the first four ecumenical councils staring with Jerusalem in AD 50 (cf. Acts 15:1-21), Nicaea in 325, Constantinople in 381, and Chalcedon in 451 (see here). Politically, I firmly believe in distributism (aka, “Christian democracy”), which calls for the fair distribution of resources by one’s needs (cf. Acts 2:44-45). 💸 It is a middle ground between capitalism and socialism, allowing businesses to profit but not at the expense of a living wage. The American Solidarity Party is the official distributist alternative in the U.S. It strives for “common good, on common ground, through common sense.” 🤔
Here is a millennial approach to the Trinity: 1) God is all about that grace! ⚖️ 2) “Hipster Jesus” loved you before you were cool! 🧔🏽 3) The Holy Spirit is fire! 🔥 Dank humor aside, we need to have that inner chill before trying to establish peace in society. We must first cherish God and our neighbors before saying “love wins.” Social justice begins in the heart, with a personal responsibility to be better. That feeling when Christ’s peace fills our immortal souls. 😌 Jesus tells us to be salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16)—yes, to be “salty” and lit with the gospel! Let our hope be so confident that others have the fear of missing out. #squadgoals. Francis of Assisi (1181/82–1226), perhaps an honorary millennial, once prayed,
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace: where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen. 🕊️“Peace Prayer of Saint Francis” (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2020), https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/prayer/traditional-catholic-prayers/saints-prayers/peace-prayer-of-saint-francis.
Brady, Ignatius Charles, and Lawrence Cunningham. “Saint Francis of Assisi.” Encyclopædia Britannica. London: Britannica, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Francis-of-Assisi.
Gibney, Bruce Cannon. A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America. New York: Hachette, 2017.
Gongloff, Mark. “Millennials are the Battered-and-Bruised Generation.” New York: Bloomberg, 2020. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2020-04-23/coronavirus-confirms-millennials-are-the-hard-luck-generation?srnd=opinion.
Illling, Sean. “Millennials are Getting Screwed by the Economy. Again.” Vox.com. Washington, DC: Vox Media, 2020. https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2020/4/21/21221273/coronavirus-millennials-great-recession-annie-lowrey.
Kinnaman, David, and Roxanne Stone. “Designing Worship Spaces with Millennials in Mind.” Ventura, CA: Barna Group, 2014. https://www.barna.com/research/designing-worship-spaces-with-millennials-in-mind/.
“Millennials Are Going Through Their Second ‘Once-In-a-Generation’ Economic Downturn.” Relevant. Orlando, FL: Relevant Media Group, 2020. https://relevantmagazine.com/life5/millennials-are-going-through-their-second-once-in-a-generation-economic-downturn.
New Revised Standard Version. New York: Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, 1989.
“Peace Prayer of Saint Francis.” Chicago: Loyola Press, 2020. https://www.loyolapress.com/catholic-resources/prayer/traditional-catholic-prayers/saints-prayers/peace-prayer-of-saint-francis.
Rabbe, Tom. “Millennials Need Time-Tested Traditional Churches.” Ed. Chandler Lasch. RealClear Religion. Washington, DC: RealClear Media Group, 2019. https://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2019/06/19/millennials_need_time-tested_traditional_churches_110223.html.
Shellnutt, Kate. “Died: Thomas Oden, Methodist Theologian Who Found Classical Christianity.” Christianity Today. Carol Stream, IL: Christianity Today, 2016. https://www.christianitytoday.com/news/2016/december/died-thomas-oden-methodist-theologian-who-found-classical.html.