Tag Archives: Barna Group

Do You Personally Know Any Terrorists?

When you read the question in the title, you probably said to yourself, “I don’t think I know any terrorists, but wouldn’t it be interesting if I did?” The right answer to the question in the title might seem obvious to you at a casual glance. What if I told you, however, that you do not know the definition of a terrorist, and therefore, you probably do not know that you do know one or more terrorists? Philosophers always refuse to argue with each other until they have defined their terms, although they will argue at great length about the definition of the terms. People who study contemporary culture need definitions, too, because the definitions change frequently.

On July 7, in Russia, the nation that was the core of the former Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin signed a law that gives new meaning to the words terrorist and terrorism. If that law had been signed by Barack Obama, it is highly likely that you would have recognized immediately that you know one or more terrorists very well. The horrifying aspect of this news is that there are forces in the USA this very day who would love to see this “anti-terrorism” law enacted in the United States.

Many aspects of the law have already been common in other nations for quite a while. For some time now it has been illegal in Tajikistan for persons younger than 18 to attend religious services except for weddings and funerals. In Uzbekistan, the only legal version of the Bible is the one approved by the national government, and possession of even that Bible is illegal if it was purchased anywhere except a store approved by the national government. In Turkmenistan, all religious activity must be confined to buildings legally registered as houses of worship. Those nations are mostly secular nations where a perceived need to limit the ability of Muslims to recruit jihadis led to suppression of all religions. If anyone asks Putin why Russia needed this law, it is likely that this is the answer he would give. You probably believe that something must be done to make it hard for groups like ISIS to recruit young people willing to die for them, but you probably do not believe that allowing a mother to tell her children Bible stories at bedtime qualifies as making her a potential ISIS recruit. Russia’s new “anti-terrorism” law begs to differ with you. In the eyes of the Russian government, a mother who reads Bible stories to her children or teaches them a bedtime prayer is engaging in extreme behavior that warrants arrest and fines. Legally, she herself can only pray inside a building legally registered as a worship site, and that is also the only place where she can teach her children how to pray—or model prayer for them or let them practice prayer.

Watch for the Freedom From Religion Foundation to propose the same law in the United States of America.

Here are some of the details of the Russian law, as cited by Steve Berman at the Resurgent:

Under the law, all personal evangelism on the streets and in individual homes is now restricted. Evangelizing outside registered churches will result in fines. Christians meeting in homes are not allowed to invite unbelievers.

Christians wishing to share their faith must secure government permits through registered religious organizations. Even with such permits, they are not allowed to witness anywhere besides registered churches or religious sites. Churches that rent rather than owning their facilities will be forcibly disbanded.

Besides rendering evangelism illegal, the law will also punish not reporting violations. Russian believers and missionaries will be under constant scrutiny of officials and even neighbors.

Individuals found guilty of violating the new law will be fined up to $800 USD, while organizations found in violation will be fined up to $15,500. Foreigners found in violation will be deported. All aspects of the law also apply to internet activities.

 

Why do I think anybody will want that law in the United States?

The answer is that there are plenty of people in the USA who do not like any of the behaviors restricted or forbidden by this law. For example, many secular thinkers consider it child abuse when a parent tells a child that he or she is sinful. Secular thinkers believe a child is appears magically when a clump of cells in a woman’s uterus bursts out with arms, legs, and a head at an event called “birth.” To them, that child is a blank slate, unsullied by the world, ready to be led into self-actualization as the outcome of a journey of discovery called childhood. Secular thinkers believe that a child cannot possibly be a sinner, because the child has not yet made any choices. To teach a child about sinful human nature and then tell the child he or she must repent of bad attitudes sounds crass and unfair to secular thinkers. When a parent teaches a child the tenets of the Christian faith, secular thinkers call the parent an extremist.

Secular thinkers also consider it to be an example of extreme behavior when somebody silently reads a Bible on a public bus, or offers to pray for someone met in a grocery store. Barna Group discovered that almost 50% of non-religious adults in the USA consider Christianity to be extremist. They uncovered a long list of behaviors that many Americans now consider to be extreme, and you might be shocked to read the list:

