Boomers Raised to be Good Citizens, Not Disciples of Jesus

Nearly 50 years ago, John Westerhoff published a book on Christian education which sold millions and was translated into no fewer than six different languages. In it Westerhoff posed a question that is even more urgent in 2022 than it was then: Will our children have faith?

In 1976, when Westerhoff published his book, the youngest Baby Boomers were twelve. It is generally agreed that Boomers were the last generation to fill  United Church of Canada Sunday School classrooms and youth groups on a regular weekly basis. Does this make them more religious, more spiritual, or more faithful to the teachings of the Church? Not really. Those who have studied the United Church of Canada in depth have found that the desire to see our children raised in the church had less to do with the saving of souls and much more to do with creating people who would become good, hardworking, law-abiding citizens of Canada. Thus, when many of these Boomers were confirmed, they did what most young people do when they graduate from high school. They left. Their education complete, they were ready to embark on the path of responsible citizenship. Some of course stayed or, over the years, found their way back to church. But many did not. We taught them how to be good citizens, but we failed to give them a faith they could live for, a faith that would sustain them not only in the good times but also through the hard times.

We also failed to connect their own story with the story of Jesus Christ, so that with each generation the story grows dimmer and dimmer. And not surprisingly, so has our faith. As probably our greatest Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall writes, “A church that no longer asks about its theological foundations [ – about its founding story — ] will be absorbed, sooner or later, in the general secular mélange. It’s only a matter of time.”

Sadly, it seems that this is where we find ourselves today.

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