Ariel, Merida and the “alienation of a young generation of Christians”

I have a love/hate relationship with the Disney princesses. On the one hand, Belle was my absolute favourite princess when I was young, and she still is. On the other, as I have gotten older and now have daughters of my own, I struggle with the message that the Disney princesses give, especially how they are marketed (it irks me to no end that the Mulan princess doll is done up in froof when that was the part that she hated the most and was one of the reasons she ran off to fight in her father’s stead).

And yet, I wonder if comparing and contrasting two Disney princesses would help me to make sense of a trend in north American Evangelicalism. MSNBC has a story about how the gay marriage issue is driving away an entire generation of Christians. And while the story does cite Matthew Anderson as an example of one young Christian who doesn’t think so, the majority of the article seems to lean towards Rachel Held Evans’ thesis. Denny Burk has weighed in on his, and it has of course made the rounds on the Twitter feed.

I don’t really want to talk about the gay-marriage debate, but rather, I want to speak to the larger issue behind it: the post-modern 21st century generation of evangelical Christians who are disenfranchised with the older generations of the Church in general.

My question is this: what kind of princess is this young evangelical generation? Is it Ariel or Merida?

'Little Mermaid projections at Disney Animation' photo (c) 2009, Loren Javier - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/The message of The Little Mermaid is disobey your parents because at the end there will be a rainbow and a handsome prince, and a father who will apologize because you were right and he was wrong. Reckless and head-strong is okay because it’s all about you and no one else and your parents will see that in the end and you will live happily ever after.

The message of Brave, on the other hand, is there are consequences to your head-strong opinions, and in the end your mom was actually right and knew what she was talking about. She may not have expressed it in the best of ways, but it’s not entirely her fault that you didn’t get it. Reconciliation is needed: Merida needed to repair the tear in the family that she had created; and the Queen needed to see that Merida had gifts and strengths and that she didn’t need to be “managed” and nagged at 24/7.

'BraveMerida' photo (c) 2012, Michelle Wright - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

The Evangelical church in North America is young, very young, in the grand scheme of 2,000 years of Christianity. And yet on many issues the 21st-century Evangelical Church think that she knows what is best and that is okay to turn her back on the “old fogeys” of both the Evangelical tradition and the larger Church because they are absolutely wrong and she is absolutely right.

I don’t know what the cause of this is. Maybe it’s the rugged individualistic worldview of the North American culture. Maybe it’s what happens with each generation of Christians but in the age of social media it has become amplified and expanded. Maybe it’s because North America is quickly becoming a post-Christian nation and it is encouraging the Church to become post-Christian as well. I don’t know.

I guess what it comes down to is this: I wish there was a little more humility; a little more listening. I get the disenfranchisement of the young people in the church today, I really do. I am of that generation. I think the difference is that I didn’t grow up in the Church, so I didn’t have my rebel moment. I came into the Church at the age of 16 with my eyes somewhat open to what I was choosing. It was (through the grace and power of the Holy Spirit) my choice to respond to the gracious gift of Jesus; it wasn’t forced on me (“you have to be a Christian because that is what this family does”). Add to that, I have spent a lot of time reading Church history, listening to the elders who have gone before, and sitting under their wisdom. It has changed me. It has softened me. It has made me (somewhat) more patient with the foibles and frustrations of a Church that is made up of imperfect humans.

I am listening to the stories and concerns of this generation of evangelicals, but I can’t help but wonder, “Are you listening just as equally to the stories of your elders and of those who disagree with you? Are you willing to do your part in reconciliation or are you expecting the older generation to unilaterally cave to your way of thinking? What happens in 50 years, when the new younger generation of Evangelicals become disenfranchised and alienated from your ideas, experiences and politics?”

  • Dustin

    Great post, Amanda!

  • mashena

    i kept this marked “unread” in my feed reader and kept coming back to it. The idea of honoring the past, specifically the Christian past, has been on my mind quite often over the past few years. I grew up in a church in which I rarely recall church history being discussed or acknowledged. I scorned “tradition” and it’s extra-Biblical standards. I learned about the Protestant Reformation in my (secular) high school senior lit class.

    I’m not entirely sure when, but at some point I started to look into church history and the spiritual wisdom and disciplines of ages past.

    I’d love to spend more time really studying it and soaking it all in, but at some point I transitioned from “The older generation doesn’t understand our contemporary selves” to beginning to understand what that great cloud of witnesses is about. Perhaps it’s just because that’s where I am now and where I focus my attention, but I def thinkt here is a large group of youngish Christians today who very much value the heritage and tradition of Christianity passed down through the ages.

    I think, for me, the easiest way to sum it up is that I used to think that Christianity was always new and changing and growing. And while I still believe that God is fresh and offers new blessings and still speaks – I am much more aware of how ancient it is and how God is not the one who changes.

  • Pingback: Another Adventure in Anglicanism — Women Bishops and the CoE | Cheesewearing Theology

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Greg-Smith/100002020333790 Greg Smith

    I havta ask you a sincere question. Honest girl, I don’t wanna come here and beat you down on your own blog, thus making a jackass of myself and forcing you to throw me outta here. (thought you may wind up doing that anyway.) If you guys knew me in real life, I’d be a lot easier to understand.
    What ideas are you talking about? Again, I’m not lookin for a fight here. I just wanna understand. I’d love to be wrong, but you make it sound like the gospel ebbs and flows through history with each new generation free to conform it to their liking as they go. Can you not understand that as something someone might see having popped in here and reading this post? Maybe that IS what you mean though I suspect you’ll say not.

    • CWtheology

      ” but you make it sound like the gospel ebbs and flows through history
      with each new generation free to conform it to their liking as they go.”
      Greg, you need to go back and re-read the post, as this is a critique of young evangelicals and their inability to listen respectfully to the generations who have come before them. Peace.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Greg-Smith/100002020333790 Greg Smith

        I’ll reread it. You may not believe this, but I’m more than happy to be wrong and will say so if I am.