  • Refusal to participate in and celebrate lifestyle choices that conflict with personal religious convictions
  • Demonstrate against immoral behavior (The people who consider it extreme to demonstrate against abortion consider it admirable to demonstrate for #blacklivesmatter. Hmmm)
  • Preach a religious message in a public place where nonbelievers might hear it
  • Teach children that homosexual behavior is morally wrong
  • Pray aloud for a stranger
  • Protest government policies that conflict with personal religious convictions (but demonstrating for standards that make a person feel good about himself is desirable and something to mimic.)
  • Leave a high-paying job to be a missionary in a third-world country
  • Read the Bible silently in a public place
  • Attend church every week
  • Tell a stranger about Jesus and ask him to follow Jesus

These behaviors are considered extremism by 50% of non-religious people, but a surprising number of people who claim religious connections also consider these behaviors to be extreme. It isn’t all that surprising, when you consider how few professed Christians ever attend church or read the Bible or pray aloud anywhere. All these behaviors are illegal in Russia since July 7, and as Barna would confirm, a great many people in the USA consider them to be detrimental to peace and good order. It is not inconceivable at all that somebody could soon propose that the USA pass a law just like the one in Russia.

In case the means of enforcing these restrictions in Russia was not clear, just contemplate what it would mean for you and your church.

  • What if it were illegal to meet for worship in a building not licensed as a place of worship?
  • What if a licensed building had to renew the license every five years, or even more frequently? What if a license were only issued if the application for a worship license had to include the names, addresses, birthdates, and attendance record of at least 150 people in order to be valid? What if the approval process for a worship license included personal government interviews of every person listed on the application?
  • What if it were illegal to engage in any sort of commerce (Christmas bazaars, for example) on the property of a licensed worship facility?
  • What if no private dwelling could be used for worship under any circumstances? (illegal to have a prayer meeting in your living room, illegal for your family to read the Bible and pray around the kitchen table at breakfast, illegal for you to teach your children the Ten Commandments or Bible verses such as John 3:16 in your house or your yard)
  • What if it were illegal for a youth mission group to pray on the front porch of a house they were rehabbing for a week?
  • What if you could be arrested if your neighbor complained that you told him that he should follow Jesus? Or even if you told him that following Jesus was the best thing in your life?
  • What if it were illegal to pray with your co-worker whose marriage is struggling, even if you prayed in the bathroom away from the work areas?
  • What if it were illegal for you to stand in front of a Planned Parenthood clinic and counsel women considering abortion to consider life instead?
  • What if it were illegal for a licensed worship facility to open its doors for worship unless a licensed worship leader (pastor) was present to conduct all the proceedings? (Your pastor is on vacation, no supply is available, and members want to worship anyway. Then what?)
  • What if you could be arrested if police investigated a neighbor’s report that you were teaching your children Christian songs, and during the investigation in your home, they found a Bible that was not a federally approved translation published by a federally authorized publisher of religious materials?

All these things are happening in countries where all religions are considered to be hotbeds of terrorism and all congregations are considered to be made up of extremists.

Russia’s new law may be the first evidence of a first-world nation with a law that so seriously limits religious liberty. It won’t be the last, because the secular thinkers who run the nation of Russia have colleagues around the world who agree with them that religion must be suppressed and contained and silenced. The founders of the USA believed that God himself gave human beings their right to love and serve God, even above the obligation to serve human authority. Many citizens of the US today believe that God does not exist, and that what we call unalienable rights are unearned privileges that the government has the right to grant or withhold. It is not at all inconceivable that the US Congress might soon be considering an anti-terrorism bill that is in actuality an anti-Christian bill.

Do you personally know any terrorists? If you are a Christian, it might be you.

 

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the autumn of 2016

 

 

 

Advertisements

CHRISTIAN ARRESTED FOR EXTREMISM BECAUSE HE OWNS A BIBLE

One day soon, you may see a headline like this one in the New York Times, or in your hometown newspaper, or on the Drudge Report. For now, this headline comes from Uzbekistan, but after you read the story and think about the language of public discourse in the USA, you may discover that it would be no stretch at all for this headline to be about you.

The news from Uzbekistan is this. One article of the Criminal Code of Uzbekistan outlaws “keeping and storing extremist materials with the purpose of further distribution.” To Christians in the USA, a Bible would not be called “extremist,” and the possession of it would not mean that its owner was an extremist. However, in Uzbekistan, the Bible is regarded as a severe threat.

