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July 19th, 2010
11:00 AM ET

Has the Religious Right lost its children?

Evangelical writer Donald Miller, author of 'Blue Like Jazz.'

I was talking one day to the Rev. Jim Wallis, an evangelical leader, when he made a startling claim:

The Religious Right has lost its children.

Wallis said the children of ultra-conservative Christians are deserting their parents’ theology in droves. Wallis is the president of Sojourners, a network of progressive Christians.

He says a new generation of Christians are tired of their faith being defined by two issues: fights over abortion and homosexuality.

They really object to the tone of the culture wars. I’m on the road a lot and I’ll have these young Christians say to me, 'If they force us to only care about two issues, they’re going to lose my generation.'

Wallis cites another example as proof of his point: the popularity of evangelical writer Donald Miller, author of “Blue Like Jazz.”

Wallis, it turns out, is a big fan of Miller - as well as his friend. I talked to Wallis when I was interviewing people for a profile of Miller that appeared on CNN.com.

Wallis says Miller is so popular because he’s not interested in being a theological enforcer. He’s not afraid to ask hard questions and, perhaps even more, admit he doesn’t have the answer.

"His questions are the questions of a new generation," Wallis says. Wallis also says that a younger generation of evangelicals also care more about how their leaders live than what they say.

Miller’s mentoring project, which encourages men to mentor fatherless boys, also gives him credibility with younger evangelicals, Wallis says.

Kids look at him and he’s not just attacking other people for what they believe, he says, he’s actually trying to do something.

Wallis has long said that the Religious Right peaked in 2004 with the re-election of President George W. Bush. Still, it was shocking to hear him say near the end of our conversation, "The Religious Right is over because they lost their children."

- CNN Writer

Filed under: Abortion • Belief • Books • Christianity • Culture & Science • Culture wars

soundoff (134 Responses)
  1. Adan Cutts

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    April 7, 2011 at 9:46 pm |
  2. Lou Heckart

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    April 7, 2011 at 2:40 am |
  3. doug

    Jim Wallis is confused. first he says Jesus taught a message of social giving which is farthest from the truth. anyone who reads the bible with any undertstanding would know jesus had only one message that was to get into the kingdom of god.

    He only wants to believe which parts of the bible he wants to believe the bible specifically states a man will join together with women Jesus reaffirmed that but the liberal left will follow wallis because he goes against biblical teachings and perverts the bibles message.

    December 19, 2010 at 3:56 am |
  4. Peter S. Chamberlain

    Although I am very concerned about some of Wallis’ unorthodox religious views and his reported acceptance of money from the brilliant leftist speculator George Soros, the fact is that not only the conservative, evangelical Christians, but others, are experiencing problems communicating and transmitting their faith to their children and others. I’m not sure some of the statistics are valid, but the unpleasant fact is that the churches, both older main line like the Methodists and Presbyterians who evangelized and provided much of the educational and other infrastructure of this country when scriptural and vital, and those more orthodox and evangelical, have been having trouble retaining and attracting young people, and have been graying, for some time before abortion, homosexuality, or the “religious right” were issues of which more than a scattered handful of people were aware much less interested. I’ve been following this with interest and concern for over fifty years.
    By the way, if this were the result of some kind of secular enlightenment and reformation, there would be a whole lot more self-identified convinced atheists than there actually are, a small fraction of those who have fallen away from, never believed in any god, or never been inside a church.
    I have had a lot of conversations, mostly spontaneously and often very surprisingly initiated by them, with teenagers and others, on religious and related topics—that’s kind of like Dave Barry’s great title “Life and Related Topics”—typified by one teen secretarial trainee who unexpectedly initiated a very interesting conversation with “I guess there’s a God, I just don’t know anything about him.” I’ve interviewed an awful lot of children, teens, etc., professionally, who have made serious suicide attempts, not to mention way too many survivors of childhood aggravated sexual assault, mostly incest, including the daughters, sisters, and nieces of a lot of politicians palmed off on us by both parties who profess to be a lot of things they are not.
    During this same fifty years or so, starting when I was in public schools, atheistic evolution, nothing being objectively right or wrong, and human life having no more significance than that of a chicken, has become the judicially and otherwise officially established official religion of the United States, taught in its public schools. I was at a public school Thanksgiving program a few years ago where, to comply with some incredible misinterpretation of “separation of church and state,” the school, using a script drafted by some national leftist group, maybe the NEA, had the children recite that “Thanksgiving commemorates the Pilgrims thanking the Indians for corn,” a lie I have read about being taught in other states as well. The textbooks say “The Founders were Deists,” which is not just a generalization but a demonstrable lie about a strong-minded and diverse group of individuals ranging from atheist Tom Paine to miracle denier and arguable deist Jefferson—though to get there you have to ignore his words at the heart of the Declaration of Independence, for example—to orthodox Episcopalians like Washington and Jay, just to cite a few of the varieties.
    I have seen one study in which just over half not of criminal defendants but prospective jurors, taught this unverifiable theory in public school, said that they did not believe that there was any such thing as right and wrong. Now consider the challenge of picking a jury from that group to try a sanity hearing, the issue in which is whether or not the defendant, charged with, say, rape and murder, knew the difference between right and wrong. And we wonder why my juvenile law practice shifted from minor vandalism and joy-riding in stolen cars to rape by clients some of whom were too young to qualify legally as juvenile delinquents much less be tried as adults, on up, and murders for which the clients could not give me a coherent explanation in a privileged and confidential interview. I know why child and youth suicide is up significantly, too.
    As a prospective employer, you can’t ask applicants about, or base a hiring decision upon, their faith, but the brutally simple fact is that those who have been exposed to some solid religious training and have some religious faith, regardless of denominational flavor, typically make better students and employees.

