‘Millennial’ journal challenges a generation

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Generalizations abound about millennials - arguably the new year's trendiest demographic to scrutinize. They are tech-savvy and self-centered, ambitious and idealistic. According to the Pew Research Center, millennials (roughly those ages 19-35) are the largest living generation and the most racially diverse in American history. They also are linked by social media, laden with debt and relatively unattached to organized religion and politics.

By choosing to embrace organized religion, millennial Catholics set themselves apart not only from their peers but from their fellow faithful, according to 32-year-old Robert Christian, co-founder and editor of a Catholic online publication that bears his demographic's name.

"At a time when there was a distinctly Catholic culture, individuals identified as Catholic whether or not they attended Mass regularly," Christian said. But in the 1960s and '70s that culture evaporated. Now many young Catholics "have made a deliberative choice to be Catholics, either as converts or reverts," and thus espouse a devout and orthodox faith, he said.

However, reflecting their non-Catholic counterparts, millennial Catholics often are more progressive on topics of economic and social justice than their parents and grandparents, said Christian. And this historically incongruous pairing has lacked an outlet.

Enter "Millennial: Young Catholics, An Ancient Faith, A New Century," a journal and blog that features millennial writers and eschews a Catholicism forced to fit neatly into left- or right-leaning ideological camps.

"If you are an across-the-board liberal, there are plenty of forums, both secular and Catholic, for a millennial writer to publish their thoughts, and the same is true if you are a doctrinaire conservative," Christian said. "But if you are a pro-life progressive or a social justice conservative, your opportunities are limited.

"'Millennial' provides a forum for these voices - for Catholics who believe in Catholic moral and social teaching and who want to reshape their parties by making them more consistently committed to the common good, social justice and the protection of human life and dignity."

Christian launched "Millennial" in 2013 with Christopher Hale, a fellow young Catholic whom he met at Holy Trinity Church in Washington. Funded by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, a nonprofit promoting Catholic social teaching in the public square, and private donations, the publication runs interviews, story roundups from the Web, book reviews and "quotes of the day."

"Millennial" mixes intellectual rigor with crisp writing and nuanced reflection. Recent content includes an interview with John Gehring, author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope's Challenge to the American Catholic Church, and an essay by Christian entitled "A Church for the Broken." Another post highlights Pope Francis' World Day of Peace message Jan. 1.

The publication defines millennials with a Catholic twist - as those born during the pontificate of St. John Paul II (1978-2005). Its writers roughly fit that definition, but their backgrounds vary.

"My single best talent is to evaluate talent, and our collection of writers is amazing," said Christian. "My No. 1 criteria is to find the most talented people who are orthodox and committed to church teaching on the sanctity of human life and social justice," he said, adding that they "could be left, right, centrist."

"Some writers take on certain intellectual debates, some speak to the heart and some speak to experience," Christian said. "We aim for a diverse mix. If one piece is too theologically intellectual, I hope the next will give a reader what they need."

The journal and blog address topics like poverty and immigration but are not afraid to grapple with questions about and struggles with the faith. "We want to reflect the real lived experience of Catholic millennials," Christian said.

Christian is especially proud of the publication's treatment of abortion. "By framing it as a matter of social justice and human rights, I think we can really connect with millennials and are helping to provide the right framework for the future of the pro-life movement," he said. And by committing "to a comprehensive approach to abortion - legal protection for unborn lives combined with adequate support for mothers and families (and) improving the adoption process - we can show not only that it is possible to be pro-life and pro-women, but that the two are bound together."

"Millennial" has a strong presence on social media, with more than 6,000 Facebook fans and nearly 3,000 followers on Twitter. "Social media drives a lot of people to our site and is critical to what we do," said Christian.

He said one of the luxuries of a donation-supported online publication is that they can run stories that don't get as many hits but that are "very important," he said, such as pieces on the Central African Republic. A quote of the day likewise may not always bring many people to the website, but it can spread on social media, often getting hundreds of shares and reaching tens of thousands of people. "Even if people know us just through that quote, if that sparks something in them, if they have a bit of a realization," that's a success, Christian said.

Christian lives in Rockville, Md., with his wife, Sarah - who copy edits "Millennial" - and their two young children. Like many millennial parents, both he and his wife struggle to balance careers with family life and the desire to make a positive impact through their work.

Christian said he thinks the church does a wonderful job ministering to young adults, but that parishes could improve their outreach to millennial parents, who are increasingly isolated. "We live in a mobile society, disconnected from family and friends who traditionally provided a support network," he said.

For his part, Christian hopes to offer a sincere and thought-provoking cyber-community for millennial Catholics.

"I want … those Catholics fighting for social justice and people fighting the pro-life fight, for them to feel affirmed and part of a community," said Christian. "And I want people who are decent Catholics to read and learn more about the faith and grow stronger in it. And for the fallen away, if we pull them closer, that is my hope."

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© Arlington Catholic Herald 2016