No, this isn’t about Mitt Romney so don’t get your boxers in a twist. Although I will say that the number of people asking me about the orthodoxy of Mormonism- whether Mormons are Christian- is steadily increasing as the campaign heats up (the answer is more complicated than what you’ll find on Fox or MSNBC so I won’t waste anymore space on it here).
No, this isn’t about Mitt Romney.
It’s about youth and young adults. And faith.
We have two new full-time youth directors coming on board in the next few weeks and one new full-time children’s director. So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how best to equip them to succeed and how best to impact the religious lives of children and youth. My thinking has gotten me to re-reading many of the youth ministry books that were gathering dust on my shelves.
One of them, one of the best, is Almost Christian by Kenda Dean. It’s an analysis of the groundbreaking National Survey of Youth and Religion. The results of the survey revealed that the vast majority of Christian youth, especially white Mainline Protestants, were incredibly vague and inarticulate about their faith. The religion these youth ‘practice’ is so unrecognizable from historic Christianity, in fact, the authors of the survey termed it instead ‘Moral Therapeutic Deism.’
As the name suggests, MTD believes: 1) a God exists who ordered the world and watches over life on earth, 2) God wants people to be nice, 3) the central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about oneself, 4) God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem and 5) good people go to heaven when they die.
This is where the Mormon envy comes in.
Only 40% of the youth surveyed said religion was an important part of their life and only 8% said they attended worship weekly, participated in a youth or small group AND said they felt close to God and that their faith is important to their lives.
But the overwhelming majority of that minority were…you got it…Mormons.
Because Mormon youth see the faith modeled by their families and congregations.
Mormon youth are significantly more likely to hold religious beliefs similar to their parents (73%), attend worship weekly (43%) and talk about religious matters in their families more than other teenagers (80% once a week or more). They rate the importance of faith in their lives as extremely high and engage in practices like fasting (68%). For four years of high school, Mormon teenagers rise at 5:00 AM to attend seminary, typically taught by a parent, and Mormon families commonly practice family devotions.
All together, Dean writes, these experiences, conversations and practices cohere ‘to impress Mormon youth that Mormonism is not an activity they choose nor a church they attend. It is literally a way of life, and affects every choice they make…Parents take to heart their responsibility to get young people ready…to be fully engaged, articulate and participative church members.’
And there’s the rub about passing faith on to youth. It’s evident in Mormon youth and it’s reaffirmed by the National Survey on Youth and Religion. Your sons and your daughters will have the faith you model for them.
Too many youth practice a benign, vague Moral Therapeutic Deism BECAUSE that’s the religion of their parents and because too few mainline churches have expectations of them beyond MTD.
Too often parents turn to youth ministers and pastors and rely on them to make their kids Christian, to sort of inoculate them against the world, after their kids have already spent most of their childhood and adolescence receiving the implicit message that religion isn’t a big deal.
Survey says: if faith isn’t a big deal to you, it will never be a big deal to your child. That’s the bottom line. If you can’t talk about faith or religion with your child just like you would talk with them about baseball or politics, then all the best youth ministers in the world won’t do any good.
So parents, as we prepare to welcome three new staff people, keep in mind: when it comes to faith and youth, you get what you are.