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Evolution and the Young Adult Exodus

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“The perception is that the denomination believes in evolution . . . no we don’t” —CRC pastor quoted in the July 2011 Banner (p. 37).

There has been lengthy discussion in the Christian Reformed Church about retaining and attracting young people to the denomination—in essence, us.

We are both 27 years old, CRC born and raised, and educated at Calvin College. When we moved five years ago, we joined a Presbyterian church (PCUSA) because there were no Christian Reformed churches in our new city. We did not leave because of faith issues, simply geography, but now we wonder if there is a place for us in the denomination if we return to a CRC area.

You see, we are evolutionary biologists. When a Calvin religion professor recently left the college over the well-publicized evolution flap, many Banner readers no doubt viewed it as confirmation that an anti-evolution view is the official position of the church.

When we did our own research into the Acts of Synod, particularly those of 1991 and 2010, we were pleasantly surprised to find that, officially, the church is not anti-evolution at all. If that is the case, then why does the perception that the CRC rejects evolution persist?

The evolution issue is a microcosm of why the denomination is hemorrhaging college-educated young adults.

The evolution issue is a microcosm of why the denomination is hemorrhaging college-educated young adults, even Calvin graduates.

While many CRC congregations remain fixated on issues like homosexuality, evolution, and the role of women, young people have moved beyond those debates. This leads some parishioners to ask, “What is wrong with what the Calvin faculty is teaching?” However, that is not the right question to ask.

Calvin has assembled some of the best and brightest minds the denomination has to offer. If CRC-raised Calvin graduates are turning their backs on the denomination, the real question congregations should ask is, “What is wrong with us?”

We find that the problem is not that we disagree with “official” CRC positions, but that too few of the CRC’s own members know what those positions are. This is both a failure of the church body to study—and synod to publicize—the decisions that synod makes.

During recent controversies, congregants have listened to loud voices propelling the fundamentalist evangelical movement, while the wisdom of their own synod and scholars is drowned out.

When we read The Banner, we still find many reasons to love the CRC: caring people, compassionate missions, and a rich theological tradition. However, the body of Christ has many parts. If evolutionary biologists are a foot, why does the body say to the foot, “I do not need you?”

The denomination needs to regain the trust of open-minded young people and scientists alike—to make us feel like a needed part of the body without fear of amputation, like the one that just happened at Calvin.

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