Friday, February 25, 2011

Loyalty and the Facebook Effect

A colleague of mine who serves a campus ministry and I were having lunch one day, when he recounted the experience of two college students who went to a retreat for young adults considering the possibility of going to seminary. Both had had positive experiences, but there were two moments that had us both raise an eyebrow. Well, technically, only one experience had us raise an eyebrow. The other one was all too common for us even react to anymore. One of the attendees, a newcomer to the Lutheran family, had an opportunity to ask a theologian a question in a forum-type setting. No one had any questions so he finally put one forward. He asked about the right administration of sacraments and who might be excluded from the sacrament. Later in a small group, someone ranted about the guy who asked that question, without realizing that “the guy” was sitting in the small group. Anyway, the notion that some people might be excluded from the sacrament was offensive to the one, but this attitude is nothing new. “God loves everybody” is the defense. That is not in question, but deeper reflection about the nature of the community and our union with Christ in the waters of baptism and hence the nature of God’s love for us is required.

Anyway, the experience that got our conversation moving was when the other student merely inquired about the possibility of attending a non-Lutheran seminary. His experience was that he was given dagger stares from other participants. This puzzled the both of us. While we are great supporters of the Lutheran seminary system, we do think there are times when folks could attend other schools, either because they want more of an academic track or because of some other restriction. No problem (as long as they attend their Lutheran year at a Lutheran seminary, but this requirement is likely to sidetrack the following discussion so I will let it lie).

We puzzled over the strong loyalty shown to Lutheran seminaries. After all, everything we read about the millennial generation is that denomination loyalty is ebbing. Why this strong reaction? (I will grant that the reaction was only perceived and did not actually reflect the reality of the situation, but I trust this young man’s perception usually so I will trust him here.) My colleague wondered if the situation of the millennials was misread in some way or perhaps this is a subset of the generation that does not actually follow the general trend. I disagreed. I wondered if it was not something more akin to what I dubbed at the time a “Facebook effect.”

Loyalty passed down from a communal system is possibly of less value to millennials than a self-selected loyalty. The issue then is not that millennials are not loyal but are fiercely loyal to something of their own choosing, such as when folks hit the “Like” button on Facebook. Now on Facebook people can hit “Like” on a great number of things very easily so everything they like is not necessarily a fierce loyalty. However some of the things that people “Like” will be very close to their sense of identity. And as my pastoral care professor (at a Lutheran seminary no less) said, “the closer something is to our identity, the more emotional people are about it, the stronger the reaction toward it…” For a group of pre-seminary students making the choice to attend seminary would I imagine be close to one’s identity as it will be a defining mark of one’s service and formation for years to come.

1 comment:

Steven J. Aves said...

I have also found this "loyalty" to be true. This age group comes off as appearing more conservative in their religious views than older parishioners.