by M. Francis Mannion
A recent blog on Huffington Post written by religion commentator Bob Smith lays out what he has found from experience to be the principal reasons college students turn away from their churches.
I will enumerate these and offer a comment on each.
- Going to church wasn’t something they did growing up, so there was never an established routine or a sense of the importance of church-going.
Comment: Makes perfect sense. This is true today even of Catholic students at all levels of education. Even now, the majority of parents and students in Catholic schools do not go to church, making the future look rather bleak.
- Many expressed the feeling that church leaders and members of the congregations do not practice what they preach, but often pass judgment on others, and are hypocrites.
Comment: Sure, there are hypocrites in the church—and among the clergy. But I have always thought the casting a pall of hypocrisy over the majority of church people unwarranted and lacking in foundation.
- Lack of trust. Clergy scandals seem to be common today, with clergy engaging in Illegal and/or immmoral behavior; the way the churches have responded has only compounded that perception.
Comment: A very legitimate concern. I know devout Catholics who have left or thought of leaving the church over the sex abuse scandals. In Ireland, for instance, the church is on the verge of collapse over the clergy scandals.
- The more college students learn about other traditions the more they question which one is the true religion, if there is one.
Comment: I believe the tendency toward religious relativism could to some extent be met head on by good Christian education which at all levels would teach children and young people about other religions and the need to be faithful to their own traditions.
- The churches refuse to adapt. In order to survive they must be willing to adapt to the changes in society.
Comment: The church is not called to adapt to society and to make social norms the pattern for its own practice, but to transform society, while accepting critically from society what is deemed valuable.
- The practice of not permitting women to hold the same positions as men in the church and the reluctance to welcoming members of the lesbian/ gay/ bisexual/ transsexual/questioning (LGBTQ) community has resulted in people turning away.
Comment: I believe many church leaders, Pope Francis notably, are struggling with the question of how to incorporate women into the administrative and decision-making processes of the church and of reaching out more effectively to the LGBTQ community.
- The churches make people guilt-ridden. Who needs that?
Comment: That charge may have been true in the past, but I don’t think this is the case today. Many commentators complain, in fact, that homilists rarely talk about sin, and go out of their way to avoid making people feel guilty.
- Relationships between college students of different faiths are quite common. Some traditions lose members when someone from their church marries a person of a different faith.
Comment: Mixed marriages are a challenge, but when the challenges are dealt with openly and honestly, both partners can remain faithful to their particular traditions and live happily without compromise.
Apart from my comments above, I would like to add this observation: Many young adults (18-39) lack commitment to all sorts of things, particularly to the practice of faith, marriage, and family. Indeed, many do not leave the church on matters of principle, but simply slip away due to a failure of commitment.
Msgr. Mannion is pastor emeritus of St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. Reprinted by permission of Catholic News Agency.