    August 25, 2010 at 6:09 am |
  5. Jim Carr Savannah

    Gee... Let's HOPE that the author is right.
    There is no more destructive force to humanity than adults who use twisted biblical fairy tales to set their moral compasses by, save perhaps those who use the Koran. There are those who see the vicious nonsense in the bible as being just one small step up from cavemen sacrificing children on stone temples. Then there are those of us who know it to be the exact same thing..... because we can read.
    Stop religion in it's tracks.... ENOUGH IS ENOUGH.
    Karl Marx was wrong wrong when he call religion the opiate of the masses..... watching these fundamentalist christians behavior, I would say it's more like the crack of the masses.

    August 15, 2010 at 10:39 am |
  6. TheRationale

    The reason kids are turning away is because when you juxtapose scientific explanations with religious ones, religion usually fails on every note. The universe is billions of years old, evolution's been proven for over a century, and the scientific understanding of the universe has yet to encounter any sort of God. Any cross-examination of religious "evidence" shows that things such as miracles and prayer work for whichever religion you choose.

    Of course, when religious groups actively murder untold millions via condom-phobia and misinformation, as well as cling to homophobic bigotry, it becomes quite difficult to say that these are morally good ways of thinking.

    Given the vast (and growing) expanse of information readily available to essentially anyone in the western world, it is becoming increasingly harder to keep kids from thinking for themselves.

    July 29, 2010 at 12:10 am |
  7. Patrick Boyle

    There is a powerful and crucial difference between faith and religion in my mind. Faith is personal, the relationship you share with whatever structure of the universe you care to use. Religion is the organizations that spring up around the faith of individuals. Faith is often a force for good, as it allows us to hope despite evidence to the contrary. Religion has historically been a force for greed, avarice and division. I understand some will take offense to this statement and I fully expect it. However, look at the history of organized Religions and can you honestly pull a net gain to the betterment of the human condition? Most likely you will find examples of people of Faith performing good separate of their Religion. Faith calls upon us to believe after examining our belief to ensure its truth. Religion says to simply believe and it will be true because we say so.
    I think the greatest step mankind could take towards peace would be the abolishment of Religion while allowing people to retain their Faith.
    I put my trust in mankind, for as flawed as we are, as miserably as we can treat each other, it is also mankind I see treating each other with kindness, love and respect. It is mankind I see striving to improve our lives with medicines, new ways of feeding our people and striving to find out what is beyond the next horizon.
    I know this was long winded and I appreciate those who take the time to read it and think upon it.

    July 27, 2010 at 8:57 pm |
  8. HeIsGod

    He says a new generation of Christians are tired of their faith. Well, the Word of God proclaims that this would happen.

    2:3 "Let no one deceive you by any means, for that Day will not come unless the falling away, (apostasy-NASB), comes first, and the man of sin, (man of lawlessness – NASB), is revealed, the son of perdition, (son of destruction -NASB)
    2:4 who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God".
    -2Thes.2:3-4 NKJV

    A second set of prophecies warn that the Church will be assaulted by cultic deception in the end times. Jesus emphasized this point repeatedly in His Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:5, 11 & 24). And Paul underlined it in the strongest possible language when he wrote: "The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons" (I Tim. 4:1).

    The fulfillment of these prophecies began in the 19th Century with the rise of Mormonism and its demonic teaching that Jesus is the brother of Lucifer, one of thousands of Gods created by the super god, Adam, an exalted man. The Jehovah's Witnesses were next on the scene with their perverted teaching that Jesus is the Archangel Michael.

    July 24, 2010 at 8:15 pm |
    • Gregory McCaw

      Actually, my friend, you are an excellent example of the very apostasy your quotes speak of...

      Apostasy being teaching that leads away from the teaching of Jesus Christ. Since your entire message seems to be one of division, exclusion, "I'm in – you're out," etc., it is in direct opposition to Christ's teaching of inclusion, reconciliation and love.

      July 25, 2010 at 11:32 pm |
  9. Alex

    Perhaps America is beginning to realise that puritanical hold overs from the 17th century, and desperate evangelical christianity, have no place in a Western world where a majority of countries are secular.

