Excerpt From:  Youth & Science White Paper (638 downloads)

The moderate youth ministers in our focus groups came from both mainline and evangelical churches. Among the themes that emerged among the moderates was experience as a reliable framework for their students. One said,

I think their experience is more authoritative and when scripture and their ex- perience butt heads, I see a lot of students who are going to choose their experience… They’re seeking experience to resolve those issues… Like if they cannot observe it, if they can’t experience this truth, then why should they care?

This posture necessarily leads to ambiguity, especially when the students’ experience does not jibe with either biblical or scientific affirmations.

Discipleship and personal piety were important aspects of the adolescent faith journey to this group of youth ministers, and science was utilized insofar as it bolstered these elements. If, for example, a study of the cosmos provokes awe in youth and, therefore, invigorates their faith, then science is helpful. Beyond that, however, these youth ministers expressed reticence in teaching about science. Being that they serve centrist churches, issues like origins and evolution seem too controversial. One said:

In the contexts I’ve served, there’s been this underlying assumption that—at least this is my impression—“Well, we’re a church and we obviously believe in creation, and therefore that means we don’t believe in evolution, but we’re not gonna talk about that.”

Another told us:

I just wonder if other youth workers that I have interactions with even wonder if it’s safe to have conversations on evolution in their churches because there is a plethora of views on that. And, you know, you can literally get fired if you say something wrong in some contexts. So I think there is fear about having those conversations.

It is disorienting for students when you show them that there’s more than one creation story and things are done in a different order, because that is very different from the play they memorized when they were four years old. So if I start teaching this hermeneutic, how are all the parents going to respond to me saying “That’s a myth”?

The moderate youth ministers did not have the sense of resignation of the liberal group nor the overt antagonism of the conservatives. Instead, they exhibited a general sense of unease. They embrace evolution, but they worry that their students’ parents are creationists. They want to talk about GLBT issues and the biology of sexuality, but they don’t want to get in trouble with the senior pastor. And lacking thoughtful resources that engage science and faith, they simply avoid the topic.