Consumer religion

shopper employeeThe New York Times reports on teenagers in Colorado Springs, Colorado, who attend multiple churches each week. It would be nice for the Times to consider the possibility that some evangelical Christians reside outside of the city limits of Colorado Springs, but I suppose we should be thankful that they are noticing this sizable group at all. "Teenagers Mix Churches for Faith That Fits" by Neela Banerjee details how teenagers in the Evangelical Vatican City have located where other teenagers hang out in environments with high-tech lighting and sound, hugging and drama: in this case, churches with contemporary worship. The teens then congregate in these spots where the other teenagers are! Crazy . . . Still, the larger story is interesting:

In a survey of 13- to 17-year-olds conducted from 2002 through 2003, the National Study of Youth and Religion found that 16 percent of respondents participated in more than one religious congregation. Four percent attend youth groups outside their congregations.

Some critics, particularly conservative evangelicals and the ministers of various denominations, decry such practices as a consumerist approach to faith.

But sociologists say it is a growing practice, a reflection of how Americans today are less attached to a historical, family denomination.

The article tells a few stories of Christian youth attending one non-denominational Protestant church with their family and then visiting another non-denominational Protestant church with their friends. The reporter quotes people explaining that this individualism is by and large healthy. Aesthetically speaking -- and just a personal aside -- I'm pretty sure there is nothing healthy about what's described in this passage:

The youth pastor, Brent Parsley, entered on a sleigh dressed as a hip-hop Santa. "I'm going to break it down for you, Clarence," Mr. Parsley told an actor in the Christmas play. "Christmas ain't about presents, yo! The true meaning of Christmas is my main man: J.C."

2005 01 26 thumbA few hundred years of evangelical American Protestant thought -- which largely emphasizes a personal relationship with Christ, personal morality and emotional responses to preaching and music and deemphasizes Sacraments, corporate creeds and liturgy -- should leave no one surprised by this church consumerism or individualism. The aversion to doctrine -- or the view that it is less important than a personal relationship with, uh, main man J.C. -- leads to the very notion of non-denominationalism. I would have loved for Banerjee to explore this more, but she did try:

As a hub of evangelical Christianity, Colorado Springs offers many churches that preach similar doctrines, like the inerrancy of the Bible and the need for a personal relationship with Christ. But here and elsewhere, many Christians, especially members of the clergy, take commitment to a particular church seriously.

As a reader, I wish that Banerjee would have been more specific about criticism of the church-hopping practice. Most people quoted in the article were in favor, but those that weren't were not given the chance to be terribly specific. I wish Banerjee would have talked both to evangelicals who are opposed as well as those from the larger Protestant community. If the examples cited in the article are any indication, this is a trend that effects evangelical Christians more than those with strong denominational or doctrinal identity. It would be helpful to understand why.

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