    Perhaps it's also time that the words "...under god" were removed from the currency and various pledges, as well as doing far more to rigidly enforce a division between state and church, after all if the founding fathers were saavy enough to recognise these perils back in the late 1700's then SURELY they must remain evident today.

    Ultimately, religion has become irrelevant because it's monopolies on education and control through ignorance have come to an end in most of the West. It's high time Americans took the hint and joined the enlightenment.

    July 24, 2010 at 7:44 pm |
  10. J Rosen

    "And what do you say to him then?" What Bertrand Russell said that he would say: Admosnished that God would ask hum why he didn't believe. Russell said he would reply "Why didn't you give better evidence?"

    Presuming that God has all positive attributes, could we guess that a good sense of humor is among them?

    July 24, 2010 at 7:05 pm |
  11. Andrew peter

    The biggest mistake of the Christian community is becoming involved in politics. Religion and politics do not mix, because politics is about compromise and religion does not. That said, government and politics should not be devoid of Christianity. True Christianity is moral and upright. But yet, Natural Man will only go along with Christianity as long as it appeals and rewards in this world, otherwise he will be in complete rebellion (like we see today). So how is this supposed to work? I wish I knew.

    July 23, 2010 at 5:09 pm |
    • Alex

      Indeed, religion and politics do not and should not mix as one attempts to deal with the daily ordering of reality, whereas the other peddles the ordering of a fictional afterlife.

      It should also be noted that morality does not come from religion, rather quite the reverse, so by removing religion from the equation you would, in fact, be allowing people to make sounder decisions based on what happens in this world.

      July 24, 2010 at 7:47 pm |
  12. kenny c.

    I REMEMBER DRIVING DOWN 82ND AVE IN PORTLAND OR. WHERE DON MILLER LIVES AND SEEING HIM SITTING ALONE IN HIS CAR IN A PARKING LOT EATING A BURRITO FROM BURRITO LOCO 2 (THIS WAS WHEN HE WAS REALLY FAT) I remember that I felt kind of bad for him and at the same time I thought everyone in the world falls short of the standard of what they really want to be. DON DIDNT WANT TO BE SITTING ALONE EATING A BURRITO AND MAKING HIS BODY BIGGER BUT YET THERE HE WAS DOING HIS DRUG, GETTING HIS BURRITO FIX, those burritos are really good though. His books really have nothing to do with the Jesus of the bible, but everything to do with a culture THAT REALLY JUST WANTS A BURRITO AND A NEW FIX BECAUSE THE OLD BURRITO PLACE IS, WELL, JUST THAT, IT'S OLD.

    July 23, 2010 at 3:25 pm |
  13. Beth Boyle

    Of course they did the parents are stuck in the 19th Century. Kids today are far better educated and think for themselves well. More and more of them have a higher education.It's more than loosing the kids on the two issues they have lost the younger generation because the world is shrinking and the youth want to be current not stuck in the past. If Christianity is to survive it has to evolve with the times.

    July 23, 2010 at 2:20 am |
    • Alex

      Beth how can any religion "evolve with the times" when so many believers flat out deny evolution? Religions continue to become less and less relevant because their central tenets were laid down over 2000 years ago.

      July 24, 2010 at 7:51 pm |
  14. Jesus freak

    Look Everybody. Jesus was real. He wrote a book about it! If that's not evidence enough, I don't know what to tell you. I don't see why anybody needs evidence for extra ordinary claims. You should be completely willing to believe something like this. For instance, I also believe in the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, Leprechauns, The Loch Ness Monster, Chupacabras and UFOs. You would be a fool not to!

    July 22, 2010 at 4:52 pm |
    • Woody

      I also know Santa Claus is real. So are flying reindeer with illuminated noses. How am I so sure. Why I read "A Visit from St. Nicholas", also known as "The Night Before Christmas" and "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer". And as any bible reader will tell you, if you read it in an old book, it has to be true.

      July 23, 2010 at 11:53 am |
    • Bernard Webb

      "I don't see why anybody needs evidence for extra ordinary claims."

      Freak, I have to believe that you had tongue in cheek when you wrote this. Or are you saying that if someone makes an extraordinary claim, they need not prove it as the simple fact that they said it shows it is true? That can't be right. Otherwise I can say "I can jump over my house" and if someone says "prove it" I can just say "I don't need to – my saying it makes it true". (That sounds a lot like today's conservatives in their unreality bubble!)

      July 25, 2010 at 8:14 am |
    • CatholicMom

      Jesus never wrote a word....................what He taught is what He commissioned His Apostles to teach.

      July 26, 2010 at 3:04 pm |
  15. Greg

    Christ or Johnny Quest? I think they both did. Both were fictional.

    July 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  16. Sarah

    Didn't you have a TV show when yoiu were younger?

    July 22, 2010 at 4:47 pm |
  17. JohnQuest

    You guys know the lions den was for everyone especially Christians.

    July 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm |
    • Bob Christ

      Lions are for everybody! Zoos aren't prejudice. Neither are lions….when they are hungry.

      July 22, 2010 at 4:29 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.