What happened to the Trump youth vote? Is court evangelical and Liberty University spokesperson Charlie Kirk to blame?

As Gabby Orr at Politico writes, “Nobody involved in Donald Trump’s reelection thought the president would win the youth vote in 2020. But they didn’t think it would be this bad.” Orr interviewed more than 20 people from the Trump campaign. Here is a taste of her piece:

Others faulted the Trump campaign, accusing the president’s top aides of “outsourcing” his youth outreach program to Turning Point Action, the political action arm of the conservative campus group Turning Point USA.

Led by its 26-year-old founder, Charlie Kirk, the group oversaw myriad door-knocking and grassroots get-out-the-vote efforts this cycle, in addition to working with top White House aides like senior adviser Jared Kushner to plan events that put the president and his surrogates in front of young audiences. People involved with Kirk’s operation claimed his “herculean” efforts to boost Trump’s reelection were done without input or resources from the Trump campaign — much to their chagrin in the months leading up to the Nov. 3 election.

But two Trump campaign aides who have worked closely with Kirk said the campaign had its own youth outreach efforts that went beyond voters who are still in college. These aides described Turning Point’s messaging as too sycophantic to bring in young voters who might align more closely with conservatism but remain apprehensive about Trump himself. Kirk was afforded a primetime speaking slot at the Republican National Convention in August and has a close relationship with the president and some of his adult children.

“It’s a mistake to think that groups operating on college campuses alone are going to reach young voters outside of college,” said one of the aides.

Another Trump ally described Turning Point Action as ill-equipped to handle youth outreach for a major party presidential campaign “because it’s a relatively new organization without deeper community ties.”

People close to Kirk rejected these claims, suggesting the young activist and his group did what they could to help the president, and accused the Trump campaign and Republican National Committee of lacking the organizational skills and resources needed to reach broad swaths of young voters in the critical 2020 battlegrounds.

Read the entire piece here.

Hillary Clinton is right about young people and Christianity

Hillary Clinton recently started a podcast. Rev. William Barber was her first guest. During the course of the conversation she said something that I am afraid is very true:

HRC: How do you see now what the church should be doing? Because a lot of people are leaving the church. A lot of young people are leaving the church, in part because the way they understand what Christianity has become is, you know, so judgmental, so alienating that they think to themselves, well, I don’t need that. I don’t want to be part of that. So this should also be a time for the church to take a hard look at itself and try to figure out how it can be a real partner in this moment of moral awakening.  

BARBER: So there’s a book that I – when I studied my doctoral degree at Drew University, it was in pastoral care and public policy. And one of the books that was read said, you do not care about your people from a pastoral perspective, if you are not willing from a prophetic perspective, to challenge the systems that make them have the problems that need pastoral counseling in the first place. So in this moment, we have to stop separating the two. You know, a lot of young people are leaving so-called white evangelicalism. And I was told when we started working with young people, you know, “you’re not going to be able to be a preacher because they’re not, they don’t like that.” I said “no.” I said “what they don’t like is this bland form of religion that tells them all religion is about is just praying and wishing for stuff.” 

Young people are very open to faith that is about transformation, about love, about justice, about equality, about the essence, the essence of what it means to be people of faith. And I think we have to be engaged. There’s no way in the days in which we live, the church can stay quarantined inside of the four walls of a building because that’s never what it was intended to do. You know, I’ve made a pact with some pastors, for instance, and we’ve said if anybody in our church dies from the lack of health care, we’re going to do just like Emmett Till’s momma. Call the media in and say this is what bad government policy looks like.

Read the rest here.

The Coronavirus: Young People Are not Immune

Spring Break 2

In the last month, thirty percent of those hospitalized wit the coronavirus were younger than 55.  Here is The Washington Post:

The deadly coronavirus has been met with a bit of a shrug among some in the under-50 set in the United States. Even as public health officials repeatedly urged social distancing, the young and hip spilled out of bars on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. They gleefully hopped on flights, tweeting about the rock-bottom airfares. And they gathered in packs on beaches.

Their attitudes were based in part on early data from China, which suggested that covid-19 might seriously sicken or kill the elderly — but spare the young.

