Mumford and other Millennials: Don’t call me Christian. Why?

I’m a tad late on the uptake of this one, but the following quote was uttered by Marcus Mumford- the 26-year-old lead singer of Mumford & Sons- in the April edition of Rolling Stone:

“I don’t really like that word. It comes with so much baggage. So, no, I wouldn’t call myself a Christian. I think the word just conjures up all these religious images that I don’t really like. I have my personal views about the person of Jesus and who he was. … I’ve kind of separated myself from the culture of Christianity.”

As a blogger who attempts to write about how Christianity can and should relate to culture, his final phrase caught my eye. Is it Jesus [and His claims] that Marcus has a problem with, or is his issue with what he perceives as the “culture of Christianity”?

If the above quote was from pretty much any other popular artist, I would not have given it a second thought, let alone taken the time to blog about it. But Marcus’ background, combined with how he answered the question, is indeed thought provoking. And also, one must ask whether his sentiment is shared by the band’s legion of millenial fans- specifically those who, like him, have a distinct Christian upbringing.

Marcus Mumford (photo credit: Jason DeCrow/Invision/AP)

First, to provide some background on Mumford, he was raised in a very loving, charismatic, Christian home. Marcus grew up in the Vineyard movement in the UK, and his parents are currently the leaders of Vineyard UK. The roots and theology of the Vineyard movement are outside the scope of this article (I’ll leave you to Wikipedia for that), but let’s just say those in the movement love Jesus, and wholeheartedly believe his power to heal and work miracles is alive and well for all Christian believers in the church today.

So, in short, Marcus did not experience the “stuffy, ho-hum” so-called “traditional religion” that first comes to mind when people try to determine why Marcus Mumford and others his age leave the church.

Regardless on whether Marcus wants to assume the label “Christian” and be associated with the “culture of Christianity”, it is obvious there are themes of redemption and images of the Christian faith intertwined throughout the band’s music. If it weren’t for the one expletive per album that they seem to use for “shock value”, their music could very well be sold as Christian.

See this review for a great analysis of how Christian themes and imagery are weaved throughout Mumford and Sons music, as well as a contextual look at their sparing, yet unfortunate use of expletives.

Back to the question at hand, why are Marcus Mumford and other millennials running from the label “Christian”? When I posted this question a few weeks back to my Facebook profile, it received some interesting conversation that is worth reading.

My conclusion: Setting aside the marketing aspect of not wanting to alienate the band’s non-Christian fans, I believe his comment comes down to one thing- the search for authenticity within the Christian Faith. Specifically, every Christian’s desire to see an authentic representation of Jesus Christ in the church today. Where there is hypocrisy, it’s typically the younger generation that will spot it. And when the Christian Church doesn’t offer a powerful, viable, and authentic alternative to the lure of mainstream materialism, it will have more and more Marcus Mumfords- from the Millennial generation and beyond- distancing themselves from the “culture of Christianity.”

An article I read a while back summed up this search for authenticity best, and I will share the conclusion here:

Only in knowing Jesus can we be fully authentic. Only when we are loved as we are, are we then freed up to love others without hiding behind a Facebook status update or the best version of ourselves on Instagram. Only Christ’s gospel can cure the hopelessness and aimlessness because, when you know who you are in Christ, you know what to do—and no resurgent love for a time period or active lifestyle can deliver that.

Amen to that.

I was born 2 weeks before 1980. The definition of Millennial is anyone born after 1980 and up until about the mid-90s. Therefore, I sit right on the dividing line between being a Millennial and Gen-Xer. Furthermore, having come to Christ in my late 20′s, I offer a unique perspective on the generational divide within the church among Gen-Xers, Millenials, and our parents and grandparents’ generations because I didn’t grow up in “church culture.”

When Mumford says the word Christianity “conjures up all these religious images I don’t really like”, he is referring to hypocrisy within the church. Ironically, this is much the same complaint Jesus had with the church of His day.

Hypocrisy exists where pew warmers- those that hear the word but never DO it- build themselves up through self-serving power struggles, judge the outside world from within their 4 walls of righteousness and religiosity, and lack grace when pointing out other people’s sins as well as humility when it comes to admitting their own. To root out this hypocrisy we simply need to reflect the authenticity of Jesus Christ, who was sent by God as a “suffering servant”. This isn’t done through “copying culture”, as culture is all caught up in materialism and serving our own needs. What Christianity must do is “counter culture” by continually striving to serve the needs of others. This service must not be done with hidden motives of self-satisfaction or to earn a spot up the “Christian ladder” so that we can look down on others, but simply in the name of Jesus.

Bottom line: For Christianity to be seen as authentic to Mumford and my generation’s contemporaries we can’t simply invite them to a “cool” church service, a hipster community group, or a really in-depth Bible study. All of those things are valuable, but only if combined with the right motives. The only way we’ll be taken seriously by outsiders is if they see a positive life change in those of us inside the church. Until then, we’ll all just look like a bunch of Pharisees, and no one will want our label.

Now for some Mumford and Sons with “I Will Wait”:

A HuffPo article to glean some more thoughts on Marcus Mumford’s comments: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/04/03/marcus-mumford-lead-singer-of-mumford–sons-i-wouldnt-call-myself-a-christian_n_3009777.html

The Resurgence article, “MILLENNIAL LONELINESS AND THE SEARCH FOR AUTHENTICITY”, from which I quoted from above: http://theresurgence.com/2012/10/23/millennial-loneliness-and-the-search-for-authenticity