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Religion Last Updated: Feb 20th, 2007 - 00:40:15

The wisdom of youth
By Mel Seesholtz, Ph.D.
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Feb 20, 2007, 00:33

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�What Are We Doing Wrong?� That was the question posed by Matt Friedeman in the title of his article for the American Family Association�s Agape Press: �A Youth Exodus From Church -- What Are We Doing Wrong? Youth are leaving -- do we need to change something?�

AgapePress has reported that Dr. Frank Page, the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, is disturbed that many students are leaving the church once they graduate. Indeed, the Convention�s Council on Family Life reports that some 88 percent of children from evangelical homes are leaving the church shortly after they graduate from high school.

Mr. Friedeman offered three possible reasons for the mass exodus. �First, we give students what they want, instead of what they need. Some say this is making the gospel relevant to youth. . . .� Ah, yes. That must be it. Making ideas relevant to people and their daily lives is a dastardly thing to do.

Mr. Friedeman continued: �Second, when Jesus made disciples of young men (and John was called �a youth and almost a boy� by one early church father), He challenged them to �Follow Me.� Teenage discipleship in Jesus� day meant spending time with an adult. Initially, that was with a parent who worked your tail-end off on the farm while talking about Deuteronomy (see Deuteronomy 6:4-9). . . .�

Another likely cause. Evangelical parents are not working their kids hard enough or pounding biblical literalism into them as they should. Coupled with Mr. Friedeman�s first �reason,� one could conclude that evangelical parents and churches are not only failing to make Deuteronomy a relevant, lived reality in their kids� twenty-first century lives, they�re also failing to coerce them into doing as Deuteronomy dictates: �If, however, this charge is true, that evidence of the young woman�s virginity was not found, then they shall bring the young woman out to the entrance of her father�s house and the men of her town shall stone her to death . . .� (Deut. 22: 20-21, NRSV).

In his third �reason,� Mr. Friedeman wondered �if we don�t significantly cheat our kids when we suggest that vital discipleship can exist without a life of evangelism and compassionate service. . . .� What exactly is meant by �vital discipleship� is anyone�s guess since the �disciples� of Jesus have been dead for millennia: �Disciple n. ME, fr. OE discipul & AF disciple, fr. LL and L disciples follower of Jesus Christ in his lifetime� [italics added].

�Disciples� of a few hundred pages written by men long after the death of Jesus and subsequently modified by more men to suit their sociopolitical and theological needs? Disciples of dogma?

Today�s fundamentalist and evangelical dogma disciples cherry-pick the Bible for quotes that support their sociopolitical and theological needs, while paying no attention to passages that argue against their agendas. They are what Rev. William Sloane Coffin called �selective literalists� who ignore what doesn�t suit them, as well as the changes and advances in thinking and society that have occurred since Yeshua walked the earth.

Biblical myths and metaphors must be remythologized -- or deconstructed -- if they are to have any relevance today unless, of course, one believes Deuteronomy 22: 20-21 is a literal divine directive or Jerry Falwell is correct when he says �The Bible is the inerrant . . . word of the living God. It is absolutely infallible, without error in all matters pertaining to faith and practice, as well as in areas such as geography, science, history, etc.� [italics added].

Mr. Friedeman argued for �compassionate service.� A noble goal, to be sure. It is also an axiom of what�s called �humanism,� a perspective much maligned by fundamentalists and evangelicals as �anti-Christian.� But humanism was a fundamental tenet of Yeshua�s philosophy: help the poor, reach out to the hungry and the ill, be kind to one another, respect all families, help one another achieve a greater awareness of and participation in the �human community.� Yet in the hands of fundamentalists, evangelicals and the Vatican, Yeshua�s humanistic philosophy has been perverted into ways of demeaning and hurting others and dividing the human community. Consider a recent example from Rev. Don Wildmon and his grotesquely misnamed American �Family� Association:

Many of you have written about the IKEA furniture commercial. Although IKEA is not a nationally known company, they are growing, with stores in most major U.S. cities. IKEA is a Sweden-based retail furniture company and they are trying to force their liberal worldview on Americans through television.

