Thursday, February 21, 2008

Barna Group Reports Distaste for Fundagelicals among Young Non-Christians and Christians Alike

The Barna Group, a sort of Gallup organization for the Christian Right, published a study last fall that reported disillusionment about fundagelical churches among 16-29 year olds, both non-Christian and Christian. Only 16% of non-Christians have a favorable impression of Christianity in general and only 3% have a favorable impressions of evangelicals. Young non-Christians saw Christianity as judgmental (87%), hypocritical (85%), and too involved in politics (75%).

Even more striking were the opinions of churchgoers in the same age group. To quote the Barna study, "Half of young churchgoers said they perceive Christianity to be judgmental, hypocritical, and too political." Young Christians also tend to see evangelicals as expressing "excessive contempt and unloving attitudes toward gays and lesbians."

This feeds into a growing trend among observers of the Christian Right to see a liberalizing movement developing among fundagelicals. See, for example, David Kirkpatrick's influential piece in the New York Times Magazine last October.

I'm skeptical.

First, fundagelical groups have in the past used Barna Group studies to re-double their efforts to proselytize and to sell expensive materials. James Dobson made a mint off of an earlier Barna finding that only 9% of born again Christians had a "biblical world view." I commented on this two years ago, suggesting that the finding ought to prompt sane, honest people to rethink their whole enterprise.

Second, near as I can tell, all the "new" evangelicals have done is add some trendy issues like AIDS, poverty and the environment to their poltical agenda, and it remains unclear what they actually intend to do about them. When I hear that megachurch pastors like Rick Warren of Saddleback Community Church in California and Bill Hybels of Willow Creek Church in Illinois are openly welcoming gay people into their congregations as gay people and not as candidates for re-programming, when I hear them supporting a new war on poverty, when I hear them call for stricter regulations and severe penalties for polluting industries, when I hear them advocate something other than abstinence only education and support distributing condoms to people in Africa who are at high risk for contracting the HIV virus, then I'll rethink my position.

Until then, I'll just wait and see.


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