Stark new data from the United States and Europe suggests otherwise.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis of U.S. cases from Feb. 12 to March 16 released Wednesday shows that 38 percent of those sick enough to be hospitalized were younger than 55.

Earlier this week, French health ministry official Jérome Salomon said half of the 300 to 400 coronavirus patients treated in intensive care units in Paris were younger than 65, and, according to numbers presented at a seminar of intensive care specialists, half the ICU patients in the Netherlands were younger than 50.

Read the rest here.


A “massive religious realignment in America”


Over at Religion News Service, Jana Riess interviews Daniel Cox, research director at PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute), on a new study on the religious beliefs of Millennials and Generation Z.  The study is titled “Diversity, Division, Discrimination: The State of Young America.”

Here is what I learned from Jana’s interview:

  • Young people believe that Americans are more divided over politics than race or religion
  • Young people are not much different than older Americans on abortion, but on all other issues of human sexuality, including marriage, they are more liberal than older Americans.
  • Young people are much more tolerant of non-traditional families
  • Barack Obama is viewed favorably by young people, but less so among white young men
  • Only 25% of young people “have a favorable impression of Trump.”
  • Young people believe that Muslims in America are facing discrimination

Read the entire interview here.

Baby Boomers Respond to the Juvenilization of American Evangelicalism

Last Sunday was the final day of a 4-week class on recent evangelicalism (since 1960) that I taught at West Shore Evangelical Free Church in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.  The topic for this last class was the history of evangelical youth culture.

I prepped for this session by reading Thomas Bergler’s excellent The Juvenilization of American ChristianityThe book is basically a history of twentieth-century Christian youth ministry in America. It focuses mostly on Catholics, mainline Protestants (especially Methodists), and evangelicals.
Bergler’s coverage of evangelical youth ministry centers on Youth for Christ, the organization founded in the 1940s by fundamentalists (or were they neo-evangelicals?) such as Jack Wyrtzen and Percy Crawford. Some of you may know that Billy Graham was an evangelist with Youth for Christ before he started his own ministry.
Bergler argues that the leaders of Youth for Christ were successful in preaching the Christian gospel to evangelical young people. By making Christianity fun and exciting, and by encouraging teenagers to “take a stand for Christ” in their schools, thousands and thousands of kids became evangelical Christians. Youth for Christ leaders were cool. They used popular forms of music, organized informal “small groups,” tended to be “seeker-friendly” in their approach, and turned the Christian gospel into an attractive commodity. 
Bergler suggests that this approach to youth ministry was high on emotion and light on doctrine.  Youth for Christ preached a feel good Christianity that gave high school students what they wanted, but not necessarily what they needed. He is thus not surprised by Christian Smith’s recent study characterizing 20th century Christian young people as “moral therapeutic deists.” Youth for Christ, he argues, rarely produced “mature” Christians. 
But Bergler takes the argument further. Evangelical adults, many of them the product of Youth for Christ clubs and rallies, are duplicating the Youth for Christ philosophy of ministry in evangelical congregations today. This “juvenile” approach to Christianity is prevalent in “seeker-friendly” megachurches, the evangelical love of “small groups,” feel-good” praise music, and an obsession with celebrities.

As you may recall from my previous posts, my “students” in this class are all evangelical baby boomers.  Many of them had very positive experiences with Youth for Christ.  One family said that they knew Jack Wyrtzen personally and credited Youth for Christ for sustaining their ongoing commitment to the Christian life.  Others felt that I (or perhaps Bergler) was being too hard on evangelical youth ministry.  Sure the theology was shallow and the focus was more on fun than deep Christian thinking, but many insisted that the cultivation of mature Christians was not the primary purpose of Youth for Christ.  The goal of the YFC clubs was to win young people to Christ and then let the local churches handle their maturation in the faith.

As much as I affirmed the way that Youth for Christ changed and transformed young lives, very few people in the room were willing to admit that their favorite youth ministry had been partially successful because it preached a rather undemanding version of the Christian faith.  Because so many people were bothered with how I (using Bergler) portrayed Youth for Christ, I fear that the class may have missed the larger historical point that I (again, using Bergler) was trying to make about how YFC’s philosophy of ministry has influenced today’s megachurches.

