Are Millennials Lost or Enlightened?
A recent Pew poll shows significant gaps between younger and older Americans. Some of those gaps pertain to ethical issues many consider central to Christian faith.
The Pew poll’s primary aim was to gauge political similarities and differences. For instance, polls show the overwhelming majority of Millennials (those coming into adulthood in the new millennium) as supporting the reelection of Barack Obama. The majority of older folks — Baby Boomers and the Silent generation — want change in the US presidency. Polls show that most older Americans would vote for Mitt Romney instead of Obama.
The statistics I thought most interesting pertained to views of same-sex marriage, abortion, war, and the environment.
On the question of whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry legally, 59% Millennials and 50% of GenXers were in favor. But only 42% of Boomers and only 33% of the Silent generation were in favor of same-sex marriage, and most were against the practice.
What does this mean? Is there a diminishing of Christian values among younger Americans? Or are younger Americans following a fresh leading of the Holy Spirit?
I was surprised to see that the majority of Americans in all four generational categories believe abortion should remain legal in the United States. I don’t know what this means, but it is not good news for those who want abortions banned.
I was not surprised, however, that the majority in all four generational categories think the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are not worth fighting. I’ve noticed public sentiment largely in opposition to these military conflicts. It will be interesting to see how this issue plays out in the presidential races.
I was also not surprised that younger people in America are largely in favor of environmental regulations and think global warming must be addressed. The gap between younger and older Americans on this set of issues is quite large. Might this mean Christian Millennials are concerned with peripheral issues, or does it mean older Christian Americans need to “get on board” with God’s work to save the planet?
One other particularly interesting set of statistics pertained to the religious affiliation of various generations. The surveys showed that 26% of Millennials responded as religiously unaffiliated, 21% of GenXers, 15% of Boomers, and just 10% of Silents. In other words, the younger a person is, the less likely that person will identify him or herself with a religion.
Does the relative lack of religious affiliation by Millennials mean their views on same-sex marriage and the environment have not been properly nurtured by religious communities? To ask this question a slightly different way, would Millennials think more like Boomers and Silents if they showed up for worship services more often?
Or should we think religious communities have not adapted well to the ethical convictions of Millennials and Xers? Could the views of Millennials represent a new form or authentic religiosity that congregations should be embracing?
I’m still searching for fully satisfying answers to my own questions. At the least, however, I’m more confident than ever the views of my younger university students often differ from views my parents held on Christian ethics issues.