Let’s just say a few things without naming any particular people or referring to specific events.
First, there is a well-defined social script for someone who grew up in fundamentalist Christianity to become progressive later in life. This shift toward progressivism is a consequence of many things, one of which is the very real failings and shortcomings of fundamentalism.
Second, there is a well-defined social script for someone who was mistreated or wronged by religious leaders to become progressive later in life. This shift is, again, a consequence of explicit moral failures by religious leaders as well as a failure of nerve amongst other leaders who would rather ignore the failures of their peers than address the issue.
Third, entrepreneurialism has long served as a surrogate religion for millions of Americans. This shift is because often entrepreneurialism looks a lot better to our peers than a life of Christian discipleship. That’s not all our fault—the ad men have no small portion of the blame for this—but to the degree that we make Christianity look boring and unserious, we share some degree of responsibility.
Fourth, most responses to these problems from evangelicals have proven to be ineffective because they fail to reckon with the ways in which we ourselves are complicit in the church’s decline, choosing instead to look for individual elements in each deconversion narrative that exonerate us of any responsibility for a person’s lost faith and, therefore, do not require anything from us in response to a person’s lost faith.
Fifth, we live in a day that is generally alienating for most people and destructive of community of all types. As Walker Percy said nearly 40 years ago, depression is a rational response to the world we live in. Given this, people will go anywhere they can find a sense of membership and acceptance. If we do not understand this, then we will continue to watch young people walk out the door.
Sixth, any response to our moment that focuses more on the individual story of lost faith and less on a fairly dramatic shift in our approach to liturgy, catechesis, and repentance will be inadequate to the demands of the day.