Church & World June 2000


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (EP) — A study commissioned by Focus on the Family found that one out of five American adults has looked for sexually explicit material on the Internet. A March 8–10 survey of 1,031 adults found that 20 percent admitted visiting a sexually-oriented web site.

Predictably, the percentage was highest among males and young adults. Of men in the survey, 31 percent said they had visited sex sites; 37 percent of 18–24-year-olds made the same admission.

Of special interest to Focus on the Family was the finding that 17.8 percent of those who identified themselves as “born again” Christians had visited Internet sex sites—nearly the same figure as for the overall population.

A follow-up question in the survey found that two-thirds of those questioned thought it was unlikely that sexual fulfillment could be found online. “A large number of people are spending time looking for sex online, even though they don’t think they’ll find sexual fulfillment,” said Steve Watters, Internet analyst for Focus on the Family. “In the meantime, we’re finding that surfing for sex can lead people away from their relationships in the real world.”

Watters continued, “In the past few months, we have heard from hundreds of struggling families who have been divided by the illusion of sexual fulfillment online. Many of those contacting us are religious leaders who feel they have nowhere else to turn. In fact, one out of every five individuals who contact a phone line set up to counsel families in Christian ministry admits to having a pornography problem.”

Dr. James Dobson, president of Focus on the Family, said, “Viewing pornographic images online or trading intimate messages in chat rooms may seem like harmless entertainment at first. However, these activities can quickly lead to addiction and compulsive behavior that poison relationships in the real world. Many marriages have already been destroyed as men and women have been lured away from their spouses by online fantasies.”

Last year, Focus launched a special web site—www.pure—to help people struggling with Internet sex problems. It features resources, articles, Internet-filter information, and counseling referrals.

NEW YORK, N.Y. (EP) — School librarians are being encouraged to stock books about witchcraft. A recent article in School Library Journal encouraged librarians to carry books on how to be a witch and cast spells. But Eric Buehrer, with Gateways to Better Education, said that’s a bad idea. “[The magazine] really took an advocacy position in the sense of saying, ‘You should stock these on your shelves so that teens can read about it and decide if it’s right for them,’” Bueher said. “That’s really getting into the business of promoting religion in the school…a pagan religion, which we’re really concerned about.”


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (EP) -A state judge in Florida ruled March 14 that the state’s new school voucher plan violates the states constitution.

“Tax dollars may not be used to send the children of this state to private schools” Circuit Judge Ralph Smith Jr. ruled. Smith said the 53 students in Pensacola who were the first to benefit from the program will lose their vouchers after this school year.

Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who strongly pushed for the voucher plan during his first year in office, said he would appeal the dedsion. Bush called Smith’s ruling the “first inning of a long, drawn-out legal battle.” Under Florida’s “Opportunity Scholarship” program, students at substandard public schools were able to seek vouchers valued at up to $3,389 to help pay for schooling at the private school of their choice, including church-affiliated schools. Students at schools that failed a state test two years out of four were eligible for vouchers. Pensacola students were the first to qualify, but up to 80 schools could have been deemed failures in June, making thousands of additional students eligible for the program.

Voucher advocates say the program gives parents a powerful choice. “The public money doesn’t belong to the public schools. It belongs to the public”, said Pat Heffernan of Floridians for School Choice. “Instead of saying the kids should go to good schools, whether they’re operated by the government or not, this [judge] is saying, ‘No, all kids should have to go to government schools, whether they’re good or not.’”

Clint Bollick, litigation director for the Institute for Justice, which represented Pensacola voucher students, said Smith’s ruling is based on a misunderstanding of the state’s constitution. “To keep these kids in failing schools is turning the constitution on its head. We believe a good education at a private school fulfills the goals of public education more than a bad education at a public school.” Bush expressed his disappointment with the dedsion. “In my view, this is a gross distortion of the Florida constitution, and it will be reversed by the higher courts.”

School voucher programs are being used by about 8,000 students in Milwaukee, WI and 4,000 in Cleveland, OH. In both of those programs, the money goes to the low-income families. The Milwaukee program was upheld by a federal judge, but the Cleveland dedsion was struck down by a federal judge. The issue is likely to wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (EP) — Lawmakers in Utah voted February 28 to ban pornography from prisons and to prevent minors from viewing internet pornography at public libraries. One bill would withhold state funding from libraries that fail to block minors from obscene web sites. The other bans from prisons any materials featuring nudity. The bills now go to Govenor Mike Leavitt, whose position on them is unknown.

