With the election looming and voter turnout up across the board, the youth vote has attracted its fair share of attention. Harvard University’s Institute of Politics reports that for the first time since Richard Nixon was in office, young people are turning out to vote in high numbers. Perhaps more interesting than sheer volume is how we youngsters are voting and why.
The study, released in April, said 37 percent of young people listed religion as “a very important part of their lives” and 45 percent expected it to “become more important as they grew older.” But traditional “religious” issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and stem-cell research aren’t as popular with the younger demographic. The idea of voting for morals or family values doesn’t mean what it used to. Hallelujah.
As a religiously affiliated youth voter myself, I am overall more concerned with poverty, social justice, and the environment as moral causes than any others. This is also a reflection of the Democratic Party affiliation of the majority of the 18-29-year-old age group, reported by the Pew Research Center. It’s not that abortion and homosexuality aren’t worthy of attention or thoughtful discussion/legislation, but for too long these two issues have defined the religious movement. I’m proud to be part of a generation that is broadening our moral focus and redefining what it means to be a politically-active religious citizen.
We can talk all day about when life begins and what rights women have, but as long as people are poor and scared and uneducated, we won’t stop abortions. We can obsess over homosexuality and the theories of sexual orientation, but how can we love like Jesus when we don’t even treat people who are different than us like people?
My hope for my generation and the emerging religiousity in America is that our votes will speak about a great love for all people and a concerted effort to make life better in this country. I hope issues like the environment won’t fade into merely a trendy interest, but will manifest into a dedication for alternative, clean energy and a renewed zeal for conservation.
I think criminal justice is another neglected Christian issue that has seen an increase in popularity with the restorative justice movement. The religious right may not be famous for hugging trees or fighting for prisoner’s rights, but I believe the religious left could be. And maybe, we can even stop using terms like left and right to describe and divide ourselves. I’ll try to work on that.