It was an interesting four weeks. Some of the people in the class seemed to really enjoy it. Others seemed a bit uncomfortable discussing subjects like evangelicals and politics (I used James Davison Hunter’s argument that politics may not be the best way to change the world) or evangelical views of the Bible (I implied that one did not need to believe in biblical inerrancy to be a committed evangelical).

After finishing this class I realized that I am still learning how to bring good historical scholarship to the church.

Teens and Technology

From a just-released Pew study:

Key findings include:

  • 78% of teens now have a cell phone, and almost half (47%) of them own smartphones. That translates into 37% of all teens who have smartphones, up from just 23% in 2011.
  • 23% of teens have a tablet computer, a level comparable to the general adult population.
  • 95% of teens use the internet.
  • 93% of teens have a computer or have access to one at home. Seven in ten (71%) teens with home computer access say the laptop or desktop they use most often is one they share with other family members.

 Read the entire report here.

The Juvenilization of American Christianity

This is a fascinating article by Thomas Bergler, a professor at Huntington University in Indiana and a historian of Christian youth culture.  He discusses a “quiet revolution in American church life” in which Christian teenagers and their youth leaders have convinced churches that the “the religious beliefs, practices, and developmental characteristics of adolescents” are now acceptable for adults.  White evangelicals have led this revolution and it has resulted in adults “embracing immature versions of the faith.”

As a fellow historian, my natural instinct is to want to argue that Bergler’s juvenilization thesis is not new, but has been a part of American church life for decades, if not centuries.  But I am hard pressed to make this argument since I cannot think of any point in the history of American evangelicalism where the youth culture has had this much influence over the way adult Christians worship and practice their faith.

Here is a taste of Bergler’s essay:

Still, churches new to juvenilization would do well to consider its unintended consequences. Juvenilization tends to create a self-centered, emotionally driven, and intellectually empty faith.In their landmark National Study of Youth and Religion, Christian Smith and his team of researchers found that the majority of American teenagers, even those who are highly involved in church activities, are inarticulate about religious matters. They seldom used words like faith, salvation, sin, or even Jesus to describe their beliefs. Instead, they return again and again to the language of personal fulfillment to describe why God and Christianity are important to them. The phrase “feel happy” appeared over 2,000 times in 267 interviews.
Today many Americans of all ages not only accept a Christianized version of adolescent narcissism, they often celebrate it as authentic spirituality. God, faith, and the church all exist to help me with my problems.
Smith and his research team labeled this pattern of religious beliefs Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Teenagers learn these beliefs from the adults in their lives. It is the American cultural religion. Teenagers are “moralistic” in that they believe that God wants us to be good, and that the main purpose of religion is to help people be good. But since it is possible to be good without being religious, religion is an optional tool that can be chosen by those who find it helpful. American Christianity is “therapeutic” in that we believe that God and religion are valuable because they help us feel better about our problems. Finally, American teenagers show their “deism” in that they believe in a God who remains in the background of their lives—always watching over them, ready to help them, but not at the center of their lives.
Given the history of youth ministry and juvenilization, this pattern of religious beliefs should come as no surprise. As early as the 1950s, youth ministry was low on content and high on emotional fulfillment. The best youth ministries did provide individualized spiritual formation and even intense discipleship. But even otherwise exemplary youth ministries could unintentionally send the message that the church or even God exists to help me on my journey of self-development. Most youth ministries since the 1960s have followed the club model pioneered by Young Life and YFC. Songs, games, skits, and other youth-culture entertainments are followed by talks or discussions that feature simple truths packaged with humor, stories, and personal testimonies. As they listen to years of simplified messages that emphasize an emotional relationship with Jesus over intellectual content, teenagers learn that a well-articulated belief system is unimportant and might even become an obstacle to authentic faith. This feel-good faith works because it appeals to teenage desires for fun and belonging. It casts a wide net by dumbing down Christianity to the lowest common denominator of adolescent cognitive development and religious motivation.
Today many Americans of all ages not only accept a Christianized version of adolescent narcissism, they often celebrate it as authentic spirituality. God, faith, and the church all exist to help me with my problems. Religious institutions are bad; only my personal relationship with Jesus matters. If we believe that a mature faith involves more than good feelings, vague beliefs, and living however we want, we must conclude that juvenilization has revitalized American Christianity at the cost of leaving many individuals mired in spiritual immaturity….

