Traditional Faith Enjoys Resurgence among Gen-Xers

Article excerpt

She's straight as an arrow, but 29-year-old Meg Kilgannon makes her mother awfully nervous. True, Mrs. Kilgannon is already a homeowner, has been married since 1995 and is expecting her first child this February.

Nevertheless, Meg's mother worries that her daughter has gone off the deep end. Has Meg cast her lot with the Black Panthers, the animal rights crowd, or some other youthful indulgence designed to shock her elders?

Nope. It's that pesky traditional faith that Meg has lately adopted. Raised Presbyterian in a relatively secular household, she converted to Catholicism when she married. Now she and her husband, Tom, attend church regularly.

Most Generation Xers weren't even born when Time magazine famously declared "God Is Dead." But today He seems alive and well among twentysomethings and thirtysomethings. Nearly half of all Gen-Xers say church teachings influence their daily decisions.

And there's sociological and anecdotal evidence that many young men and women now attend churches and synagogues more theologically conservative than those they grew up in. They can't stomach priests who worship the liberal trinity of sensitivity, tolerance and diversity, or rabbis who take their sermons verbatim from the New York Times' editorial page. Their more tradition-minded faith leaves many of their elders baffled, uneasy, or just plain out of the picture.

Take "Seymour Galinsky," a Washington-area law student. Growing up in a small, Southern town with a minuscule Jewish population, Mr. Galinsky (who didn't want his real name used) attended services at the local Reform Temple, which emphasized the cultural and historical aspects of Judaism. This left him unsatisfied.

"I wanted more than great Jews in history, or what the Holocaust could do for our identity, or how to be more socially responsible. I felt like they were holding something back," he said.

In graduate school, he found that something - namely traditional Jewish worship, such as attending Sabbath services and observing the Jewish Sabbath. As Mr. Galinsky moved more and more toward tradition, his father grew increasingly nervous, as if he expected him to come home "in a black hat and a beard.

"My father thought being Orthodox meant being weird; he didn't realize you could be Orthodox and modern," says the beardless Mr. Galinsky.

Although raised Presbyterian in Wheaton, Ill., John Wilson had a parallel experience. Now 33, Mr. Wilson recalls that the Presbyterian church he attended growing up left him unsatisfied because everyone "seemed more interested in social issues than in Christianity. …