They’re Spiritual, But Not Religious

by Tuvya Zaretsky

Jacqui and Benji (not their real names) are millennials and a Jewish-Gentile couple. They came to me seeking help in the cultural complexity of planning their wedding. Neither were followers of Jesus, so it was odd that they were asking me, a Messianic Jew, for advice about their wedding.

To explain what they wanted, Benji said, “We’re not really religious, but we are both spiritual people.” That viewpoint is proving typical of millennials, including Jewish millennials. The Pew Research Center study of American Jewish Attitudes in 2013 and a Barna Group study to be released later this year corroborate the findings. Jewish millennials have greater spiritual interest than the previous generations and they are applying that new outlook to redefine what Jewishness means. The changing views of spirituality and religion are revealing an open door to engage these younger people with gospel truth.

Jacqui and Benji described a wedding ceremony that would not be religious, but would include the traditions of her Christian parents and his Jewish family while being deeply spiritual in the core message. My first thoughts were drowned in a pond of inadequacy, fed by streams of traditional ways that I know to do a wedding. What they wanted was incredibly complex. Worse yet, it didn’t fit anything I knew.

God forbid I should have to think about a new way of presenting biblical truth to wonderful people who are spiritually hungry! So, we talked a lot about the values we could mine from a spiritual wedding. Then, we listed a few wedding traditions from both of their backgrounds. Jacqui’s parents had become enthusiastic Christians recently. For them, we came up with the message of love in Christ from I Corinthians 13 with the explanation that enduring love is a spiritual gift from God in His Messiah Jesus.

From Benji’s Jewish tradition, we drew some beautiful Hebrew prayers of sanctification with a Kiddush cup and the Seven Blessings that set apart the groom and bride to one another. The ceremony could end with a rousing “MAZEL TOV” (Hebrew for congratulations) as a glass was broken.

At the heart of the wedding was the opportunity to explain the biblical meaning of marriage from the Torah, Genesis 2:23-25. They were delighted to find agreement that marriage was God’s idea from creation. Jacqui and Benji welcomed Adonai, the Living Lord, with them into their intimate reaches of their relationship and the new home they were creating.

Although both live seemingly secular lives, in their hearts they hope of a spiritual foundation for being married. And recent studies are indicating that millennials (ages 18 – 31), including Jewish millennials, identify as ‘spiritual’. They are more likely to be interested in faith and spirituality than in traditional categories of religion. And, they want to find their own definition for what it means to be Jewish and Christian. Jewish millennials are taking very different frames to express Jewish identity.

One contributing factor is that over half of all Jews born in America since 1990 have just one Jewish parent. The Jewish intermarriage rate, beginning with the 1990 National Jewish Population Survey, has been 52% and higher for nearly three decades. In July, the Jewish People Public Policy Institute conceded that if you discount the small minority of Orthodox Jews in America, the Jewish intermarriage rate exceeds 72%.

Now that traditional forms of religious identity are being left behind, the Barna Group found 82% of American Jewish millennials are interested in faith and spirituality. Almost three quarters of them are curious about religions other than Judaism—the traditional faith of Jewish people. And 62% of the Jewish millennials with one Jewish parent said they were interested in learning about other faiths, including the Christian faith.

So, they’re spiritual, but not religious. And that’s not just the Jewish millennials. It seems their entire generation is thinking outside of traditional religious categories and searching for spiritual meanings that can make a difference in their lives and impact the world in which we are all living. Talking with and listening to people like Jacqui and Benji will provoke us to think about new and appropriate ways to present biblical truth to wonderful people who are spiritually hungry. How cool is that?

Tuvya Zaretsky is a Lausanne catalyst for Jewish evangelism, serves the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE), and is a Jewish-Gentile Couples ministry specialist with Jews for Jesus. He posts resources at www.JewishGentileCouples.com. He and his wife, Ellen, are the parents of four incredibly amazing Millennials.