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Baby boomers, cultural divisiveness and the church

Baby boomers, cultural divisiveness and the church

Elizabeth Drescher pointed us to this intriguing piece of generational sociology by N. Graham Standish, that hits on several of the themes we have discussing on the Cafe lately.

Commenting on the work of Neil Howe and William Strauss, he writes:

Their theory is that a four-generation cycle has repeated itself throughout American history. An individualistic, hedonistic one follows an idealistic, individualistic generation. It is then followed by a civic-minded, communally oriented one, which is followed by a communally oriented, negotiating one. This generation is followed once again by an idealistic, individualistic one. With each generation encompassing a 20-year span, this adds up to a new one approximately every 80 years.

Each generation reacts to or against the successes, failures and legacies of previous ones. For instance, individualistic generations react against the stifling civic culture of previous generations, and the civic generations rebuild institutions and communal identity weakened by individualistic generations.

Some of his summary of the Baby Boom generation is relevant to the Episcopal Church, but I don’t think we have much of a Tea Party contingent. He writes:

As teens and young adults, Boomers were foot soldiers in the civil rights movement, protested the Vietnam War, removed a paranoid and corrupt president, paved the way for freer sex and individual expression, and restarted a stagnant economy by spurring an individualistic entrepreneurial spirit. In their older age, having become more conservative, they have sparked the religious evangelical and libertarian Tea Party movements. Whatever movement they triumphed, it was always focused on the individual.

Throughout their lifespan they have been mostly uncompromising: “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” “Hell no, I won’t go,” “Trickle-down economics,” “Deficits don’t matter” and “Government is the problem.” In general they have approached the world ideologically, seeing compromise as a weakness. Throughout their lifespan they have divided society, including religion. It’s no accident that all Protestant religious denominations are rapidly splitting, led by a mostly Boomer leadership.

Our Baby Boomer leaders are so certain of their rightness, whether on the right or the left (on the left as teens and young adults and mostly now on the right), that they have led us into a constant cultural division by refusing to look for pragmatic answers to our Boomer-inspired crises.

Thoughts? Generational sociology tends to be a bit reductive, but that isn’t to say it isn’t sometimes insightful.


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Bill Dilworth

JC, I meant to see that program and misses it. Maybe TiVo caught it for me.

At the risk of being thought an apologist for the Confederacy, I agree that the Union move was stupid and immoral; i had not heard of it before, but it doesn’t surprise me. Most people in the rest of the country generally do not realize the depth of the suffering and humiliation suffered by the South during and after the Civil War, or are apt to shrug it off as their own deserts. The same people who would condemn total warfare carried out with the aim of harming civilian populations, the wanton destruction of infrastructure, or the burning of cities in modern conflicts try to justify their use in the Civil War. The South’s memories of it have driven an awful lot of politics since then.

Here endeth the lesson.


“HmI don’t think I know any Boomers who were involved in the civil rights, feminist,or anti-war movements who have become conservative.”

Careful, Gloria. As New Yorker film critic Pauline Kael was famously quoted (misquoted, but no matter), “I can’t believe Nixon won: I don’t know anyone who voted for him!”

I grew up such a (younger, even moreso than BillD) Boomer, during Nixon’s Presidency, convinced that when MY generational cohort came of age, everything would be “civil rights, feminist,or anti-war movements” gravy . . . and then My Generation voted for Ronald Reagan in large numbers. *smh*

People, even “people like us” generationally, often don’t vote the way we think they ought (“the way everyone I know does”).

And yet God loves them anyway. And so must we (kicking and screaming! ;-/)

JC Fisher

P.S. Did anyone else see “Death and the Civil War” on PBS this week? I couldn’t help thinking about Certain Red States RIGHT NOW, in connection w/ the decision by the victorious Union forces to leave Confederate war dead to rot, unburied. Stupid, and immoral. Immoral and stupid!

Erik Campano

Bill, thanks for your thoughts. As for the demographic breakdown, someone showed me stats recently (I didn’t verify them) that among mainline Protestant denominations, TEC has a) the highest percentage with grad degrees, b) the highest per capita income, and c) minority ethnic groups underrepresented versus their actual population percentage.

I hear what you’re saying about the way we “do” church appealing to elites. I’d just like to submit the idea (and it’s not mine, actually – credit goes to a lot of people who have been thinking about the question of how to diversify our denomination) that “welcoming” is probably not enough. Congregations have to enquire about the excluded groups around them… and find out what a church community can offer (and what they can offer the church) that would help them live out the Holy Spirit… and then work in tandem with them to create a “sort of religion” that incorporates that vision. This may very well be possible without us losing what makes us Anglican — above all the mystery of our liturgy.

Erik Campano


HmI don’t think I know any Boomers who were involved in the civil rights, feminist,or anti-war movements who have become conservative. They, perhaps, became part of the “establishment,” but they continue in their passion for justice and peace and generously give of their time and money to try to change the world one step at a time.

Gloria Hopewell (added by ~ed.) please sign your name when you comment – thanks.

Bill Dilworth

Erik, it seems to me that our welcoming marginalized socio-econonic groups may not be the cause of their absence in our demographics. I have my suspicions that it has more to do with the sort of religion currently in fashion in the Episcopal Church. It seems one that has the most appeal to educated, well-off liberal elites – it’s not that the poor aren’t welcomed so much that they are not interested. I’ve looked for some sort of breakdown of per capita income by religion, but haven’t been able to find any; I have my suspicions about what makes for a socio-economically diverse Church, but don’t have any evidence.

I wish that we were much more diverse in that area, and think that it’s a scandal we aren’t, but I don’t think it’s because we’re not welcoming.

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