June 9, 2001
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
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
''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
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
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
''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
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
Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.