CHICAGO, June 20, 2010 -- Could the so-called death of traditional Christian America in fact be a good thing ... for Christians? Young Christian activists who are calling for a renewal of their faith seem to think so.
"There's a new generation of Christians who are engaging the world in a different way, largely driven by the fact that we're in a different context than many Christians have had to live in, in quite some time," said Gabe Lyons, founder of Q. The website acts as a forum for people to come together and explore ideas about Christianity's role in a modern cultural context.
"Christianity, historically, has grown when it's been under pressure, when it's not been in this dominant power position," he said. "And so it's not a bad thing for us to be in a place where it's not just assumed that everyone's a Christian. It forces us to go deeper, it forces us to back to our roots."
In what some are calling "post-Evangelicalism," a revised Christian mentality is making its way into the public forum.
If these young Christians get their way, the future perception of Christians is not as a knee-jerk association with hot-button social issues, but as a largely nonpolitical association fighting for justice, equality and the common good.
The American Religious Identification Study released in 2009 reported that the percentage of people that identify as Christian fell 10 percent between 1990 and 2008, from 86 to 76 percent. And a 2010 poll from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reported that 26 percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 say they are unaffiliated with a religion.
These types of statistics have pushed some believers to re-evaluate.
"I think it's forcing us to say, gosh, if we really want to be relevant in this time, how can we speak to the culture and to the world in a way that's going to actually make us relevant?" said Nicole Baker Fulgham of Teach For America.
Young Christians recently met at the Q conference in Chicago to talk about the future of their faith. When asked about the biggest issues of American life on their minds right now, they shot out answers including educational inequality, poverty, genocide prevention and nuclear non-proliferation.
Renewal of Church Means Focusing on Global Topics Such as Genocide, Human Trafficking, Other Value Topics
Notably missing? Abortion and same-sex marriage, the hot-button issues that surface with every election hand-in-hand with debates over the effect of "values voters."
"The way the media has talked about it, it's as though there are only two values that these voters care about. As a person who does vote based on values, there are a lot of other values that are very important to me around poverty and justice and health care and education," Teach For America's Fulgham said.
They still care about abortion but want to emphasize a broader range of issues. They want to present a different and, they say, less judgmental face to the world.
"It's just not OK that the church is not talking about genocide. It's not OK that the church is not talking about AIDS. It's not OK that the church is not talking about human trafficking and the role we have in that," said Shannon Sedgwick of the Bridgeway Foundation, which awards grants to charities and causes around the world. "I'm excited about a renewal of the church that does talk about those things and that focuses on those things."
Those who believe in this new Christianity want to make clear that they are not abandoning Christianity's core principals but finding a new way of engaging with the world.
"I'm not sure we're critiquing the people who have come before us as much as we're changing the tone of the dialogue, moving some of the anger and the defensiveness, replacing it with gentleness and respect," said Pastor Jon Tyson of New York's Trinity Grace Church.
And for these young Christians, this change is filled with hope and promise.
As Gabe Lyons said to the group, "There's an opportunity for a new generation to embody what the faith means in a way that I think the world could respond to in a different way than they have in the past."