Their latest U.S.-aired commercial features a homosexual male couple and young female child on the floor, resting up against each other, as they lean on the front of their couch. The voiceover poses the question: �Why shouldn�t sofas come in flavors, just like families?�

This is just one of many pro-homosexual ads IKEA airs around the world.

Please let IKEA know that the promotion of homosexual couples as a �family� is offensive and undermines American values.

Blinded by his own dogmatic bigotry and sociopolitical agenda, Wildmon failed to see reality and the obvious truth Ed Brayton pointed out in commenting on the IKEA attack:

But here�s the thing: they are a family, whether Donald Wildmon likes it or not. And there are several hundred thousand of families just like it in the United States, and millions more of them around the world. Do they magically stop being a family because a few bigots in Mississippi don�t like the way the parents in those families have sex? I�d like to see Wildmon sit across a table from the Lofton family and tell them they�re not a family.

Steve Lofton and Roger Croteau have adopted 5 at-risk children. Two of them were born HIV-positive. No one else would adopt any of these children and these two men took them in and gave them a loving home. This is the only family any of these children have ever known. And I�d like to see Wildmon look them in the eye and tell them that they�re not a real family because the parents� sexual habits violate �American values.�

And this whole notion of �American values� is simply idiotic. There is no such thing as �American values.� I�m an American and I don�t consider Wildmon�s bigotry to be a �value� at all. And it�s also clear that the American �family� Association is nothing of the sort.

To be sure, self-appointed spokesmen for God such as Don Wildmon, James Dobson and Louis P. Sheldon are losing their grip on true Christians, those who don�t follow false prophets that set themselves up as demigods. Chris Hedges made the case in his book American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America:

These false prophets -- the Pat Robertsons, the Jerry Falwells and the James Dobsons -- clutching the cross and the Bible, offer, like Mephistopheles, to lead us back to a mythical paradise and an impossible, unachievable happiness and security, at once seductive and empowering. They ask us to hand over moral choice and responsibility to them. They will tell us they know what is right and wrong in the eyes of God. They tell us how to act, how to live, and in the process they elevate themselves above us. . . . But once we . . . accept their authority, we become enslaved and they become our idols. And idols, as the Bible never ceases to tell us, destroy us.

Mr. Friedeman concluded his article with poignant questions that -- in a way he did not intend -- clearly explain why so many young people are leaving evangelical and fundamentalist churches: �Could it be that youth see right through it all? Could it be they know our faith is a farce?�

Every time Pat Robertson says another stupid thing, every time Jerry Falwell argues for the literal truth of the Bible �in areas such as geography, science, history,� every time Lou Sheldon vents his hatred of gays, every time Don Wildmon launches another boycott against a company that treats all its employees equally and with dignity and respect, the youth of America sees ever more clearly the fraud and farce.

The answer to the last question in the title of Mr. Friedeman�s article -- �do we need to change something?� -- is a resounding �yes.� A good place to start would be stop claiming to know God�s will and how everyone should be and live. After that, recognize the Bible for what it is: a compilation of guiding stories and myths, not absolute literal Truth. Recognize that �humanism� -- and the idea of civil equality for all people -- is an inherent part of Christian philosophy, not its enemy, and that a forced march into the mythic past is a distinctly bad idea. As Rev. John Shelby Spong noted recently,

My sense is that the Christianity of the future must be willing to let go the content of yesterday in a far more radical way than people have yet imagined . . . Only then can we begin the slow and laborious task of developing new content to make sense of the eternal experience of being human. Long after fundamentalist churches have moved away from their excessive [and] uninformed zeal and long after Benedict XVI has discovered that no one can return to the Middle Ages without committing intellectual suicide, a still, small voice will speak and a new reformation will begin on the edges of yesterday�s religious systems and slowly begin to make its way into the center of our reality.

Those youth who are fleeing fundamentalist and evangelical churches are leading the way to the new human reformation. God bless them.

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