About a year ago, Kenya exploded in post-election riots that resulted in a thousand deaths. Many of the killers were unemployed young people who were "hanging out and feeling people were looking down on them," says Muhia Karianjahi, the Nairobi-based director of Tanari International, an international youth outreach ministry.

This basic storyline repeats itself around the world, and is arguably to blame for much ethnic violence in other 2008 hotspots such as Jos, Nigeria, and eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

One sobering reality in these conflicts is that they are happening in very Christianized regions. Kenya is, like the U.S., about 80 percent Christian. The DRC is 95 percent Christian.

"There are churches all over the place, and Bible schools, and everything else; and planted right on top is this horrific conflict," says Wheaton College professor Paul Robinson, who grew up in eastern DRC. "Christianity doesn't make a difference—that's not your primary loyalty. Christian leaders need to ask: Isn't there a higher, deeper loyalty?"

For many young people raised in the worldwide church, the answer is no. Ethnicity is their default identity. Karianjahi says Kenya's "kids are frustrated that life is not working out." When their options fail, so does their allegiance to Christian principles. A similar dynamic seems to be at work in the U.S. Recent Barna Group research found that a majority of American youth raised in the church have left it by age 29. The issue for American Christians is less about rioting youth and more about a rising generation whose commitment to Christ may not stand when shaken. And it doesn't take much to shake it before they abandon Christ for lesser loyalties.

While we know that not all ...

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February 2009

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