1. The big news lighting up church circles at the moment is the polling numbers on evangelism released by Barna earlier this month. Christianity Today reports:

“Nearly half (47%) of practicing Christian millennials—churchgoers who consider religion an important part of their lives—believe that evangelism is wrong. At least, they’re more than twice as likely as their parents and grandparents to say that it’s “wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.”

While this statistic could easily bolster stereotypes of a distracted, and increasingly unaffiliated generation, the minority of millennials who have stayed active in their churches also show higher markers of commitment in other areas, as well as a savvier sense of the religious pluralism and diversity they were raised around.

Practicing Christian millennials were twice as likely as Gen X and four times as likely as Boomers and Elders to agree with the statement, “If someone disagrees with you, it means they’re judging you.”

Younger folks are tempted to believe instead, “if we just live good enough lives, we can forgo the conversation entirely, and people around us will almost magically come to know Jesus through our good actions and selfless character,” she said. “This style of evangelism is becoming more and more prevalent in a culture constantly looking for the fast track and simple fix.”

Just a couple notes, since we talk about it quite a bit on The Mockingcast this week: first, if someone disagrees with you, they probably are judging you. You are certainly judging them. So it could be that millennials, having been raised in an era where those judgments are more transparent (via social media), are simply wiser on that score. Whether that correlates to evangelism feels like a separate discussion.

Second, the research indicates that younger Christians are just as keen on witnessing to their faith (and reading their bibles and expressing their devotion, etc), they’re just warier of trying to ‘convert’ to the extent that it involves coming across as somehow holier-than-thou. However, if you include under the banner of evangelism public admissions of shortcoming and need with fingers pointed toward a savior in the hopes that other sufferers might cling to the ol’ wooden cross–I strongly suspect the numbers would shift. Meaning, there’s likely a semantic component here, and to the extent that what millennials understand by the word ‘evangelism’ or ‘conversion’ is overbearing and coercive, maybe the trend is encouraging.

That said, the idea that others will “magically come to know Jesus through our good character and selfless character” is worth deconstructing, as it extends well beyond the generational bounds here. As my friend Jacob Smith is fond of paraphrasing the apocryphal St Francis quote: “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words–and words are always necessary.” That is, miracles of the Spirit notwithstanding, human beings are far too self-involved and our own characters far too compromised for ‘our example’ to ultimately hold much sway.

Beyond that, I sometimes wonder if those Christians who fault/criticize their fellow believers for proselytizing have unconsciously taken on board the idea that Christians are the only ones out there trying to convert others. Perhaps it’s simply having attended what might politely be called a stalwartly secular secondary school, but I’m convinced that pretty much everyone with a point of view is trying to convert you, the only question is what they’re trying to convert you to–and is there any grace involved. That kind of experience gives a person a lot of patience for even the most ham-fisted Christian evangelists.

2. Whatever the case, it’s a fitting lead-in to “We Are All Fundamentalists Now” in which essayist Samuel James weighs the similarities between the culture of progressive college student activism and that of his own fundamentalist upbringing. In contrast to some/most pieces like this, James evinces real compassion for the students involved, even forging some genuine common ground with a population at which it’s becoming increasingly tempting to roll one’s eyes. After all, the liabilities for those trading in moral certainties are remarkably similar:

The idea that we ought to make the culture we consume conform to a moral standard seems a novel one to the social-justice generation. It was a given in my childhood. My fundamentalist upbringing gave me (though of course imperfectly) a grasp of non-neutrality, the inevitable moral character of the things we say, watch, and experience.

The rising generation of students is coming to this same realization but without the help of religion’s spiritual insight. The modern campus culture is a religious culture, but it’s a religion without God, and consequently it is a religion without grace… [#SECULOSITY]

Far too often my fellow conservatives are content to ridicule the students’ scruples, to laugh at their woke reconsideration of pop culture, and to portray them as spoiled would-be culture warriors. What I see, though, is that those students and I share a kind of language, a worldview that puts us, though far apart in matters of theology and politics, quite close in a desire for moral wakefulness…

Both sides can be skeptical toward the widespread notion that religious unbelief is objective, scientific, and libertarian and that religion is biased, superstitious, and puritanical. The woke collegian is not less moralistic than his Evangelical peer. If anything, they are equally moralistic but in different directions. For example, my secular Millennial friend may ridicule my belief that sex is reserved for marriage, while at the same advocating “affirmative consent” policies that put a significant moral burden on sexual encounters. Behind our different political positions lies a shared sense that a neo-Darwinian sexual marketplace is unjust and that it falls to communities to enforce norms that reduce victimization and lead to flourishing.

Most people agree that American culture is deeply polarized and that our divisions seem much larger than our unities. This is partially due to the ascendance of politics as America’s “new” religion, a terrible trend to which conservative Christians as well as unbelievers succumb. When politics becomes religion, the need to cultivate virtue takes a backseat to the need to win. This explains why “values voters” twist themselves into knots to baptize immoral behavior by “their” political champion. It also explains why the progressive movement is buckling under its toxic culture of excommunication, shaming, and in-fighting.

