Trump, Christianity, and the Gen-X-Boomer Divide
We've seen in this election cycle countless spiritual and cultural indicators that starkly demonstrate how the American church (lowercase "c") is divided. Donald Trump has been a sort of fault line, with a large percentage of his ardent supporters who claim to be "evangelicals" being older and barely attending church, while many of those who oppose him are younger and more devout in their faith.
Despite the parade of horribles we've had to endure this election cycle, in some ways, there's much to be thankful for. The shake-ups in the GOP and the church were probably inevitable and we may be in the midst of seeing God do a miraculous work to bring about a revival in the church and/or prepare her for persecution that could be looming on the horizon.
But before I get to that, I want to highlight what some others have been saying about this divide in the church. Rebecca K. Reynolds penned a piece earlier this month, "7 Requests from a Right-Wing Gen-Xer: Why Boomers are Having Trouble Convincing X-ers to Vote for Trump," that's well worth your time if you want to understand why we're all talking past each other this election cycle. In her thoughtful and irenic piece, Reynolds explains why Gen-Xers, unlike their parents, don't look up to and admire big-name evangelical leaders:
I was 16 in 1988 when right-wing political preacher Jimmy Swaggart was first caught with a prostitute. (I say “first,” because this happened again a few years later.) In 1987, it had been Jim Bakker hitting the skids. We watched Newt Gingrich lambast Clinton for his affair, then watched Gingrich exposed for his own. We watched Rush Limbaugh snuggled in to the conservative religious right while making ugly, demeaning jokes that belittled women. We listened to him spew rude insults to the indulgent left while living secretly hooked on drugs. We saw Ted Haggard, President of the National Association of Evangelicals, advocate for right wing policies before getting caught in his gay sex scandal. John Ensign, the Christian Coalition darling, taught the sanctity of marriage while having an affair. Jim West advocated against gay rights before being caught in homosexual activity. Lou Beres of the Oregon Christian Coalition molested little girls. In 2006, Mark Foley, rated highly by the Christian Coalition, was caught sending sexual emails and texts to male pages.
Now when we see someone crusading hard for legislated morality, red flags go up instinctively. We think to ourselves, "I wonder what he's doing in private?" We brace ourselves for disappointment.
It's a scathing indictment of the so called "religious right" that was supposed to be holding the line against the left's attacks in the culture wars. Certainly not all religious leaders who got caught up in the politico-religious movement that became influential during the Reagan era compromised their values and failed to practice what they preached, but many did, and many others looked the other way when those in positions of power committed egregious sins while running on "family values" platforms.
Reynolds insists that it's not a liberal mindset that makes those of her generation suspicious of men and women who purport to speak for Christianity while telling them how they should vote, but rather a skepticism born out of experience. While it seems their parents still look up to and trust these leaders to inform their decisions, the Gen-Xers are not buying it.
Another important point she makes is that Gen-Xers are suspicious of the scare tactics the previous generation is so fond of using:
For years now, Boomers have been filling up social media with internet links from right-wing propaganda sites. These sites are riddled with horror headlines and reactive, end-of-the-world predictions. When we've clicked on them, the side bars have been full of advertisements for bulk food and gas masks.
Boomers, we love your generation, and we have wanted your guidance. We've tried to be fair and heed your warnings when you have passed them along to us. But so many times when we’ve followed up with research to your check facts, we’ve been burned. Sometimes we've even reposted your links and then felt foolish when others have shown us how badly they err.
I don't mean that you've been wrong every time, but your batting average is low enough that we have learned to jump on your bandwagons more slowly than we used to. You've cried wolf a few too many times, and we have grown numb.
And here's the kicker. I think it's entirely possible that you're right this time-- Hillary is likely to cause serious damage to America. But if the Gen-Xers close to you aren't listening to your warnings about this, maybe it's because you've told them that the sky was falling when it wasn't.
She wonders why these Boomers, who have told her generation that God is in control and can be trusted, are now succumbing to hopelessness and declaring that the end of America is nigh.
If you're bristling at Ms. Reynolds and tempted to dismiss her out of hand, I would encourage you to go and find a Christian Gen-Xer—or ten of them—and then go and find some millennials and ask them if they agree with what Reynolds has written. The answers might surprise you—and they'll likely be surprisingly consistent. Like it or not, this divide between the generations exists.