Barna Survey Finds Lots of Spiritual Dialogue But Not Much Change

Some of you may be interested in the latest Barna Group article, Survey Finds Lots of Spiritual Dialogue But Not Much Change, which concludes:

“The explosion of communications devices and technology in the past decade has substantially expanded the amount of public dialogue related to all kinds of issues, including religion. Yet, even though Americans spend lots of time discussing and debating religious beliefs and spiritual practices, a new survey by The Barna Group shows that all of that interaction has translated into very little change in people’s faith life.”

I know that on one level this is unsurprising, as it is well known that most people make faith decisions before adulthood, but it’s still an important prompt for us to think about what we’re doing.

Of course there were some who’s faith increased or decreased, which brings me to this comment:

“Among those whose appreciation of or respect for churches declined, a majority specified the sexual abuse scandals within the Catholic church as the dominant factor in their change of heart.”

Again, not a huge surprise, but it prompts me to ask: how can we hold our leaders more accountable? I personally advocate zero tollerance.

6 thoughts on “Barna Survey Finds Lots of Spiritual Dialogue But Not Much Change

  1. My brother once commented that “If the Catholics had directed child-abusing clergy over to the small guillotine back when the first few cases had come out, instead of trying to sweep them under the carpet, they’d be considered the good guys instead of the bad guys.”
    In other words, even if the situation were the same but their response had been different, they’d have looked an awful lot better.
    This puts us in a tricky spot, however. Zero tolerance is what the world expects of us (and what many, myself included, would ask). Yet how does GRACE fit into this?
    Put another way: does the child abuser get forgiven by God’s people in the church? It’s easy to accept that GOD will forgive him, but what about us?


  2. Johno,
    I should probably write more extensively on this, as it’s an extensive topic, but I would summarize my position this way: I think we need to distinguish between cheap grace and costly grace, remembering that the New Testament itself affirms the need for community discipline.
    In his letter to the Corinthians the apostle Paul writes, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife … I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people — not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler … What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. Expel the wicked man from among you.” (1 Corithians 5)
    The logic of this and similar New Testament passages seems to be this: we should treat paedophile priests as we would pagans, as unbelievers, as non-disciples.
    Of course, Jesus calls us to love unbelievers, so a balanced understanding also precludes us hating them.
    But it seems clear that we should have no qualms about revoking their teaching authority, revoking their church membership, and henceforth regarding them as people in despirate need of salvation. This does not preclude the possibility of future reconciliation, but it does make the challenge stark: by abusing the vulnerable amongst us they have abused God and spat on his grace.


  3. We have to be careful what we mean when we talk about tolerance, acceptance and forgiveness. Despte the saying of loving sinners and hating sin, we often get it wrong.
    Forgiveness doesn’t mean trusting that someone will not reoffend.
    I think we are better at loving those who we know, who are already friends – going easy on the offender we know and neglecting the victim or potential victim we don’t know. This may not be a conscious thing – they don’t let you on a jury when your mate is being tried.


  4. So true Eric. Particularly liked your last sentence. Forgiving does not mean forgetting what has happened, nor naively trusting it will never happen again. Forgiving does not mean reconcilation either, at least not automatically. Forgiving simply means releasing yourself from the desire for revenge. Reconciliation, what we really should be talking about here, that requires some thing more. Reconciliation requires repentance by the offender as well as forgiveness of the offender. And repentance is more than feeling sorry. Repentance goes well beyond feelings to concrete life surrender. It means dropping of defences.
    What would that look like in this case? I would expect a truly repentant paedophile to be a truly surrendered paedophile. Not defensive, not trying to minimize what was done, not trying to evade the law, nor the consequences of transgressing the law. A truly repentant paedophile would acknowledge the high risk of reoffending is too well documented for risk minimization measures not to be applied. A truly repentant paedophile would accept that authority over children and unsupervised contact with children could never again be risked. He would welcome this for his own sake and the sake of the vulnerable. He would accept this disqualifies him from leadership, but welcome this repentance as the path to reconciliation with God.
    By way of contrast, this dodging of responsibility and holding onto authority that we’ve seen amongst many paedophile priests, I take that as a sign of an unrepentant heart. We have no obligation to treat the unrepentant as members. The Vatican should be excommunicating them, or defrocking them at the very least. Protecting them makes them accessories to the crime.


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