The Jesus Sound Explosion

John Turner and Chris Gehrz have been writing about the 40th anniversary of Explo ’72, an evangelical youth event that brought 80,000 young people to the Cotton Bowl (Dallas) for several days of preaching, Christian music, and classes.  Turner suggests that their were 200,000 people present on the final day.  The speakers/musicians included Billy Graham, Johnny Cash, and Kris Kristofferson

I will let John and Chris explain the history, but I thought my readers might like this brief soundtrack of Johnny Cash’s performance at the event.

David Brooks on Moral Individualism of America’s Youth

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Borrowing from one of Christian Smith’s many recent books, David Brooks reflects on the moral state of today’s young people.

During the summer of 2008, the eminent Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith led a research team that conducted in-depth interviews with 230 young adults from across America. The interviews were part of a larger study that Smith, Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson, Patricia Snell Herzog and others have been conducting on the state of America’s youth. 

Smith and company asked about the young people’s moral lives, and the results are depressing.

It’s not so much that these young Americans are living lives of sin and debauchery, at least no more than you’d expect from 18- to 23-year-olds. What’s disheartening is how bad they are at thinking and talking about moral issues.

The interviewers asked open-ended questions about right and wrong, moral dilemmas and the meaning of life. In the rambling answers, which Smith and company recount in a new book, “Lost in Transition,” you see the young people groping to say anything sensible on these matters. But they just don’t have the categories or vocabulary to do so. 

Read the rest here.

Most students at Messiah College (the college where I teach) have a well-formed moral compass. But this does not mean that the kind of moral relativism that Smith and Brooks describe is not present here.  We would be foolish to suggest that Christian young people have not been shaped in one way or another by the culture that surrounds them.  This, I think, is why the work of Christian colleges are so important.  I hope that we are training young people to cultivate the virtues necessary to counter the moral relativism of our culture and to be ever aware of the common good when pursuing their various vocations and callings.  We are not always successful in fulfilling this mission, but we do make a conscious effort to bring the best of the liberal arts tradition to bear on questions about what it might mean to lead a good and flourishing life.

Where are the College Democrats?

Pew Research Center study has concluded, to quote The New York Times, that “far fewer 18-29 year-old now identify themselves as Democrats compared with 2008.” Here is a taste:

“Is the recession, which is hitting young people very hard, doing lasting or permanent damage to what looked like a good Democratic advantage with this age group?” asked Scott Keeter, the director of survey research at the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan group. “The jury is still out.”

How and whether millions of college students vote will help determine if Republicans win enough seats to retake the House or Senate, overturning the balance of power on Capitol Hill, and with it, Mr. Obama’s agenda. If students tune out and stay home it will also carry a profound message for American society about a generation that seemed so ready, so recently, to grab national politics by the lapels and shake.

The Times article includes some interviews from students at my wife’s alma mater–Colorado State University.

I am waiting for Historiann to weigh in on this.

Brooks: Internet vs. Reading

David Brooks examines the positive impact of books on kids and the negative impact of the Internet. A taste:

Recently, book publishers got some good news. Researchers gave 852 disadvantaged students 12 books (of their own choosing) to take home at the end of the school year. They did this for three successive years.

Then the researchers, led by Richard Allington of the University of Tennessee, looked at those students’ test scores. They found that the students who brought the books home had significantly higher reading scores than other students. These students were less affected by the “summer slide” — the decline that especially afflicts lower-income students during the vacation months. In fact, just having those 12 books seemed to have as much positive effect as attending summer school.

This study, along with many others, illustrates the tremendous power of books. We already knew, from research in 27 countries, that kids who grow up in a home with 500 books stay in school longer and do better. This new study suggests that introducing books into homes that may not have them also produces significant educational gains.

Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores.

This study, following up on others, finds that broadband access is not necessarily good for kids and may be harmful to their academic performance. And this study used data from 2000 to 2005 before Twitter and Facebook took off.

