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June 9, 2001
Column #1032

THE PARADOX OF U.S. FAITH AND ACTION

     The big news in Washington this week is that control of the Senate passed back from the Republicans to the Democrats. 

     That change, as important as it is, will not affect the gut concern of the American people - the moral decline of the nation. A survey by pollster George Barna reveals that three-fourths of Americans are concerned about the moral condition of the United States.

     Those who are most concerned about America's loss of moral ideals and behavior are four out of five women, 80 percent of people over age 55 and of southerners, plus 84 percent of Republicans. 

     Even two-thirds of those aged 17 to 35, the least religious generation, worry about the nation's moral condition. 

     ''Our research shows that there are few true heroes in our society anymore,'' George Barna explained. ''People cannot name individuals who provide our nation with compelling moral leadership. There is a growing public hunger for leadership that transcends personal gain, economic progress or political advantage. 

     ''Americans want leaders who reflect distinguished character and are devoted to a vision of a culture that transcends rampant selfishness and total disrespect,'' added Barna. ''Many Americans are burning out on radical individualism and nihilism. Millions of people are yearning for leaders who will rebuild our society on compassion, decency, authenticity and character. Many people are fatigued from the endless posturing, positioning and games played by leaders.''

     On the other hand, every church has lay leaders who are a living embodiment of the group's ideals, a more recent Barna survey reports. These church leaders are substantially different from other church members as measured by eight religious activities.

     Church leaders are more than twice as likely as other people to attend church services and to be mentored; more than four times as likely as others to volunteer their time, to attend Sunday school and to attend a faith-related small group during the week. They are more likely to pray and have a devotional time during the week and are substantially more likely than average members to have shared their religious belief with other people for evangelistic purposes.

     ''If it's true that you can determine a person's commitments by what they invest in, church leaders are devoted to their church,'' said Barna. They give almost four times more than non-leaders ($2,375 vs. $604) to the church.

     The religious beliefs of church leaders are also strikingly different. Though they are more generous with their money and time, leaders are only half as likely as others to believe that a good person can earn their way into heaven; that Jesus committed sins while he was on earth; that all faiths teach the same lessons; and that all people will experience the same outcome after death, regardless of their beliefs.

     Leaders are almost twice as likely to strongly affirm that the Bible is totally accurate in all that it teaches, and to accept a personal responsibility to share their beliefs about Jesus and salvation.

     Curiously, however, church leaders hold some beliefs that are ''antithetical to biblical principles,'' Barna reports. Some 58 percent believe the Bible teaches that ''God helps those who help themselves,'' which is really an aphorism of Benjamin Franklin. 

     Four out of ten believe there is no such thing as Satan or the Holy Spirit! A third of church leaders assert that Jesus Christ never had a resurrection!

     It is admirable that 93 percent of leaders are ''deeply committed to the Christian faith'' and are three times as likely as others to specify ways in which they wish God to transform their life, and twice as likely to describe ways of actively ministering to other people. Two-thirds of leaders want to make a difference in the world and 92 percent say they have a clear purpose for living.

     However, only half of all church leaders (53 percent) believe that there are moral truths that are absolute. Yet these same leaders extol the Bible as the source of moral truth. Barna argues, ''When a majority of church leaders argue that the Bible teaches self-sufficiency, the Bible's teachings about human insufficiency and of our need to rely upon God are undermined.''

     Barna concludes, ''Good intentions are necessary but insufficient to cause change. Devoting time and energy to the cause is required, but is not enough. Leaders must reflect purity and consistency in their beliefs in order to influence other people.''

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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