Similarly, a lack of accountability in leadership has wrecked many an Evangelical movement, and an obsession with political power has soured Evangelicalism’s gospel message. Socially conscious Millennials should realize that social activism and sensitivity to intersectionality are no vaccine against the susceptibility to be abusive, selfish, or corrupt (not to mention anti-Semitic).

3. Well, speaking of legitimate moral sensitivities being exploited for (personal) power, over at The Atlantic, Columbia professor John McWhorter weighed in on “What the Jussie Smollett Story Reveals” and holy moly. McWhorter begins by confessing that, as a black academic, he felt a tinge guilty for harboring private skepticism when he first heard about the alleged hate crime (which the Chicago police have since revealed to have been a none-too-elaborate hoax engineered, apparently, to bolster the actor’s profile and/or salary). Fortunately, after surfacing the pieties that Smollett was hoping to manipulate (#seculosity), McWhorter points beyond the cynicism of the plot itself to what its mere attempt may indicate. The positivity could be a bit of stretch, but it’s certainly food for thought:

Racial politics today have become a kind of religion in which whites grapple with the original sin of privilege, converts tar questioners of the orthodoxy as “problematic” blasphemers, and everyone looks forward to a judgment day when America “comes to terms” with race. Smollett—if he really did stage the attack—would have been acting out the black-American component in this eschatological configuration, the role of victim as a form of status. We are, within this hierarchy, persecuted prophets, ever attesting to the harm that white racism does to us and pointing to a future context in which our persecutors will be redeemed of the sin of having leveled that harm upon us. We are noble in our suffering…

Assuming that the reports are accurate, Smollett’s clumsiness would be an especially poignant indication of how deeply this victimhood chic has taken holdalmost as if he thought this was such an easy score that he didn’t even need to think too hard about the logistics…

Only in an America in which matters of race are not as utterly irredeemable as we are often told could things get to the point that someone would pretend to be tortured in this way, acting oppression rather than suffering it, seeking to play a prophet out of a sense that playing a singer on television is not as glamorous as getting beaten up by white guys. That anyone could feel this way and act on it in the public sphere is, in a twisted way, a kind of privilege, and a sign that we have come further on race than we are often comfortable admitting.

4. Doubtless Smollett is going to go down (AKA be meme-ified) as some kind of woke Benedict Arnold in the days to come, and to be honest, I can’t help but feel for him. But if I were asked to put on my evangelist’s hat and recommend one bit of reading for those sitting in holding cells this weekend (and not just the physical kind), it would probably be “I Failed to Become Like Daddy Bill” which Tullian Tchividjian penned on the anniversary of his grandfather’s death:

For me, for you, for each of us, there is no going back to a past that we have lost or spoiled or outright destroyed. There is no going back and expunging our blemished record or deleting our history. But there is a going to; going to the God who has forgiven and forgotten the sins of our yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows. The God who continues to liberate us from ourselves and who reminds us that despite our past, he has promised us a future; the God who won’t stop pursuing us, no matter how far or how fast we run; the God who has already welcomed us, accepted us, and given us a new record and a new name: Beloved.

This was Daddy Bill’s comfort in life and death. This is my comfort. And this is your comfort too.

Bam. If you’re looking for more top-notch devotional content, be sure to check out “The Two Most Important Days in Your Life” by Chad Bird.

5. On the Humor front, aside from the ingenious youtube finds adorning this post, The New Yorker gave us “Real Broadway Musicals and What I Wish They Were About,” (“Wicked”: A Massachusetts man is very excited about everything). And then The Onion serendipitously followed up Michael Gerson’s incredible sermon with one of their best in a while, “Man Competitive About How Depressed He Is“:

COLUMBUS—Upon hearing his friends describing their struggles with the mental illness, self-employed graphic designer Jacob Carden, 42, evidently became competitive Wednesday about how depressed he is by rattling off a list of important life and career events the disorder has ruined for him or caused him to miss altogether. “Oh, you’ve been stuck in bed until noon? That sucks, I know, I’ve had trouble getting up for months. I’ll be in bed until 2 or even 3 p.m. sometimes. I’m envious, really, because I’ll be pretty much unable to leave my room for days on end,” said Carden.

6. Lastly, The NY Times compiled a reader-sourced list of “What to Say (and What Not to Say) to Someone Who’s Grieving.” Top takeaway: avoid sentences that begin with “At least.” Also, always worth remembering:

In support groups for parents, ‘God never gives you more than you can handle’ is universally known as one of the cruelest comments for devastated parents to receive,” added Wendy Prentiss, whose 6-year-old nephew was diagnosed with a deadly cancer. “It suggests that the parents are weak for being crushed. It comes across as judgmental and tone deaf… And, P.S., sometimes the death is more than the bereaved can handle.”

One final bit of advice, “Don’t tell a grieving person how to feel. In other words, don’t say things like, “Stay strong” or “Be strong.” Indeed, the most helpful thing anyone said to one respondent in her time of loss was, “Whatever you are feeling, and whenever you are feeling it, it’s O.K.”

Strays