Conference on faith among Catholic emerging adults

A number of recent studies have focused on the religion of emerging adults, those who are roughly 18-29 years old and are making the transition from being teenagers to adults. Some of these findings and thoughts about Catholic emerging adults were shared at a recent conference:

Sociologist James Davidson, professor emeritus at Purdue University, said young Catholics “distinguish between the Catholic faith, which they identify with and respect, and the Catholic Church, which they are less attached to.”

Quoting a wide body of research, including his own, Davidson said eight of 10 young Catholics believe there are many ways to interpret Catholicism and they grant more authority to their individual experience than they do to the magisterium.

“They stress the importance of thinking for themselves more than obeying church leaders,” he said. “Instead of simply embracing church traditions and teachings, they tinker with them. They distinguish between abstract beliefs and principles that they think are at the core of the Catholic faith, and more concrete norms and codes of conduct that they consider optional or peripheral.”

In essence, Davidson said, “they believe that doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, Mary as the mother of God, Christ’s real presence in the Eucharist and the need to be concerned about the poor are more important than teachings such as the need to limit the priesthood to men, the need for priestly celibacy, the church’s opposition to artificial birth control and its opposition to the death penalty.”

Catholic young adults are not immune to the complex encounter between the church and popular culture, said participants in a panel discussion on “Sex and the City of God.”…

There is some more interesting stuff here. These discussions sound very similar to the findings of Soul Searching and Souls in Transition: emerging adults are less interested in organized religion but are still spiritual even as this spirituality looks more like “moral therapeutic deism” and they question traditional (or conservative) stances of the church toward social issues.

Reinterpreting the actions of emerging adults: searching for discipleship?

At her.meneutics, Kristen Scharold argues that some Christian emerging adults aren’t just wasting time. Instead, they may be figuring out what it really means to be a disciple of Jesus:

Admittedly, some of us are resistant to settling into the “traditional cycle” of adulthood, but is this because we are sloughing off responsibilities, or because we are waking up to a new set of responsibilities? For 20-somethings who are committed to Jesus, it could be the latter.

We are becoming increasingly ill-fitted categorical adults, but only within the narrow definition that adulthood means settling down — that is, tethering ourselves to romantic partners or to permanent homes. But if adulthood means accepting responsibility — regardless of whether we stay in one place, with the same career, or with the same people — then some of my peers aren’t emerging but have already arrived. They are taking Jesus’ call to discipleship seriously. They are embracing an expansive vision of adulthood, one that doesn’t necessarily involve getting a spouse and a mortgage, but more importantly means following Jesus, a call that sometimes requires reckless abandon (“and immediately they left their nets and followed him”), singleness (“there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven”), and financial insecurities (“sell all you have . . . and come follow me”).

Some Christian 20-somethings might look like their fellow emerging adults, but by remaining single, serving overseas, working for justice, creating cultural goods, and pursuing other unprecedented opportunities for gospel advancement and renewal, they may be responding most responsibly to the call of discipleship.

Scharold may be right: they likely are some Christians who are pursuing this. It would be frustrating to be someone who is trying to live a Godly life and instead is simply lumped in with supposedly lazy, shiftless emerging adults.

However, we don’t know how right she is – she cites no data. If this is based on anecdotal evidence (this is also the basis of many arguments against the behaviors of emerging adults), we have no idea how many Christian emerging adults are actually engaging in this behavior.

Of course, there is data to appeal to when exploring these questions. In the area of emerging adults and faith, check out Soul Searching and Souls in Transition. These books suggest while there are some emerging adults who can be classified as devoted to their faith, there are many others who are somewhere between no faith and devoted faith as they try to figure out how to make their lives their own.