On the heels of our article about an increasingly atheist millennial generation, we decided to talk to one millennial who is a strong believer. She lives in New York, works in media and is of the Christian faith. Here’s what she told us.
Call me spiritual. I’m more comfortable with that. Religious, as a word, gets a bad rap. I personally don’t feel like Jesus brought about “religion” necessarily, his way was more of a lifestyle. Church itself is more of a community for me than anything else. That could be due to my Protestant background, though. Had I grown up Catholic I might be saying something else.
My church is not tied to a specific Christian denomination. It’s just church. We have Sunday services to interpret the Bible and sing songs — we sing as a form of devotion to God and as a reprieve from the craziness of our days — and we also have weekday meetings throughout the city to hang out or talk about the day or to pray together. It’s nice to have an opportunity to connect and walk out our faith together, because a lot of us come from different backgrounds. At my church you might sit between a homeless person and a magazine editor. New York is different in that way.
I enjoyed church as a kid, but it was always a social thing for me. In Maryland, where I grew up, most people go to church even if they don’t believe in it. My best friends were from church, all of my family went to church, I even found my love for the arts at church. But it wasn’t until I was 18 that I decided to really go for myself and dedicate my life to God.
I know it’s more common for people to leave the church when they go to college — and that did happen for a bit — but I eventually ended up doubling down on my commitment. When I moved to New York City for college, I felt so lost. I had a boyfriend back in Maryland and I felt really alone. I was trying to discover myself in this big city and keep my relationship going and figure out my self-worth and who I was. I drifted away from reading my Bible for some time. I didn’t even pray because I was ashamed of who I was at the time – finding my value in men and just not feeling like myself. I always knew God loved me but self-shame made me think: “I can’t be with God right now.”
I remember one night I was on my phone and stumbled across a Bible app and I saw this scripture — I’ll never forget it, from Romans 3:10 — that read: “There is no one righteous, not even one.” And it just hit me. There I was thinking I couldn’t follow God because I wasn’t perfect, but there was the word right there, telling me that no one is perfect. That was a turning point.
That was my journey back into my faith.
I know a lot of people in the women’s movement think the Bible disregards women or looks down on them, but I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s the fault of early churches being lead by men and those men failing to share the stories of women in the Bible like Ruth or Rahab or Deborah. People have been manipulating the Bible forever – using it to do whatever they want to, whether in colonial times or now — and as a result, many now unfairly associate Christianity with certain gender norms. Feminism, for me, hasn’t been hard to reconcile with my spirituality. For instance, I think the Bible is very clear that I have total freewill as a woman to live on my own before getting married. I believe I have that choice. Whereas my dad — he is from Ghana — used to impress upon me this idea that women should stay with their parents until they get married. But that’s more a matter of tradition mixing with faith. That happens a lot, in my experience, the mixing of social norms and religion.
I like to think God gave us all free will for a reason. But that also means people can take the Bible and manipulate it. It’s dangerous. The Bible that slave masters used to enslave my ancestors is the same Bible that my ancestors used to escape slavery. I believe God is truly the judge of intention and of people’s hearts.
Some parts of our culture have been tough for me to navigate as a Christian. Like ambition, for instance. A lot of what my faith teaches me is that we are put here for a purpose: to serve others. I try to see my own ambition through that lens. Like if I’m a CEO one day, it will be because I employ people or have a solution for the world. If I’m a mom one day, it will be because I’m raising the next generation. I struggle with the more capital-driven side of ambition, the accumulation of stuff. But I’m not here to judge.
Last fall, when Donald Trump won, I was thinking about what it looks like to be a Christian right now. It was such a heavy time, and the word tells us that, “we mourn with those who mourn,” but I have hope in God and hope in Jesus. I wasn’t sure how to express that when those around me were in distress. When it comes to things like that, when it comes to politics and culture, I’m very thankful for my faith. It reminds me that these things happened before and we’ve gotten through it. We’ve seen rulers that are not worthy of leading people and we’ve seen struggles between the fortunate and the less fortunate. It also reminds me that there is hope. When I feel down about how people are being treated, it puts my faith to the test.
One of my favorite scriptures is, “Faith without works is dead.” If you don’t do anything with your faith, what’s the point? When Jesus was here, the Roman Empire hated him because he spoke up against greed and oppression. I try to live by his example every day. I have my own struggles, but that’s part of being a Christian.
Most mornings, I pray that God will give me discernment and the wisdom to know what to say and when to say it. Because timing is everything and you can express yourself without tearing others down. I want to listen more and be slower to speak, because the Jesus I read about in the Bible would talk to anybody and I really admire that. I want to be open to all people.
Being a Christian gives my life meaning. I know that I’m not here just for myself. So when I say “God has a plan,” I mean I’m trying to follow God through his word. What we have in us as human beings — our talents and our gifts and our abilities — are God’s way of making the earth better. My faith is not about disassociating. It’s about being involved while embodying the character of Jesus, regardless of what others believe.
Photos by Krista Anna Lewis.