In fact, Uzbekistan’s government harshly suppresses all religious activity of any variety—Muslim, Christian, and all other groups. In the current year, Uzbekistan is the 15th most dangerous country in the world for Christians, but this government does not limit its threats to Christians. Uzbek law requires all religious groups to be registered, and the requirements for Christians are at least no more onerous than the requirements for other religions. The requirements for registration filter out very small groups such as independent house churches and other small congregations who cannot meet the standard for numbers of members. The law further requires that all religious material, Bibles, devotional books, Sunday School lessons, and so forth be inspected by the government, and only approved materials may be possessed. Only one version of the Bible is approved, and only people belonging to registered religious groups may possess even that version. Some tiny Christian churches refuse to attempt registration, because the penalty for continuing to meet after a rejected registration is more onerous than the penalty for illegal gatherings of unregistered groups.

The guiding philosophy of Uzbek law surrounding religions is that the government considers the practice of religion to be extremist activity. In the eyes of the deeply secular government, the threat of extremism justifies extreme control. Religious registration requires that the groups give the government a great deal of information, including lists of members, and registered organizations are held accountable for compliance with laws surrounding buildings approved for religious meetings and the use of approved religious documents. In order to be approved, religious documents, including the Bible, must be published by approved publishers, sold in approved bookstores, printed in approved translations, and so forth. Failure to comply on any point is grounds for the accusation of promoting extremism. To offer to pray for someone in a public park is extremism, because the park is not an approved location for religious activity. To invite someone to receive Christ into his heart is extremism, because proselytizing is forbidden. To tell five little children playing in your yard the story of Noah and the Ark is extremism, because no children may be taught religion without written permission of their parents and no religious teaching to anyone of any age may be done outside an approved location for religious education. To read a Bible on the bus is an act of extremism if the Bible is not an approved translation which you acquired at an approved bookstore which verified that the publisher is on the government’s approved list. To have a lot of Bibles of any translation in your house, along with a pile of tracts and a few devotional magazines is to give evidence of personal extremism, and makes you subject to the accusation that you plan to distribute the materials and incite further extremism.

It is in this context that Majid (not the real name) was arrested for possessing unauthorized materials that are considered to be extremist, with the intent to distribute them. It brings to American minds the image of drug dealers and their paraphernalia. The comparison is appropriate. The government of Uzbekistan has its roots in the former Soviet Union, where political leaders learned that “religion is the opiate of the people.” Uzbek government does not want its citizens to be addicted to religion, and they regard religious activism the same way Americans regard street gangs that peddle drugs.

Majid is, unfortunately for him, a repeat offender. He was arrested once before for possessing extremist literature with the intent to distribute it. In the eyes of the Uzbeks, that experience should have taught him to eschew any further infractions, but Majid loves Jesus and wants to share Jesus with everyone. After he was released the first time, he made diligent efforts to acquire more Bibles and more Christian books to share. A second arrest makes him liable to greater fines and longer imprisonment. Prisoners in Uzbekistan should not, by law, be abused, but Christians arrested for extremism historically suffer beatings and even torture.

What does this story have to do with the USA?

In February of this year, Barna Group released a study of the way the culture in the USA views Christians. After 1000 interviews conducted in August 2015, Barna concluded that the culture strongly feels that a Christian, if not already an extremist, is a threat to become one. The responses of those who were interviewed established several points on which the culture’s perceptions of Christians is troubling.

  • Nearly half of non-believers consider Christianity to be extremist.
  • The behaviors that are considered extreme include many very common behaviors of Christians, even some behaviors that are considered integral to the fabric of the faith.

What sort of behavior qualifies as extremist in the eyes of the American public?

Here are a few examples:

  • Refuse to bake a cake to be served at a wedding reception for a same-sex marriage, on the grounds that your religious principles forbid you to participate in a same-sex marriage
  • Tell a fellow passenger on a bus about Jesus and invite that person to receive Christ
  • Tell your children that homosexual behavior is abnormal and sinful
  • Silently read your Bible while waiting in the boarding area at the airport
  • Tell your children that they are born sinful
  • Pray aloud in a grocery store for a woman who just told you her husband was terminally ill
  • Believe that homosexual behavior is abnormal and sinful (Presumably this attitude motivates you to teach this principle to your children, which makes you extreme on two counts.)
  • Protest a government policy that requires employers to pay for medical treatments and devices which the employer considers immoral on the basis of his or her faith in Jesus and commitment to biblical truth
  • Protest government subsidies for abortion providers on the grounds that abortion is murder of a human being
  • Quit working for IBM and become a missionary to Haiti
  • Have no sexual relations with your fiance’.
  • Tithe your income
  • Go to church and worship with other Christians every week

 

Most Christians will have trouble seeing any item on this list as extreme behavior. Sadly for Christians, this list is not exhaustive. It is merely a sample of the sorts of things considered to be extreme or to be incitement to extremism.