These two studies feed into the debate that is now surrounding Nicholas Carr’s book, “The Shallows.” Carr argues that the Internet is leading to a short-attention-span culture. He cites a pile of research showing that the multidistraction, hyperlink world degrades people’s abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation.

What Do Emerging Adults Believe?

Over at Text-Patterns, Alan Jacobs writes about sociologist Christian Smith‘s new book, Souls in Transition: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of Emerging Adults. Here are a few snippets from the book, culled from Alan’s post.

Voices critical of mass consumerism, materialistic values, or the environmental or social costs of a consumer-driven economy were nearly nonexistent among emerging adults. Once the interviewers realized, after a number of interviews, that they were hardly in danger of leading their respondents into feigned concern about consumerism, the interviewers began to probe more persistently to see if there might not be any hot buttons or particular phrases that could tap into any kind of concern about materialistic consumerism. There were not. Very many of those interviewed simply could not even understand the issue the interviewers were asking them about….

…The majority of those interviewed stated . . . that nobody has any natural or general responsibility or obligation to help other people. . . . Most of those interviewed said that it is nice if people help others, but that nobody has to. Taking care of other people in need is an individual’s choice. If you want to do it, good. If not, that’s up to you. . . . Even when pressed — What about victims of natural disaster or political oppression? What about helpless people who are not responsible for their poverty or disabilities? What about famines and floods and tsunamis? — No, they replied. If someone wants to help, then good for that person. But nobody has to.

It would seem that this book should be required reading for all college professors.

In the end of the post, Jacobs suggests that his Christian students at Wheaton College are different from the American norm. As he puts it: “Not that they’re untouched by the movements Smith and Snell describe, by any means; but by and larger their characters have been formed by quite different forces.”

Is Jacobs right about this? To what degree have Christian college students resisted the American norm and to what degree have they conformed to it? I hope some Christian college professors and students might weigh in here.

The Culture of Narcissism Revisited

Since I have been reviewing Eric Miller’s biography of Christopher Lasch, I decided to go back and reread Lasch’s The Culture of Narcissism. (1979). Though this book is now over thirty years old, I am convinced that it has more relevance today than it did in 1979. Perhaps I will do a few posts on it later in the summer.

My hunch about Lasch’s relevance was confirmed by this study, which I quote below from a recent Ross Douthat column:

Today’s college students are not as empathetic as college students of the 1980s and ’90s, a University of Michigan study shows. The study, presented in Boston at the annual meeting of the Association for Psychological Science, analyzes data on empathy among almost 14,000 college students over the last 30 years.

“We found the biggest drop in empathy after the year 2000,” said Sara Konrath, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research. “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago, as measured by standard tests of this personality trait.”

Douthat also points us to Christine Rosen’s 2007 article, “Virtual Friendship and the New Narcissism.”

If I ever get the chance this summer, I hope to write an article on the study of the past as an antidote to narcissism. Stay tuned.

The Jonas Brothers at the National Museum of American History

I would have probably skipped this story completely if I did not have two pre-teen daughters. My oldest visited the National Museum of American History yesterday on a class field trip.

Melinda Machado, the Director of the Office of Public Affairs at the museum, describes a recent visit by the Jonas Brothers. (I am going to assume that all of my readers know about the Jonas Brothers. If you do not, you really need to get a life!). Here is a taste of Machado’s post:

Just after 10:30 a.m., the brothers—Kevin, Joe, and Nick—arrived wearing gray morning suits (they were going to a brunch after the tour) and like many of our visitors, they came as a family group: Kevin’s wife Danielle, Camp Rock co-star Demi Lovato (Joe’s girlfriend), and mom and dad (Kevin, Sr. and Denise Jonas). Unlike our other visitors, they had personal security guards.

Peeking out of the Reception Suite, I saw that the museum had visitors but the coast looked pretty clear to make it to the elevators and up to the second floor to see the Star-Spangled Banner. We commandeered two elevators as there were two dozen people in our group. Just as we were almost in the elevator cabs, I heard someone shout: “The Jonas Brothers!” And the doors closed…

Wow! I didn’t know that Joe Jonas and Demi Lovato were dating!