THE BLOG
12/19/2011 10:34 am ET Updated Feb 18, 2012

Take Note: Jesus was a Millennial

After a recent opportunity to engage with 23-year-old Matthew Segal, one of the founders of OurTime, I was thinking about why he intrigues me. I am more than twice his age. I am a Boomer. He is a millennial. Bottomline, I think Matthew is going to really shake things up.

I like movers and shakers, not necessarily of the corporate vein, but more like Jesus, another millennial, an 18-34 year old with a unique take on the world that many of his elders didn't get.

Matthew is an impressive young guy who has co-created a new 300 thousand plus member organization of 18-34 year olds committed to:

  • Increase members' consumer power
  • Encourage young entrepreneurship in America
  • Influence a voting bloc of 18-34 millennials

We crossed paths because we run on parallel tracks. I work for Soulforce, home of the Equality Ride.

Our group is comprised, in majority, of millennials who are social activists and committed advocates for justice, particularly for women and LGBT people who suffer religious oppression. Matthew is a passionate advocate for social innovation, civic engagement and economic justice here in the United States, so we have some things in common.

I think it is really important to take note of Matthew and the generation he represents. Our nation is investing in infrastructure and activities that are simply not meaningful to them. Let me give you some examples, many of which are drawn from the Pew Research Center.

The study shows, for example, that:

Millennials are more receptive to immigrants than their elders. Nearly six out of 10 (58 percent) say immigrants strengthen the country; just 43 percent of adults ages 30 and older agree.

Yet, in my home state of Texas, we are spending a veritable fortune to build walls that eerily resemble some once standing in Berlin.

Three-fourths of Matthew's generation transacts almost everything (purchasing, dating, talking) online except voting. I liked Matthew Segal's testimony to Congress when he said:

What will it take to move our voting process into the 21st century by expanding online voter registration?

Or at least, to take down some of the barriers for young people who want to be engaged in the process? We seem very happy to take down all the barriers to gun ownership. Did you know that in Texas (my home state) it is permissible to register to vote by showing a concealed gun license, but not a student ID. How upside down is that?

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky and Congressman Steven LaTourette introduced the bipartisan Student VOTER Act last Congress, which would amend the National Voter Registration Act to designate colleges and universities as "voter registration agencies" in the model of a Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

They are not getting much traction. Evidently few people are worried about transparency and accountability to young people who want to vote.

Here's another interesting fact about millennials. Many of them walk or ride a bike where they want to go or share a ride or take a bus or a train. When they need a car they use a Zipcar. A recent study shows that 55 percent of Millennials surveyed have actively made an effort to drive less, up 10 percentage points from 45 percent in 2010, citing environmental concerns (more than 50 percent), total cost of vehicle ownership and an increased use of social media to stay in touch with friends and family.

What should this trend say to our Congress about future highway development? What should this trend say to automakers? Energy producers?

This is the 9/11 generation. Life as they have known it has been one with red, orange and yellow alerts where the bad guy was bin Laden. They are sick of being afraid and they are sick of being at war.

This generation of Americans have suffered the majority of casualties and combat injuries and will bear the entire financial cost for the past decade of war, on average since 2002, $120 billion a year, all during years of national deficits at the expense of growing national debt.

Sadly, this expense is double our federal expenditure on education and I cannot even calculate how much more it is than we have spent on job creation.

While conservative candidates are preaching "less government" everywhere, research tells us that more so than other generations, millennials believe government should do more to solve problems.

While conservative candidates are indiscriminately dumping their religious inclinations into our living rooms, it is important to note that millennials are the least overtly religious American generation in modern times.

One-in-four are unaffiliated with any religion, far more than the share of older adults when they were ages 18 to 29. Yet not belonging does not necessarily mean not believing. Millennials pray about as often as their elders did in their own youth.

I spend a fair amount of my time with young people who go to church and who don't go to church. My experience tells me that they don't choose to engage with unresponsive and inflexible institutions with outdated rules that make no sense. They are, however, very engaged with the Spirit that animates them and their faith. I often feel that they have a deeper understanding of the Sermon on the Mount and tikkun olam than most of us who profess to be preachers. I have seen their faith in action in some very tough places and learned to trust their instincts.

More than 17 percent of millennials are unemployed or out of the workforce due to this sixth winter of Great Recession, the highest share among this age group in more than three decades. Research shows that young people who graduate from college in a bad economy typically suffer long-term consequences -- with effects on their careers and earnings that linger as long as 15 years. Yet, they are remarkably upbeat and report that they believe they will have enough to do what they need to do.


Politically, millennials were among Barack Obama's strongest supporters in 2008, backing him for president by more than a two-to-one ratio (66 percent to 32 percent) while older adults were giving just 50 percent of their votes to the Democratic nominees, but their enthusiasm has waned. About half of Millennials say the president has failed to change the way Washington works, which had been the central promise of his candidacy. Of those who say this, three out of 10 blame Obama himself, while more than half blame his political opponents and special interests.

What we don't know is who will be punished and who will be rewarded at the polls by millennials? We are not even sure millennials will vote or that the machines will work where they show up to vote.

If you haven't seen Matthew Segal's compelling testimony to Congress about the debacle as this college where equipment failed during the election, take a moment to hear it here.

Obama has a mountain to climb but so do the people who have made it impossible for meaningful work to get done in Washington. I am excited to watch the evolution of Matthew Segal's voting bloc efforts and I am excited about what millennials are going to do to deepen our understanding of one another, to bring innovation and change where we really need it, to break down barriers that don't serve us well. Virgil said we should look with favor on bold beginnings.

Like another millennial so long ago, millennials are going to force us to think of our world inside out and I think that is a very healthy thing.