It is precisely such perceptions that lead a government to devise laws that require religious organizations to register and laws that tightly control the content and publication of religious materials, including Bibles. If the attitudes described above really are extremist, why wouldn’t it be normal to arrest someone who had a houseful of Bibles and other religious materials, with the obvious intention to distribute them to many people, thereby inciting others to his or her own level of extremism.

It is easy for Christians to say that it is Satan’s fault that people have this view of Christians and Christianity. Such accusations are flung out by long-suffering tongues through bitter lips. Christians are not wrong to recognize that Satan works hard to twist the perceptions of non-believers, but Christians must recognize that Jesus did not call us to be angry with the people who think this way. Jesus said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28).

The popular way to deal with rejection like this is to apologize to the public and promise never to do it again. If that statement is accompanied with a comment that it was never your intent to threaten or scare anyone, that would be nice, and it would be even better if you said that you realize your words were hurtful and your actions were scary, and you plan to change everything so people feel better about you.

The problem is that the behaviors considered “extreme” by non-believers are central to what it means to be Christian. We are called to live our faith every moment of every day, in all places at all times. We are called by Christ to be the same no matter where we are. It is the highest hypocrisy to pray in church that sinners suffering Satanic enslavement to homosexuality will be released from that bondage and then go into the public forum and celebrate gay marriage. If we do things like that, we know we are betraying Christ, and we know that we are betraying our sacred responsibility to be messengers of Christ’s salvation, grace, forgiveness and transformation for sinners everywhere. We cannot pretend publicly to comply with the moral relativism of the culture and only secretly speak and act in harmony with our faith.

Just as Majid in Uzbekistan bravely continues to prepare to share his faith with others, even though proselytizing is against the law of Uzbekistan, we must continue to prepare to share our faith with others, even though the culture rejects our “extremism.” Just as Majid continues to discuss the Bible with other people in places not authorized for religious education, we must continue to share Jesus on buses and in airports and in the grocery store. When challenged, we must remember to love those who challenge us, to pray for them, and to bless them in every way possible. Why?

While the apostle Paul was imprisoned in Caesara, a visiting king named Agrippa asked to hear this famous prisoner speak. Paul told Agrippa how he met Christ and became a faithful follower of Christ, and then Paul said to Agrippa, “do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe” (Acts 26:27). Agrippa was taken aback and said, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian” (Acts 26:28). Agrippa clearly recognized the truth in Paul’s words, and Paul yearned deeply for the king to open his heart to that truth. His response to Agrippa’s hesitation is the reaction we should have to all the attacks and misconceptions and even lies that non-believers tell about Christians. Paul said, and we should say, “I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains” (Acts 26:29).

Majid demonstrates the right way to deal with the misconceptions of believers. He goes right on being a faithful Christian. It does cost him. In Uzbekistan, arrest and imprisonment for breaking the religion laws is often accompanied by stiff fines, fines that amount to years and years of normal wages. Majid knows that he is subject to this suffering when he obeys Christ and shares the good news with people. Each of us knows that if we live the way Christ calls us to live, we are subject to severe cultural harassment, and in some cases, we may even be subject to legal complications. We may be accused of discrimination,. or we may simply be charged with noncompliance with regulations. If the culture becomes more assertive in its characterization of Christianity as organized extremism, the rhetoric will become more hateful, and the laws may even become more stringent.

We have civil rights as American citizens that citizens of Uzbekistan do not have. We have much more voice in the legislation and administration and the processes of justice than Uzbek citizens have. As Christians, we have the right and the responsibility to advocate and take action and vote. We must be active, vocal citizens, but our rhetoric must always be the rhetoric of truth spoken with love. We may be accused of extremism according to the cultural definition of extremism, but we must live in a deep, integral relationship with our Lord Jesus Christ that assures we put the extreme demands of spiritual warfare in the hands of the all-conquering Christ.

By Katherine Harms, author of Oceans of Love available for Kindle at Amazon.com. Watch for the release of Thrive! Live Christian in a Hostile World, planned for release in the summer of 2016

Who Am I?

 

A recent study released by Barna Group reveals a great deal about the way people self-identify. It startled me, yet it explained many things that have bothered me about news and events in the culture. This study looked at a group made up of people of all ages in the US population, and asked questions that probed the way they think of themselves. The way someone thinks of himself will certainly shape the way someone thinks of other people. There can be no question that a person’s sense of identity affects the way he thinks about the many issues facing our churches and our country. I will just dive in. I will share my analysis and my conviction about the meaning of this information. At the end, I will ask for your reaction and your own convictions. I hope you will share your comments in response to my report.

