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.
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.
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.