Sasha shares her perspective on what drives young people to reject religion. She believes the solution lies in our living the religion we embrace with our lips, wedding truth to compassion and forgiveness. -Editor
It seems to me that the passion driving any church is the sense of having a body of truth that the rest of the world needs. Some privileged understanding of who God really is, and what God really wants from us.
So wouldn't it seem natural for young people—who are driven to find something real, true, and just—to feel drawn to churches?
Maybe so. But after talking with many disheartened teenagers who’ve given up on religion, I think it may come down to an essential component they find missing in their church’s message: compassion.
A church might have the most lucid, incredible inspiration to share, but teenagers will likely feel repelled as soon as they hear hard and fast declarations devoid of compassion: “These specific actions are evil. These specific actions are good. These specific beliefs are right, and those specific beliefs are wrong. These people go to heaven, and these people go to hell.”
The teens I've spoken with appreciate nuance. They know that things are not black and white. They know that people are not black and white. They know that our motives are never purely this or purely that. As soon as truths are held up as infallible, beyond questioning, or used to judge or condemn, teens seem extremely quick to discard the whole religion and stake out on their own to find a kinder, wider path.
To be specific, the teenagers I've spoken with almost unanimously attempt to explain their rejection of religion with these kinds of questions: How can the church say that it’s evil to get divorced when half of us have parents who’ve been divorced? How can they tell us it’s evil to have sex before marriage, or to date someone from a different religion? How can they tell us that they know the one true God—doesn’t every other religion think the same thing?
That’s why I think the message of the New Church is incredibly valuable for young people. The heart of the New Church, as I understand it, is that any idea is only true when motivated by compassion. The message of the New Church goes beyond “this action is right and that action is wrong” and instead, addresses motives and the importance of coming from kindness and understanding. It can be so healing for young people to know that although they might have done this or that action, motives matter most. That they are not forever condemned, but have a chance to make new and better choices. Like Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery, our faith teaches that truths are not for judgment and condemnation, but to motivate, inspire, and lift each other up.
I want young people all over the world to hear this message—a message that, from what I’ve seen, is sorely needed. One that pairs truth with compassion, one that emphasizes forgiveness, repentance, and life change over guilt and sin. It seems to me that if we, as a church, consistently live by this truth in our speech and actions, we will have huge appeal to young people. And to all people for that matter!