In the group as a whole, less than half, only 38%, consider their religious faith to be the first and most important element of their personal identity. When I consider the importance of faith in my life, and when I consider that the call of Christ is to put everything second to him, I see right away that few Christians actually believe that obedience to Christ is more important than anything else in their lives. Self-identified Christians constitute about 75% of the US population, but if only 38% of the population considers their religious faith to be their primary identifier, it is clear that Christ is not first in the hearts and minds of most Christians. After all, even that 38% may not be exclusively made up of Christians. Church pastors and church members regularly discuss what it means to put Christ first. It is very clear from this study, that this idea does not have a lot of traction in the culture.

In the group as a whole, barely more than half consider their country to be the primary element in their identity. That, too, is startling, but it explains a lot of the controversy about immigration. If almost half the people consider their country to be less important to them than all other elements of their identity, then they do not think that someone who crosses the border without legal authorization has done anything threatening to them. Their citizenship is not an important element of their identity. They are not proud of being citizens. They don’t like the idea of excluding anyone for any reason. It’s hateful, they think. Someone who considers his national citizenship to be of paramount importance in his very identity considers that people without legal standing are alien invaders. The person whose identity includes national citizenship as a “ho hum” generality will not feel that the country is threatened by illegals. What, he will ask, is illegal about them? What is the big deal?

By far, the largest element in the personal identity of most people is their family. There is no question that family is important. Most people find their closest relationships within the family, and people without strong family connections often have difficulty connecting with anyone. The family is the first institution God established among humans, but even God expects allegiance to him to transcend allegiance to family. The dominance of family in the personal identity of most people makes me wonder why so many people line up to speak publicly in favor of redefining marriage and family. This particular element of the study makes me wonder where the real energy of the LGBTQ agenda is. This study reaffirms my doubts that most people in the USA want any part of the LGBTQ agenda.

For most people, the additional elements of personal identity—career, ethnicity, home city and home state—are minor by comparison to the top three. It is interesting to observe those items are important to about 20% of the group, a very small segment. The political rhetoric and the media would have people believe that ethnicity and career are the most important issues in the world. Clearly, no matter what your definition of racism and unequal pay for women is, these issues are not nearly as important as family, religion and citizenship. To read this study is to have your eyes opened to the fact that the media is clearly in partnership with political leaders to divert Americans from thinking about the things that are most important to them. If leaders actually wanted to serve the American people, they would assert a strong, traditional definition of the family, protect the nation from invaders, whether they invade with guns or spades, and guard freedom of religion aggressively. Instead, political leaders assert that the future hangs on issues most people hardly care about at all, and the media, the fourth estate, the group that is supposed to hold government at all levels accountable to the people, instead marches in servile lockstep with political language and objectives that destroy the very people politicians and the media are called to serve.

There is much more to discover in this study.

The high-level population groups in the study were Elders, Boomers, Gen-X, and Millenials. Individuals in the study did not self-identify for these groups. They were identified according to birth date. Participants were also asked questions that identified their participation in a separate set of groups such as No Faith, Practicing Catholic, Practicing Mainline, Practicing Christian, No Faith, Hispanic, White, Black, All Non-White, Evangelical, Unregistered Voter, Republican, Democrat, Registered Independent, Married, Ever Divorced, Never Married, Some College, College Graduate, Unemployed, Employed, Income> $100K. This list does not include all the groups studied.

The study across the second set of groups reveals some truly enlightening results. For example, three of those groups showed up as consistently less likely than others to consider faith, family or country important to their identity: Millennials, Democrats, and No Faith.

It is not hard to understand that people with no faith would value those items less than other people. People with no faith will not likely value faith, and the inherent connections of faith with family in all religions tend to mean that people with no faith will set less value on family. It is not clear what lack of faith has to do with valuing American citizenship, but this study shows that connection.

It is quite surprising to discover that people who identify with one of the major political parties are less likely than citizens in general to value faith, family or country as part of their identity, yet Democrats show up as statistically less likely in all three categories. There has never been any indication that the Democrat party officially scorned religious faith, but a reader is entitled to wonder why the statistics show that people who consider themselves Democrat set less value on religion in their personal identity than other citizens. It is disturbing to see them show up as less likely to value family, too, and it is tempting to believe that this fact underlies the Democrat parties alliance with the LGBTQ agenda to normalize aberrant forms of sexual behavior, confuse definitions of gender, and redefine marriage altogether. The really frightening problem is that Democrats are less likely than other citizens to consider the country to be part of their personal identity.

