Millennials: Religion and Spirituality

Logos Community Church in McAllen held baptisms Sunday after the church service. Before the ceremonies began, Pastor Tom Weaver spoke about the meaning of baptism. He mentioned that although it is not a requirement for Christians, it is a way of showing who one is publicly, and is a practice that dates back to the First Century.

While the idea of baptism has been around for thousands of years, the Millennial Generation has differing notions about spirituality. According to recent studies, many in the group, which includes those born from 1980 to 1996, want to distance themselves from organized religion while still finding the life of spirit.

The Logos church band prays on stage in front of the baptism pool

According to the Pew Research Center, “One in four young adults describe their religion as agnostic atheist, or nothing in particular. About two-thirds of young people say they are members of a Christian denomination and 43 percent describe themselves as Protestants, compared with 81 percent of adults ages 30 and older who associate with Christian faiths and 53 percent who are Protestants.”

Weaver explains the act of baptism as something that one does to publically announce a change in one’s life, to show everyone a new person.

“When you get baptized you are not doing it to get saved, or to get into heaven, you are doing it to show whose team you are on,” said Weaver, who founded Logos almost 10 years ago and who has been a pastor for more than 15 years.

Sunday, Logos was filled with people in attendance to watch loved ones get baptized. Seven people were lined up to undergo the one-hour ceremony, which is held every six months. Isaac Vidaurri knew he wanted to get baptized when a friend explained to him how Vidaurri’s life was not really a life that God wanted him to live.

“I got arrested and continued to make poor decisions, I thought, ‘God will forgive me of my sins,’ but a friend made me realize that’s not how it works,” said Vidaurri, 36, who is from McAllen. “Yes, God forgives but we also need to change for ourselves and hold ourselves accountable for every wrong that we do. I was at the end of my ropes and just finally said something’s gotta give. I went to Pastor Tom and I told him I was ready to submit to Him [God] because I had no one else to turn to.”

Despite the fact that people born between 1980 and 1996 are traditionally less religious, they believe in God at the same rates as those in older generations. Alesain Mejia, 24-year-old who identifies as agnostic but spiritual, says that she sees baptism as a physical action allowing one to be accepted by the church.

“My personal definition for baptism means someone being purified by the submerging of holy water to be accepted by the church, I don’t like it,” said Mejia, who grew up in a Catholic home, and is now agnostic because of bad past experiences she has had with religion.

Matthew Hedstrom, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, spoke out about his theory that Millennials are leaving the church, specifically Christian establishments, because of recent political entanglement.

“There has been a particularly steep drop-off since the 2000s, which I believe can be attributed, at least in part, to the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and the debate about gay marriage,” said Hedstrom, in a Dec. 2015 interview with phys.org. “This does not mean that Millennials don't believe in God. There are a growing number of religiously unaffiliated Millennials who still report believing in God, and even praying regularly, and many of these call themselves spiritual but not religious.”

Many Millennials call themselves spiritual but not religious because they practice certain parts of religion without following any major rules of religion, or rituals such as meditation, prayer, or belief in Heaven. They often make this distinction because Christians and religion in general have a negative connotation derived from media.

“My perception of Christians isn’t very nice; I believe that their religion is a contradicting fan base for God,” said Mejia, who explained that she has never had a good relationship with religious people, and that she only feels judged because of her tattoos, piercings and beliefs.

Vidaurri, having just escaped the Millennial label, being born a year before the generation began, got baptized Sunday because he wanted to show outwardly that he is part of a religion and that he believes and trusts in God.

“I feel like a better person, I’ve been praying more than I ever had before and I’ve been getting in the Word more than I ever had before. It’ll make a person feel real different,” said Vidaurri, who believes that God is the only way for him, and with patience can change anyone’s life.

The generational gap between Mejia and Vidaurri is only 12 years, but their opinions on organized religion are diametrically opposed. Vidaurri wanted to become part of a team, a team that follows religious guidelines and beliefs, while Mejia doesn’t want to be a part of rules or groups. She would rather not be labeled.

“Baptism is like a placebo,” she insisted. “People are made to believe what’s been given/done to them rather than understand what’s truly going on, but in the end it’s really just up to the individual, it can go both ways.”

Vidaurri contradicts Mejia in that he is glad to be part of a group and that he feels like a new person because of baptism. He feels accepted.

“We just have to have faith and hope and patience for what’s to come in our lives, I wouldn’t know how to explain baptism to someone who hasn’t experienced a spiritual change,” said Vidaurri who was arrested and charged for drinking while driving. “The only thing I can say is that you really do feel renewed, it’s like a refreshing feeling. It might sound dumb but that’s how I felt when I came out of the water. It made me realize that there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel.”

For other Millennials like 20-year-old Denise Gonzalez, who believes in God but sees herself as more spiritual than religious, the latter is good for some people but doesn’t fit everyone.

“I consider myself a spiritual person, I believe in God and I pray to God even though I don’t go to church often,” said Gonzalez, who prays regularly but does not attend church. She doesn’t feel a need to attend a weekly church service, she feels like praying and believing is enough. “I got baptized when I was little but I didn’t really know what was going on. Maybe now that I am older I would consider getting baptized again because I know the meaning of it.”

Scholars believe that this hesitation to embrace religion comes from an abundance of choices in modern times. In previous eras, there were fewer choices for people, as religion was in most places the dominant form of not only spirituality but of community life in general.

“Having so many options creates a lot of anxiety about which religious beliefs, careers or relationships Millennials should choose,” said Hedstrom of the University of Virginia. “Spirituality allows Millennials to avoid choosing one religion and instead combine elements from many.”