- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 30, 2004

American Christians increasingly want their religion reflected in public symbols and language, they overwhelmingly reject homosexual clergy, and the largely unchurched West Coast is showing signs of spiritual growth, evangelical Christian pollster George Barna says.

The survey found some things to praise about American religiosity, but also found much more to criticize, particularly in matters relating to the depth of American Christians’ faith.

For example, Mr. Barna said, the typical American adult watches football games more often than he attends worship services, and tithing, the practice of giving a tenth of one’s income to the church, is “pitifully uncommon” among Christians and “almost nonexistent” among people younger than 40.

Only about 7 percent of all born-again Christians tithe, said Mr. Barna, who recently released his annual roundup of the information gleaned from 10,000 telephone interviews in multiple 2004 polls by his Ventura, Calif.,-based polling firm.

Mr. Barna, the author of 35 books on American religious and cultural trends, was disappointed with the lackluster effects of one of the year’s biggest religious stories — the blockbuster success of the Mel Gibson film “The Passion of the Christ.”

“I really thought ‘The Passion’ would have a much bigger and more dramatic impact than our research showed,” he said. “That movie got so much buzz and made a ton of money.”

Among the other bad news about American religiosity that he noted in his year-end review was the continued rise in the number of unchurched Americans and the continuing alienation of men from churches.

He said the number of unchurched adults has nearly doubled from 38 million adults to 75 million in the past decade. The “unchurched” trend was strongest among men, people younger than 40, singles and people living in coastal states.

Those Christian men who say they are “deeply spiritual” and possess an “active faith” (meaning church attendance, regular prayer and Bible reading) is declining. Although men are slightly less than half of the national population, they constitute 55 percent of the unchurched, he said, and represent only 38 percent of the born-again public.

“Men who are leaders typically aren’t allowed to lead within the church,” he said. “They come into an environment where the senior pastor is a teacher pretending to lead. Thus, men who are called and gifted as leaders become a threat to the pastor. For those men, church is a very frustrating place to be.”

In addition, he said, “Church is not intellectually challenging for them. Men look around and see how poorly run the ministry is — in ways they could never get away with in their business — and they’re not willing to put up with that on their free time. And they don’t have any meaningful relationships arising from their church.”

Mr. Barna has conducted annual reviews of American religion since 2000 and has polled the country’s religious scene since 1984. This year’s review singled out female pastors and senior Protestant ministers for creating such “challenging” conditions for American spirituality.

Female pastors, Mr. Barna said, have “substantially different” theological beliefs than male ministers, tend to be more liberal, have less of a “biblical worldview,” are less likely to describe themselves as born-again and are more likely to be divorced.

Only 51 percent of all senior Protestant pastors have what Mr. Barna called “a biblical worldview,” based on several criteria: believing that God is all knowing and all-powerful; that Jesus Christ never sinned; that Satan is real; that salvation only comes through faith in Christ and not by good deeds; that the Bible is accurate; that absolute moral truth exists and is described in the Bible; and that Christians should share their faith with nonbelievers.

And for those people seeking spiritual solace, churches are “difficult to reach,” he reported.

Only 55 percent of Protestant churches polled provide callers with a human response, even after multiple attempts made by his pollsters at different times of the day on successive days. This was true, he added, even during religious holiday seasons, when seekers would be more apt to call.

Among Mr. Barna’s other findings:

• Unlike Europeans, Americans like public displays of faith, as in the “In God We Trust” wording on their currency, the phrase “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, displays of the Ten Commandments on public property and creationism being taught in public schools.

• Large majorities of adults reject the ordination or retention of actively homosexual clergy.

• The greatest national increases in daily Bible reading came from Oregon, California and Washington, where 29 percent engaged in the practice in 1994, but 44 percent did in 2004, a 52 percent increase. Church attendance rose 24 percent, and small group participation went up 136 percent during the same time period in those states.

• Black Americans were the highest ethnic group — surpassing whites, Hispanics and Asians — to exhibit evidence of their Christian beliefs. “Most blacks still find life somewhat painful, difficult and challenging,” Mr. Barna said. “Their faith in Christ helps put all this into perspective and makes life tenable.”

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