It is enlightening to see that Millennials appear less likely than others to consider faith, family or country integral to their identity. Of all the elements Millenials include in their identity, family is the most likely choice, but even that accounts for barely half of them. After family, only American citizenship, at 34% exceeds a 25% value in the minds of millennials. You might say that their values are spread widely, but no value is deeply rooted in the group.

What does this mean for me, for you, for any Christian citizen? How does this study inform the way Christians live in the culture. I believe it is like having a bit of a map to the culture. This is the value of Barna Group. Any one of us may observe some of the same issues addressed in this study, but few of us have the time or the statistical skill to do surveys and analysis that Barna does, and if we did, all our real work would go undone. We can be very thankful for the commitment of Barna group to study the culture in ways that help all of us minister to the culture more effectively.

I plan to use this information to help me focus my study and my writing. I write to help Christians understand elements of the culture that reject or restrict Christian discipleship, and I write to encourage Christians to persevere in faithful obedience to Christ. I write, because each of us wants to be like the disciples when challenged by the Sanhedrin:

When [the Sanhedrin] had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that [the disciples] should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So [the disciples]departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:40-42 ESV emphasis mine.

For me, this means that I will do what Christ calls me to do, and I will try to be more like Christ in everything I do. If I suffer shame for his name, that will be a gift for which I give thanks. The evidence of the Barna study supports daily evidence that the name of Christ is not universally respected. When Paul found himself in Athens where nobody knew or cared about Christ, he spent some time studying the culture, and then he preached Christ more powerfully, because he was informed. May we use Barna’s information to be ever more skillful in presenting Christ to the many people for whom he died.

What does this information mean for you?

 

People Are Confused About Christians. Why?

                In any conversation that includes a discussion of religious comparisons, the comments about Christianity often reveal that non-Christians have a lot of misconceptions about Christians. This high level of confusion results in confrontations and accusations that bewilder Christians and do not further the public dialogue on important issues. Public conversations about civic problems often fracture along lines that reveal wildly disparate worldviews. Interestingly, the Christians in the mix do not always appear to hold the same worldview, and that fact contributes to some of the confusion in the minds of non-Christians. A major truth about politics is that it is predominantly an attempt to reconcile reality to a particular worldview, so the worldview of participants in the discussion is important.

                In 2008, Barna Group conducted a survey with the intent of uncovering the degree to which Christians hold a Christian worldview, and the startling outcome of that survey strongly substantiated the results of three previous similar surveys. What was so startling? It is hard to believe, but most Christians do not hold a Christian worldview.

                What constitutes a Christian worldview? When you read the list, you may dispute one point or another, but most likely you will agree that the six points in the survey are principles many Christians consider indisputable. Nevertheless, the evidence of the responses to the survey reveals that Christians are not in complete agreement on these points:

  • The creator of the universe is all-powerful and all-knowing and he is still in charge of the universe.
  • Biblical principles are accurate and sound.
  • Moral truth is absolute and not modified by circumstances.
  • Satan is real – not an idea, but an actual adversary.
  • It is impossible to do enough good works or the right good works to earn your way to heaven.
  • Jesus lived a sinless life on earth.

Think about these issues, and think about various topics in this blog. This blog includes posts which assert that the Bible is God’s revelation of himself, and that his revelation is unchanging. The verity of assorted biblical teachings has been affirmed as a starting principle, not as a philosophical conclusion. Satan is referred to in a personal way. Any discussion of Christ’s work and purpose has started from the premise that he lived a sinless life and that his death, resurrection and ascension accomplished the work of salvation, which is granted as a gift in response to faith because of his love for all people. When this blog discusses the universe and the God who created it, he is respectfully referenced as the one who was, who is and who is to come. This blog stands unapologetically on a Christian worldview.

The people who responded to the Barna survey responded in ways that demonstrated that their idea of a Christian worldview does not necessarily include all these points. It is no trick to conclude that when Christians want to speak as a group, differences on these points make it impossible to speak with one voice. According to this survey, only 9% of American adults have a biblical worldview, Contrast this number with statistics from various sources that say that about 76% of American adults self-identify as Christians. Not all Christians self-identify as born again, and this is the group the Barna survey singled out for comparison with all other adults.

