Learning from evangelicals isn’t as simple as introducing praise and worship music and talking about a personal relationship with Christ at your next youth group meeting.
Donna Freitas, a theologian and author of Sex and the Soul: Juggling Sexuality, Spirituality, Romance, and Religion on America’s College Campuses (Oxford University Press), has spent a lot of time with both Catholic and evangelical youth and has a few tips to keep in mind:
1. Share the church’s long tradition with youth. The church’s rich spiritual traditions are what distinguish it from evangelical culture, but most youth don’t know much about them. “That should be the poster. That’s the best selling point that Catholicism has,” Freitas says. “All these practices can be adapted to daily life.”
2. Empower Catholic youth. “The big difference between evangelical youth and Catholic youth has to do with agency and authority,” Freitas says. “Remind Catholic youth that they have ownership over their faith life.” When she talks to young people, she tells them, “You can do theology now.” Catholics need to know that their faith comes not only from the Vatican but from their own experiences too.
3. Remember that evangelical does not equal orthodox. Many think that becoming an evangelical Catholic means embracing all of the rules and practices of traditional Catholicism. This, however, only appeals to a small subset of conservative Catholic youth, Freitas says. Orthodoxy does not appeal to the average young person as much as a youth-created culture does.
4. Talk about sexuality positively. Evangelical culture often highlights sexual purity with an intensity that Freitas has found really stresses out students. While Catholic youth also struggle with the church’s standards on sexuality, Freitas has determined a better approach than only, “Don’t have sex.” “My way into conversations about sexuality is through justice and spirituality,” she says.
This article appears in the May 2010 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 75, No. 5, page 28).
Image: Donna Freitas. Photo by Tom Wright