Whether you like Barack Obama or not there are multitudes of young voters who are energized by his candidacy. We have not seen this for decades. (In my lifetime I can think only of George McGovern, who energized the young powerfully during the Vietnam era because of his anti-war stance, and JFK back in 1960, with his idealism, youthful looks and the image of a profile in courage with new vision.) Barack Obama not only appears vigorous and youthful but he seems to offer new ideas that energize the youngest voters and give them hope.

A lot of pundits have offered a lot of reasons for his appeal. Some of this magnetism is to be linked to "Bush fatigue" and the Iraq War. But something about Barack Obama has appealed to the young with or without these negative factors. Vote_for_change
It can not be is "policy ideas" since these are not all that different from those of Senator Clinton. And it is not simply a race issue since most of these young (educated) voters are not African-American. Though young women like Hillary Clinton many of them still prefer Obama too.

The film Primary Colors, a thinly-veiled fictional story that feels like the Clinton campaign in New Hampshire in 1992, has a scene in it  that sums this up, at least as I see it. Henry Jacobs, a young black man, is asked by the candidate’s wife why he is drawn to this presidential campaign and this man? He answers: "I’ve never heard a candidate speak of destiny and character and not thought to myself, ‘Bullshit!’ Even if JFK didn’t mean what he said people believed it. That’s what I want. I want to believe it. I want to be a part of something that’s history."

Young people, in huge numbers, have accepted the spirit of naturalism, preached to them for generations now from the wider culture, and they have bought into the anti-meta-narrative of postmodernity. Students
Christians have given them numerous reasons for seeing faith in Christ as irrelevant and unimportant in the world they know. We seem both insincere and dis-attached from real history-making events. So where do they go but to seek out and find an attractive and charismatic speaker who can offer them "the audacity of hope." They want to believe so badly and this young and very inexperienced man is worth believing, at least in their minds. I could be wrong about all of this but the nature of the modern campaign could yet reveal things that push many of these young people away from politics between now and November but I expect most of them will stay with Obama for the long haul. For them he speaks about character and destiny in ways that they can believe. His story resonates with their story.

I just wish the Church was so in love with Christ, and then with one another and our kingdom message, that we offered them a far better (eternal) alternative by which to make a huge historical difference. Unless the Lord creates real renewal, and I mean congregation changing awakenings all across the land, I do not expect this young generation to see the Church very positively in the near future. This could all change, and I think it will at some tipping point, but it does not yet appear to be the case in the immediate future.

For now I suggest that we not attack these idealistic young voters. I suggest we listen to them carefully and then see how we can love them, learn from them and hopefully make a human difference in their lives that transcends ideological politics. So far, what they hear from the conservative church sounds much more like the older politics of the 1990s than anything remotely like hope for their future. Yet the gospel of Christ is all about their future and ours. It is about the future of the planet in Christ and the hope that is eternal and new every single day. Our message is so strong but our way of giving it to this generation alienates them in boatloads.

Sadly, many in my generation think it is compromise just to make these kinds of statements. I am one who believes mission requires it.

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  1. Dan June 3, 2008 at 11:37 pm

    I am one of those idealistic young voters. I thank you for this post and I hope more church leaders recognize the need to understand a generation that the church has consistently quarantined and alienated- especially when these people are next in line for church leadership.
    For the first time in my life, I am feeling like the quintessential “swing voter.” I am turned off by the Obama craze that has swept over my campus and by the blindly devoted fans who fight for him with warrior-like zeal yet cannot articulate his platform, voting record, and policies.
    Yet I feel excitement and hope when he speaks- especially about his desires to reconcile this nation and address the issue of race.
    Yes, he is inexperienced, and this inexperience gives me uneasy feelings of doubt. But for once, I would like a leader who has a vision higher than us. I was not born during MLK’s time and long for a leader like that in my generation. I don’t want a president who is merely focusing on short-term answers to fix the symptoms of problems during his 4-year term. I want a president who sees the tremendous structural, ideological, and systemic changes that need to be addressed and understood.
    I respect McCain as a war hero and an admirable man. (I’m sure Dr. Dobson would disagree adamantly with me on that statement). However, I don’t agree with spending more money on a war that some of my friends are reluctantly a part of (a few of my peers are in Iraq or will be going to Iraq again and are not thrilled about it). Yet I am also deeply concerned about Obama’s policies on abortion and same-sex marriage, especially considering Cali’s recent overturned ban. While I am not a single-issue voter, these issues are also a big concern.
    This is going to be a tough one. We need a lot of prayer!

  2. John H. Armstrong June 4, 2008 at 11:48 am

    What an incredibly insightful and thoughtful response. I hope many, many readers will “hear” what you are saying and wrestle with it. You have written well and you have encouraged me in the process.
    Single-issue voting does not appeal to you, or to me, because we share a larger view of the world and the solutions. You also know the power of speech to lead and impact people. So few of my generation have seen this for so long that we are just skeptical.
    Thanks for taking the time to write such a helpful post.

  3. Edward Holm June 4, 2008 at 4:52 pm

    I too think that Dan has very clearly identified the feeling of uneasiness that many of us feel concerning all of the candidates for this election. It is a unique time in history when we are unlikely to manufacture, invent or use military force to solve our problems which perhaps are more spiritual than material. I too wonder if there is one person capable of having the insight or vision to find a path through this maze. Of course, God has always brought his people forth through the desert entirely by His means. Of course the question remains of how far one can wander astray and still be counted among His people.
    While my demographic is more closely related to the Kennedy generation I do remember it as a time of boundless enthusiasm (perhaps based on no more substance than is the current brand). That time too was one of great change in the culture. Not all of it was good and, certainly, not all of it was bad. While I probably will cast my vote for Obama, I am not entirely sure that he nor anyone else on the scene will provide the necessary insight or wisdom to affect our brokenness and hardness of heart. Perhaps there needs to arise another Martin Luther or perhaps Matin Luther King who possess the prophetic vision necessary to bring to bear. We shall see.

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