How large are the differences on these crucial points?

  • In the adult population as a whole, there seems to be general agreement that the God who created the universe is still in charge of it. 70% of all adults agree with that point. The proportion rises to 93% among born again Christians.
  • A solid 50% of all adults say that they believe the Bible is accurate in its teachings. This is not a question about verbal inspiration or an inerrant record. It is about the teachings of the Bible. Among born again Christians, 93% have complete confidence in the teachings of the Bible. (People who probe deeper would probably discover that while 93%  of Christians agree that the teachings are accurate, there would still be disagreement within that 93% about exactly what the Bible teaches. Statistics can only be followed so far before they lead to insanity.)
  • In the population of US adults in the 48 contiguous states, 34% believe that moral values are absolute. Among Christians, only 46% hold this principle, which is extremely surprising. In most conversations, the public perception is that Christians reject relativism, yet the survey shows that less than half of all Christians are actually convinced that moral truth is absolute.
  • Christians who may have heard one or more pastors dismiss the idea that Satan is as real as Jesus won’t find it surprising that adults in general reject the reality of Satan as well. Only 27% of adults think of Satan as a real personality. It is perplexing to discover that among Christians only 40% recognize Satan as a real adversary.
  • It isn’t surprising to read that many adults believe a person can earn his way into heaven, but the proportion, 72%, is startling when compared with the 76% of adults who are supposedly Christians. In fact, among Christians it is shocking to read that 53% of Christians nonetheless believe that good works help pave the way to heaven.
  • Probably most shocking is the discovery that only 62% of Christians believe that Jesus led a sinless life. To learn that only 40% of all adults believe that Jesus was sinless is not too shocking, although that number reveals immediately that some Christians are in that statistic, but to find that 38% of Christians nevertheless believe that Jesus sinned is quite disturbing.

To sum it all up, only 9% of all American adults agree on all six of these points, making it safe to say that in discussions of political issues, less than 10% of the voices will speak to a consistently Christian worldview. Even more startling, less than 20% of all Christians who define themselves as born again consistently agree on these points. This fact explains a lot of the confusion among non-Christians about what “Christians” believe and what Christians want for the country. It may help to explain why reporters breathlessly ruminated over the possibility that a new Pope for the Catholic Church might pronounce new teachings, presumably on the theory that the teachings originate in the words of the Pope, not in the teachings of the Bible.

Why does this study matter? It matters, because Christians who read it carefully will realize why there is no single “Christian” voice in the public forum when issues are being discussed. When Christians speak, each one must elaborate his own stance. As soon as someone identifies his viewpoint as Christian it may be assailed from several sides, because it can probably be shown that not all Christians agree with this Christian.

It seems important here to reaffirm that this blogger holds all six points to be true. That being said, it seems equally important to remind readers that to hold all six points to be true is not to say that this blogger agrees with every possible perception of the meaning of the six points. That is the reason any political discussion can bog down even among people who ostensibly agree. Very often, it turns out that people using the same words do not mean the same ideas. This human semantic trait is used to great advantage in sales campaigns as well as election campaigns. This is the reason this blog includes so many posts that disassemble words.

What is your worldview? Do you hold all these six points to be true? Do you believe they sufficiently define a Christian worldview? What would you add for a better definition? What would you take out? Your comments are important. Thank you for taking the time to respond.

Does Anybody Know that I am a Christian?

Recently, Barna Group completed a study of self-identified Christians with a view to discovering whether or not they are Christ-like, a quality that presumably is at the root of the persecution the church endures around the world. I found it quite interesting, and I recommend that every Christian read the results. Some may agree with me that a study of people who self-identify as Christians and then self-assess themselves in regard to Christ-like behavior is flawed from the outset, but it is hard to imagine who could conduct such a study until Christ returns. Pending that great event, Barna offers a lot of food for thought.

                It was worth noting some of the items in the study that supposedly looked like Christ. For example, to listen and learn about others before talking about oneself seems very Christ-like. To influence others to follow Christ sounds Christ-like. Even taking the initiative to get to know people who are not Christians sounds Christ-like. On the other hand, I would have trouble saying that this item describes me: “I regularly choose to have meals with people with very different faith or morals from me.” Unlike Christ, I do have a place to lay my head, and I do have a family. I don’t seek out meals with anyone but my family on any regular basis, considering that my family is my most precious earthly relationship, one I won’t casually displace in my priorities. When I do eat anywhere else than home, I find myself in the company of all sorts of people. When I meet people, I never screen them for moral or social or even political agreement with me. I think the willingness to enjoy people the way Christ did is at the heart of the item, but its wording focuses on a practice I actually disparage as unChrist-like, the notion of breaking into family meals with regularity. In my humble opinion, this item does not measure the Christ-like openness to all people appropriately.  What do you think?

