The US Election and Why The Call for "Spiritual Revival" Might Not Be Connecting With Young Adults Today
I love young adults. One obvious reason: I am one! It is unsurprising then that on the eve of this Presidential election that my mind drifts to what my younger generation is thinking.
For the first time in a decade, I am observing the US Presidential election from another country (which I am told many of my American friends wish they could do as well!). But even being up here and slightly removed from the political upheaval, it is interesting to me the impact this election is having on our culture. This Scotties’ tissue billboard that hangs on a bus stop on the way home from Janan’s school pointedly states the opinion of many Canadians and Americans alike (picture to the left). Walking into a local ice rink, the topic of conversation on the TV monitors and among the guys is about…you guessed it…the election. Open up the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s (CBC) home page or turn on Toronto’s local TV channel and the US election "trumps" the Canadian headlines.
Thinking from my generation, there is an observation I cannot help but make. Take Trump’s campaign statement, “Make America Great Again.” I don’t have any problem with this. But the question I naturally have is, “When was America supposed to have been great?” For most Republican supporters, I believe they would point back to the days President Ronald Reagan was in office. Hey, I’m fine with that. From what I have read and watched, Reagan seemed like a great leader (The way he used humour to make profound points was genius!).
But there still remains one problem for those of my generation. We were not alive during that time point in history (I can already hear the groans from those over age 35!). Everything we know of this time period is second hand. So, while I believe I understand the call to make the US great again and might sympathize with the issues raised, I do not find the overarching vision compelling because the reference point of when it was supposed to have been great does not exist in my mind. [Note: I am not siding with or against Trump or Clinton. I am just making an observation about the way I believe many in my age category view this idea.]
As we saw with the 2008 election of Barack Obama and most recently with our election in Canada of Justin Trudeau, there is great appeal among millennials who see a candidate as pointing forward and not backwards. Obama’s message was “Hope and Change” while Trudeau’s message was “Real Change.” In each instance, these younger leaders observed a previous administration’s shortcomings and capitalized on them with younger audiences (as well as older). In Canada, while I really liked Prime Minister Harper, he had a public persona as being unrelatable and stuck in the past (It could be argued the “liberal” media contributed to this portrayal). While Harper tended to decline most news interviews, Trudeau went to the places young people were at and engaged them on their level. Recently, Bernie Sanders had enormous appeal to younger voters with the message “A future to believe in” and “A political revolution is coming” (To be fair, Trump has a number of younger voters siding with him as well for a whole differing set of reasons).
From a church perspective, writers such as John Dickerson (Author of "The Great Evangelical Recession") have noted that our younger generation is turning more and more away from the faith. Dickerson estimates that around 10% of the US is considered “Evangelical.” In Canada, we call it the 80-20 rule. Only 20% of our population make any profession of faith in Christ whatsoever (This includes Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics). So in reality, "Evangelicalism" is much lower here.
While I am so ill-equipped to offer much profound insight on this matter, I would just suggest that the way that we can reverse this trend is not by focusing on recreating something we observed in our past but allowing God the freedom to do a new work through us in our present day.
When I moved from Cincinnati, Ohio to Moneta, Virginia to be a part of the amazing work God is doing at Eastlake Community Church, the reason was simple. When I listened to my heroes like Jeff and Troy Keaton talk about what they saw Christ doing through the church in the future, that was enormously compelling for me! When I moved from Virginia to East Scarborough, the reason again was the same. I believed and continue to believe that God is going to do something tremendous and fresh in our city.
Growing up, I often heard the phrase, “We need to pray for a revival.” But often these prayers were very ambiguous and most people my age were not really certain what revival even looked like or meant. Nevertheless, I picked up the lingo and started to pray this prayer for our city of Toronto. But more recently, Janan and I have stopped praying this prayer for our community in East Scarborough. The reason is that the word revival indicates there was a fire that was alive and burning in the first place. Through our observation, this has not been the case for many years (if ever). Jesus Christ is entirely irrelevant in most of the lives of people around us. So, instead of praying for God to revive an old work for our present day, perhaps we should be expecting him to do something fresh!
Don't get me wrong. I love what God has done in the past. I just finished a Church History course for my Master's Degree and was so challenged by the great faith of men and women who have come before us. But I have also noticed that whenever God chooses to move in a special way, it always looks different from place to place. The principles of his moving may be the same but the people he uses and the means he accomplishes his work are exciting and unique.
To me, the idea of God doing a fresh work in our day and age is something I find very compelling and I suspect there are others from my generation (and not from my generation) that would say so as well!