Over the past 20 years, professor of Bible Dr. Joe Brumfield has collected nearly 14,000 anonymous responses from students regarding religion, faith, morality and church. The thoughts and questions presented by the students from the surveys are telling of their absence and feeling of desertion from the church, according to Brumfield.
“These results are much more qualitative than they are quantitative,” Brumfield said.
Of all the responses, the majority are centered on three main topics: hypocrisy in with the church, struggles with sexuality, and conflict with science and philosophy.
“What frustrates me about the church is that (members) pretend to have an ‘open door’ policy, but the church locks it’s buildings and frowns upon different people entering,” a respondent wrote. “Churches are exclusive and don’t work well with other churches, and members live double-standard lifestyles.”
Sophomore Brian Cozart shared thoughts on his, and fellow students’, criticisms of the church. Cozart graduated high school from Crowley’s Ridge Academy, a private Christian school, and grew up in the church of Christ, and now claims that he is not a Christian, but “accepts many Christian ideas.”
“I see a lot of arrogance in the church,” Cozart said. “The church as a whole comes off as if it has all of the answers and when someone finds the established answers unsatisfactory, they feel no invitation from the church to talk about such issues. The church doesn’t entertain questions, it only gives answers.”
Brumfield said that students and young adults are dissatisfied with churches having a monopoly on truth and salvation. He deferred to the words of James A. Harding: “I have always said we should be Christians only, I have never said we are the only Christians.”
Frustration with church leadership, teaching and doctrine is an additional matter in the responses.
“At my home church, I have struggled with something that is becoming a universal issue,” a respondent wrote. “Our elders, deacons and leaders base their faith, teaching and beliefs on church or family tradition instead of Biblical doctrine.”
Another recurring struggle of students throughout the responses is the issues of lust and the church’s stance on homosexuality.
Respondents asked, “how far is too far” or “why does God give us sexuality,” which Brumfield said is an incredibly evident theme. Homosexuality, and the debate and acceptance of it in the church, though, is becoming increasingly more common.
“The day after gay marriage was legalized in the U.S., I sat in a church and listen to a preacher talk about how “the church was facing a new era of persecution,” Cozart said. “During this sermon, all I could think about was a late night talk with one of my friends (who) is gay. He told me that he was raped at a party by one of the bullies at his high school. This bully was an outspoken Christian. That is persecution.”
Brumfield said that when he began accepting responses 20 years ago, students understood that if the Bible stated something, it was so; today, however, students need “the latest clinical research” or hard evidence as to why a certain custom should be practiced or statute should be followed.
Respondents posed philosophical questions like “why do bad things happen to good people,” “how do we know any of this is real” or “what if all of this is wrong and there is no God?”
Brumfield said “hundreds and hundreds” of responses are based around doubt in God, faith and reality.
“Research shows that parents are the primary influencers (on students’) beliefs,” Brumfield said. “In other words, these questions were in their minds before they arrived at Harding.”
Brumfield said that while there is “not a single, definite reason” for explaining why millennials are leaving the church or why they feel the church is leaving them, these responses offer profound insight into the issue.
Part 3 of “The Millennial Exodus: the solution to the problem,” will appear in next weeks issue of The Bison, on stands Friday, Oct. 23.