                The study looks at attitudes as well as actions, and there again, not everyone will see the test items as the Barna Group does. Most Christians could agree that to see God at work everywhere in all people without regard to their status as believers is Christ-like, but some might pause to think twice about the item that says: “It is more important to help people know that God is for them than to make sure they know they are sinners.” In my understanding of the faith, these two considerations have exactly equal importance. I talk with lots of people who believe that sin is an antiquated idea. They can easily believe that God, whatever they think that is, loves them, because they don’t think they have ever done anything wrong. It isn’t possible to tell the truth about the Gospel without telling people they are sinners. At least, I cannot find any way to do it. What do you think?

                The study also looked at self-righteous attitudes and actions – the hallmarks of the Pharisees. We will all agree that the Pharisees spent an inordinate amount of time telling other people, and even God, how righteous they were. If they knew they ever did wrong, they never admitted it. They were quick to point out the tiniest infraction of what they thought was immutable law, and they focused a great deal of attention on building social barriers between themselves and less righteous individuals.

                However, It was hard for me to read that the Barna Group considered it Pharisaical to say, “I try to avoid spending time with people who are openly gay or lesbian.” To classify this statement as Pharisaical is to imply that Christ sought out opportunities to spend time with gay and lesbian persons. He didn’t. Neither do I. I don’t interview or filter the people I meet on that basis with a view to seeking time with them or avoiding them. I am deeply convicted that homosexuality is in complete opposition to God’s plan for people, but I feel sorry for homosexuals. I don’t filter them out of my life, but I don’t try to find them. I think each of us has a calling and a work to do. Outreach to homosexuals is not my calling. My calling as a cultural observer often involves commentary and analysis of the political and social agenda of homosexualism, but to reject the agendas is not to refuse to love the people. Christ calls each of us to love all people, and I can only feel compassion for someone ensnared by the satanic lie of homosexuality. Still, my life goes in a different direction than seeking and finding homosexuals. I don’t feel guilty or unChrist-like because of it.

                Even though I take issue with some aspects of the study, and I take a little more issue with some of the statistical manipulation, the fact is that as a baptized child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever, I know that I need to be regularly reminded that claiming Christ’s name is only the beginning of being a disciple. Ruminations over this Barna study should probably be coupled with the results of a study done a couple of years ago. That study asked if people who claimed to be Christians actually have any spiritual depth. Rightly recognizing that being Christ’s disciple evokes an expectation of spiritual transformation, Barna Group in 2011 asked self-identified Christians to answer questions that rated them on issues of commitment, repentance, activity (including sharing the faith) and participation in spiritual community. That study revealed the sad truth that many Christians are not living evidence of transformation by the Holy Spirit.

                It is possible that many people who heard Barack Obama talk when he was running for president in 2008 did not pay any attention to his statement that he thought the USA needed to be fundamentally transformed. However, nobody needs to have heard that statement in order to know that this is what he believes, because the evidence of that commitment is everywhere in the cultural and political landscape of the USA. After five years under his leadership, the country is unrecognizable when compared to its cultural and political contours as recently as that campaign year of 2008. The country is undergoing a transformation, and it is obvious.

                The spiritual transformation of a Christian from self-centered, self-serving slave of emotion and appetites into a selfless, Christ-like servant to God and man should be just as obvious.  We don’t really need the Barna Group to tell us that too many Christians claim Christ’s name without ever undergoing any sort of transformation. That isn’t judgment; it is observation. We who claim that Christ is our Savior and our all in all ought to stand out. There are times when I can see that somebody did exactly that. When someone who denies the existence of God and uses Christ’s name solely for invective screams that Christians are pressuring his space by expecting to live their faith, then we have the evidence that some people are demonstrating the transformation that is a hallmark of our faith. In Iran, people are snatched off the streets and rushed into brutal, cruel imprisonment for showing the evidence of the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. I don’t want to experience that kind of identification, but I pray that I might deserve it if I were there. If we expect our culture to be more Christ-like, then we who bear his name must show the same evidence of Christ’s transforming power. Transformation is its own best testimony. I know what Barack Obama believes because I can see what he does. Does anybody who watches me know what I believe?