The 20-something demographic has been a painful battleground for the church. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 70%, are entering college, encountering new ideologies, and leaving the church entirely between the ages of the 18 and 30. Many college-level concepts, especially environmental responsibility or climate control, are seen as hostile toward a church viewpoint. This has lead all higher education institutions, from the best masters degree programs to community college to be viewed as overtly and vigilantly secular by many on the right.
For some Christians (or people interested in the Christian vote), this has led to an outcry against higher education and colleges in general which are blamed for robbing churches of their attendance rates and giving little or nothing in return from a religious point of view. Republican nominee Rick Santorum recently called colleges “indoctrination mills” over a spat about the Obama policy of encouraging college enrollment rates. To hear Santorum speak, the choice is between college dropouts and church dropouts.
While Santorum may be fishing for votes, many church leaders might admit to similar feelings. On closer inspection, however, the divide between higher learning and faith does not appear so clear. A number of churches would step up with counter-arguments of their own. The General Board of Church & Society, via the Methodist Church, takes a stance of global and environmental justice, seeking proper environmental stewardship as well as social responsibility. The Methodists are not alone in these arguments – emergent churches across the United States take up similar pro-environment and pro-social conscience arguments. Where do they expect Christian youth to learn environmental responsibility, social justice, and proper use of technology? At college, of course.
Indeed, colleges themselves have no problem accepting faith while teaching science: Many exemplary private universities respect their roots in a Christian foundation while equipping students with general knowledge and skills necessary to treat the world according to Biblical, faith-based standpoints. Education and faith, some argue, are inextricably linked. Further studies on church dropout rates even indicate that education itself is not a factor in falling church attendance, but rather the common 20-something miasma of doubt may be to blame.
Yet pressure continues to build on both political and religious fronts. On their way to secure votes for the coming election, politicians are proving eager to encourage any religious view that gives them an advantage. Santorum’s comments are not the only partisan jabs seen in recent months. Other environmental issues, such as the green tech movement, have gotten their share of flak for no other reason than being a project of the opposing party. Meanwhile, in the struggle to keep youth in church, religious organizations find themselves caught in the crossfire, seeing the potential in education but fearing loss of faith or direction.