The culture question, millennials find new ways to display their faith
With a bowed head, framed by stained glass and sloping archways, he sat in reverence. Hands clasped, he leaned forward resting his permanently inked forearms on the polished wood of the chapel pew in front of him.
Sophomore Ben Benavidez is one of many millennials who identify as a part of the Christian faith. Although today, Ben and many other millennials have chosen to express their faith differently than the generations before them. One way in which Benavidez and other millennials have chosen to express their faith differently is in the form of ink.
'One of the reasons [I got my tattoo] is I wanted to display my faith,' Benavidez said. 'A lot of Christians get religious tattoos and I felt I wanted one that really represented my beliefs.'
According to the Pew Research Center, among American millennials, those between the ages of 18-29 years old and born after 1980, Christians make up 68 percent of the total population.
Professor of Music and Conductor of the Lee University Symphonic Band, Mark Bailey has seen many changes in young Christians including current millennials throughout his over 20 years at Lee.
'You think that your generation is different from the previous generation, it's probably not as much as you think it is,' Bailey said.
According to Pew, though millennials who are affiliated with a particular religious group have decreased from the generation before, the intensity of religious affiliation is as strong within millennials as the generation prior.
Throughout his time mentoring and teaching young Christians, Bailey said the fashions might have changed and some, like Benavidez, use tattoos as statements of faith instead of rebellion, but it is the faith that lies within the believer that is important.
'Our [self] expression in college [in the '70s] while there, were guys with long hair and women wearing really short skirts. It was the first time miniskirts really came into vogue and so that was a big deal when it was Lee College back in that day,' Bailey said. 'Every generation has their fashion statement whether it's short skirts, long hair worn by guys or tattoos, but I think your heart has to dictate what you do.'
Senior Biblical and Theological Studies Major Zach Barnes said every generation has to deal with the culture question when it comes to faith.
'I think starting with the '60s and progressing onto our present day, there is [more] space [than before] for expression of one's self, I think that has led to many different streams of divergence [within the faith] and so we're having to deal with the culture question more than any other generation that has dealt with the culture question,' Barnes said.
Barnes said the focus on the individual is what often directs what young Christians seek out from their faith.
'I think what the millennial Christians in general are looking for is an experience,' Barnes said. 'I think experience is the key. Rather than keeping to a set doctrine, a set statement of faith, they're looking for a [religious] experience.'
Barnes said though the religious experience is important it does not replace a faith rooted in scripture.
'Paul was not writing in a vacuum when he was writing the scriptures, but he's writing with a gentile context, a Greco-Roman context, so [in that respect] culture plays a big part in the development of faith,' Barnes said. 'But we've got to realize at the end of the day we have to be more tethered to our faith, which is revealed in Christ, than our faith which is manifested in a particular culture.'
The current American culture is not lost on Main Line Ink Tattoo and Visual Artist, Danny Siviter, who said he uses his artwork to intentionally display his faith and love for Christ in the foreground of his work, which has given him many opportunities to share his faith.
'The majority of the religious tattoos I have done and from the tattoos I personally have [become a] permanent reminder to people of their faith and maybe even a reminder of something miraculous God has done in their life,' Siviter said. ' [Tattoos can also] be a sort of conversation piece: a tattoo that opens the door for conversations. A majority of all my tattoos have meanings based on my faith, my love for Christ and my trust that he loves me.'
Siviter said as tattoos become more prevalent he feels Christians will become less worried about outward appearance and more focused on what Christ calls his people to do, go and make disciples.
Barnes believes the changes in culture the Millennial generation has seen cannot be separated from the Christian faith of young believers.
'I think this is the beauty of the New Testament and the faith that we have. It's not a set of rigid laws that are static but there is a dynamic nature to our faith, Barnes said. 'Paul would say something like this, 'for as many as are led by the spirit they are the sons they are the daughters of God.' So being led by the spirit is at the core of developing our relationship [with God].'