A Boomer’s Praise for Millennials

Thoughts From Tom Glenn, Chair of The Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation.

Born in 1947, I am a scant one year younger than the very oldest of the Baby Boomers. I have been followed by X’s, Y’s, and now Millennials. Though once proud of my prowess with Lotus 1-2-3, floppy discs, and dot matrix printers, I find myself challenged by social media, the electronic gadgetry in my car, and some of the responses I get from Siri. Siri sounds like an Xer, but I’m afraid to ask.

I have become intrigued by Millennials. Though jokes about their idiosyncrasies abound (check out “Millennial Job Interview”), I see some traits in these younger folks that I think bode well for the future. Notably, they seem more focused on societal values than on social institutions, and I consider this a very good thing.

Former Vermont governor Howard Dean recently opined that “the Trump election was essentially a negation of every value that young people have … [however] these people are not Democrats.” Political perspectives aside, it is apparent that Millennials are not the “joiners” that we Boomers are. Their allegiance to political parties is not nearly as strong, and the same is apparent where religious affiliation is concerned.

In The Decline of White Christian America, Robert P. Jones provides data showing the relationship between Americans’ ages and their likelihood of affiliating with religious sects. As of 2014, only 18% of the 65-and-older group in a sizeable sample indicated that they were “unaffiliated,” or they replied that they didn’t know or refused to answer. This number climbs to 20% for ages 50-64, 27% for 30-49, and to a whopping 41% for the 18-29 group. Where we Boomers may have become Republicans or Methodists “because that’s what Mama and Daddy were,” Millennials are apparently less inclined to do so.

Recently, three Millennial women, Hamdi Abdi, Brittani Magee, and Amanda Wolkin, made a beautiful joint statement on behalf of interfaith cooperation. Prior to this collaboration, they had published their respective views, separately, as follows:

Hamdi Abdi, a Muslim, made observations about how she and other interfaith advocates “held monthly dinner discussions about the common threads that ran through the participants’ faith traditions regarding themes such as love, justice, liberation, etc.” Brittani Magee, a Christian, pointed out that “while we may not agree with each other, I believe that having respect and compassion for others should be the lens from which we interact with our fellow humans.” Amanda Wolkin, a Jew, emerged from an interfaith experience with the following observation – “Before long, I realized one simple truth: although our faiths were different, our values were not. These kind people had become my family, no matter our belief systems.”

It appears that these three Millennials are focusing on “beliefs” more than “belief systems.” Undeniably, they have a genuine commitment to their respective religious faiths, yet they refuse to let any interpretation of religious dogma obscure the importance of respect for the dignity of all human beings.

I salute these women for their attitudes, and I respect Millennials’ willingness to probe the values underlying our social institutions. True, some Millennials may not probe the rationale for having a lug wrench in the car, but when it comes to selling them on a political party or a religious position, they are more likely to ask, where’s the beef? (to use an ancient Boomer expression). Perhaps they will force the rest of us to probe a little more deeply. And I thank them for that.


Tom Glenn answers the question, “Why is the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto important?”

Thoughts From Tom Glenn, Chair of The Wilbur and Hilda Glenn Family Foundation

I was not particularly political in my younger days.  The Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and a long list of human rights issues were rather tangential to my young, unsophisticated mind.  With advancing age and some semblance of maturation, I began to wish I had been more aware of social justice issues in my earlier years.  Joining others concerned about religious bigotry was a good start, but I had no idea at the time that the topic would soon invade the consciousness of so many Americans.

Published in two Atlanta papers in September of 2016, the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto denounces religious bigotry and encourages interfaith cooperation.  It is the work of approximately 30 concerned individuals who began conversations in January of 2015, well before we could have predicted ensuing events that would threaten one of our most cherished freedoms.

The Manifesto’s call for “respect and accommodation for diverse religious and secular identities” does not encourage agreeing with or even learning about someone else’s religion or philosophical position.  But it reasserts Americans’ centuries old desire to pursue their various faiths with impunity.  Such freedom was undoubtedly on the minds of the brave souls in those frail little ships that sailed across the Atlantic long before the United States, the Constitution, or the First Amendment were envisioned.

At times, life’s challenges can become so daunting that our faith is all we have left to keep us going.  We should have the freedom to cling to that faith without being maligned.  Though such freedom was envisioned more than four hundred years ago, it remains a dream to many.

During the nineteenth century, Mormons were brutally victimized by an extermination order (Missouri Executive Order 44).  During John Kennedy’s campaign for the Presidency, Protestant leaders railed against the notion of a Catholic in the White House.  Bigotry against Jews continues, and there is now a regrettable increase of anti-Semitic activity on college campuses.  The outpouring of anti-Muslim rhetoric since 9/11 is yet another unfortunate example of our country’s darker side.  All of these examples of bigotry speak to the importance of the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto, but I believe there is an even more compelling reason to confront the issue.

Fear of the unknown arouses our protective instincts and heightens our sensitivity to change, making us easy prey to those seizing such opportunities to support their political intentions.  According to Robert P. Jones’ The End of White Christian America, 2008 was the last year on record when Protestants as a whole represented a majority of the United States, and by 2014, the religiously unaffiliated made up 22% of the U.S. population.  Changes in both demographics and religious affiliations are taking place much faster than previously predicted, and the potential for exploiting fear increases with them.  If there was ever a time for us to learn how to get along with each other, it’s now.

In the coming months, others involved with crafting the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto will be offering their views on why the Manifesto is important through website posts similar to this one.  These impressive thought leaders inspire me, and I urge you to read what they have to say.

I am no longer a college student of the turbulent sixties, but I find myself in an atmosphere reminiscent of those days when there was much to fear and dread.  It is my hope that through interfaith cooperation, we can live in peace and harmony as we become a more diverse nation.

If you feel so compelled, I invite you to sign the Atlanta Interfaith Manifesto to show your support for religious cooperation and tolerance.