Sunday morning rolls around again, and I get the early wakeup call from my father. "Get up, Brandee. Get ready for church." My first thought is to go right back to sleep, because I don't want to go. It's not a case of Sunday-morning laziness; I'd just rather not be there, and according to a study conducted earlier this year by the Pew Research Center, two-thirds of young Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 agree with me.
Church isn't appealing to me, and it never has been. I have vivid memories of sitting in the last pew as a child with crayons and a coloring book for some sort of entertainment. Since I've retired the Crayolas and coloring books and started paying closer attention to the sermons, I discovered that some of the messages in church are irrelevant to people of my generation.
Some of my closest friends are gay, but the pastor is telling me that "God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve." AIDS is the leading cause of death for African-American women between the ages of 25 and 34, but the pastor tells me that using condoms is a sin because it's a form of birth control. I live in a world where women are the CEOs of successful businesses and hold high positions in the government, but within the walls of the church, female leadership is often absent. Only 10 percent of churches in the United States employ women as senior pastors. These sexist, homophobic and conservative attitudes of the church are what is causing young people to question their faith, causing Gen-Yers to abandon the church in increasing numbers.
Many church principles simply don't reflect the views of young Americans. A recent study discovered that young people are more accepting of homosexuality: 63 percent of young adults believe that homosexuality should be accepted within society, versus 50 percent of adults in general. In most churches, discussing homosexuality is a taboo. "There's denial about homosexuality in the church," said Boyce Watkins, Ph.D., founder of the Your Black World Coalition. It's "even to the extreme where you have people who believe that if you pray enough, you will not be gay anymore," he adds.
We live in a society where open homosexuality is becoming common, but most in the church have yet to accept it. If God accepts us as we are, then why do some homosexuals feel unwelcome in church? Skepticism concerning church teachings about the Bible may be the reason 67 percent of young Christian adults say they don't read it.
"It's become more and more common on college campuses that people openly question who is God and how do we reconcile the question of evil?" said Jamila Bey, an African-American freelance journalist and atheist. After being a Roman Catholic for most of her life, Bey recently decided to divorce her religion and declare herself to be an atheist.
Sometimes, stepping into church feels to me like going into a time warp, with all of the old-fashioned and conservative views being enforced. In this day and age, gender roles have shifted, but sexism continues to linger in many churches. When I go to church, I can't help noticing that there is a lack of female leadership. Women are confined to either being ushers or being in the choir.
Being a free thinker is just another thing to add to the list of taboos. "Leadership in the church doesn't encourage you typically to think freely. They believe their job is to tell you what to think and guide you to the truth," said Watkins. "Anybody who is open-minded about religion or questions things too much is certainly going to be turned off by the church or to some extent not invited into the church."
So is there any hope for bringing Gen-Yers back to church? According to the Rev. J. Lee Hill, a youth minister at Riverside Church in New York City, it won't be easy. In a recent interview with CNN, Hill stated, "Church is difficult because young people today want to engage actively; they just want to experience God." Young adults don't want to worry about judgment or limitations when it comes to faith.
The Rev. Dino Woodward of Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem believes that convincing more young people that the church has something to offer starts with parenting. "Parents are allowing them [young adults] to discipline themselves. If parents are coming to church, they have to bring their children to church and show them that there is a better way of life through the Christian way of life."
But as we come into adulthood, we have to make decisions for ourselves. Maybe if the church focused more on helping youth build a stronger connection with God, and less on imposing social and political views, our generation would return to the pews.
Brandee Sanders is a journalism student entering her senior year at Purchase College in Purchase, N.Y. She rarely attends church.