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September 14, 2002
Column #1098

9/11 - An Opportunity Missed by the Church

     A year after America sustained its greatest attack on its soil by a foreign power, organized religion has failed to "seize the attacks as a teaching moment, a time to ignite moral, spiritual or emotional growth," asserts pollster George Barna.

     Surprisingly, nearly half of the population claim their faith was a critical resource in helping them personally to respond to the attacks. 

     Really? If so, why did church attendance spike to half of America's population for only a few weeks after 9/11, falling back to 43 percent by November where it was before? Why has there been no increase in numbers who read the Bible or attend Sunday School? Why has the percentage of unchurched Americans remained flat at 33 percent?

     The Gallup Poll reports the same trends, and even found a record high of 71 percent of Americans saying after 9/ll that religion "is increasing its influence." By May only 53 percent agreed. That's evidence America's churches lost a huge opportunity to offer hope.

     Why have America's churches fallen short? 

     First, too many churches have failed to teach that there is absolute good and absolute evil. George Barna reports that the percentage of people who believe in "moral truths or principles" that are eternal, has plunged from a poor 38 percent before 9/11 to a dismal 22 percent today. 

     Why? Too many Americans are doing things they know are wrong, like gambling or sexual sin such as out-of-wedlock sex or pornography. Rather than admit their actions are evil, Americans rationalize their behavior as being "not that bad."

     When was the last time you heard a sermon on chastity or cohabitation or the permanence of marriage or the evil of divorce? 

     Second, too many clergy prefer safe or innocuous topics such as Abraham. Personally, I've heard 50 sermons on Abraham and would be happy to never hear another. 

     Third, too many houses of worship are self-satisfied for wrong reasons. On the Sunday after 9/ll I attended an Episcopal Church where the pastor bragged that an all-time record number of children were in Sunday School. But he failed to explain why Muslim terrorists had committed horrific evil. Their parents came to hear answers for that great moral question.

     Hearing none, they and their children now stay home Sundays.

     What could pastors have said? They could have preached with the clarity of George Bush in his speech Wednesday on the anniversary of 9/11:

     "The attack on our nation was also an attack on the ideals that make us a nation. Our deepest conviction is that every life is precious, because every life is the gift of a Creator who intended us to live in liberty and equality." the President declared. 

     "More than anything else, this separates us from the enemy we fight. We value every life; our enemies value none - not even the innocent, not even their own."

     At the World Trade Center, 300 firemen sacrificed their lives to save others. The terrorists sacrificed their lives to kill 3,000 innocent people. 

     Fourth, too many congregations do not urge adults to attend classes to study Scripture. Most Catholic churches, for example, don't even offer adult Sunday School. Result: even weekly church attenders don't know enough to lead an unbeliever to faith.

     Half of those who call themselves Christian are unable to name who delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Many Americans can not explain why Easter is celebrated or what the Ten Commandments are, according to Gallup Polls.

     There is hope. In "The Next American Spirituality", a book written with Timothy Jones, George Gallup, Jr. notes that the percentage of Americans who "completely agree" that "prayer is an important part of my daily life," has risen from 41 percent to 53 percent over a decade. And those who never doubted the existence of God has risen 11 percent in the same ten years. Sales of books with spiritual themes are soaring. 

     However, "just because Americans claim they are more spiritual does not make them so," the book adds. Too many Americans make choices that contradict their values. Boomers believe in angels but millions cheat on their taxes. College students pray regularly but 44 percent are binge drinkers. And a quarter of Americans say drinking is a problem at home, the highest percentage in decades.

     Two-thirds of Americans "think the state of moral values in this country" is getting worse.

     My question to readers is what will YOU do about it? 

     Why not encourage your pastor, priest, rabbi or imam to preach on practical ethics?

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