CHARLESTON, W. Va. (EP) — The West Virginia Legislature approved a measure March 11 banning homosexual marriages and prohibiting the state from recognizing same-sex marriages performed in other states. The Senate previously passed the bill unanimously. Governor Cecil Underwood introduced the bill, so he is expected to sign it. On March 8, California voters approved a ballot measure that prohibits state recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. Nationwide adoption of such bans came after Hawaii’s Supreme Court indicated that it might require the state to provide marriage licenses to same-sex couples.


GLENDALE, Calif. (EP) — The biggest news in the latest study of religious beliefs and behaviors from the Barna Research Group is that there’s no big news. In fact, there was no change in 9 of the 10 factors the company follows in its yearly tracking survey.

The one area of change was Bible reading, which appears to be making a comeback, with more than 40 percent of adults now reading the Bible in a typical week. The growth in Bible reading seems to be fueledI by greater commitment among blacks, low-income individuals, and men. Despite the rising readership levels among men, though, women are still substantially more likely than men to read the Biblel during a typical week. Protestant adults are much more likely than Catholic adults to read the Bible during the week (53 percent vs. 38 percent, respectively). Self-identified born-again Christians are 3 times more likely than non-born again adults to read the Bible (65 percent vs. 23 percent), but not as likely as evangelicals (92 percent).

Other figures of religious activity remained the same as last year. For instance, the study found that 4 out of 10 adults, (40 percent) attend a church service in a typical Sunday. That’s a significant drop from the early 1990s when close tol half of all Americans attended services in a typical week, but the figure is relatively unchanged since 1994. “BabYI Busters” ages 18–34 are notably less likely than older adults to attend church services (28 percent compared to 51 percent of adults age 55 and older). Women are more likely to attend church than men, and adults who are identify themselves as political and social conservatives are almost twice as likely to attend church as self-identified liberals.

Born-again Christians (defined in the surveys as people who say they have made a personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today and who say they know they will go to heaven after they die because they have confessed their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior) still represent about 4 out of every 10 adults (41 percent). That’s a figure that’s remained steady since 1995. Born-again Christians are more likely to be women than men, black rather than white, and older rather than younger. The study found that 60 percent of Protestants meet the criteria for being born-again, compared to 25 percent of Catholics. Conservatives are more than twice asl likely to be born-again as liberals (57 percent to 22 percent).

Evangelicals, a subset of the born-again population, are born-again Christians who also have a traditional, biblical view of God and hold other beliefs, such as a high view of Scripture, the sinlessness of Jesus, salvation by grace and not works, and a personal responsibility to share their faith with nonbelievers. Evangelicals represent eight percent of the adult population, a figure unchanged since 1993, when it was at 11 percent. Evangelicals are the most religiously active Christians, with the highest rates of church attendance (80 percent weekly), Bible reading (92 percent weekly), sharing their faith (81 percent per year), giving money to their church (94 percent per month), and volunteering at church (48 percent weekly).

Other factors also remained constant. Donations are steady, with slightly more than half of adults (54 percent) “giving money in a typical month. Small groups in churches continue to attract about 17 percent of all adults” including 30 percent of born-again Christians and 55 percent of evangelicals. Adult participation in Sunday School’ remains at about 19 percent in a typical week, a decline from the early 1990s.

George Barna, president of the company that conducts the survey, said the study found a significant mission field for American churches. “In a typical week, about four out of every 10 people sitting in the pews of Christian churches are not born-again. Although the figures are substantially different in Protestant churches than Catholic churches, more than one-third of the Protestant attendees are not born-again. They certainly represent an accessible and fertile mission field for churches that have a desire to introduce people to the notion of salvation by grace.”

Barna said the idea that there is a religious revival taking place in America appears to be a myth. “There does not seem to be revival taking place in America,” he said. “Whether that is measured by church attendance, born-again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions. The increase in Bible reading may be setting the stage for such a revival, but it does not appear to be occurring at the moment.”

Still, there are signs of hope in the current data. “It is important to realize that there are some signs of continued interest and growth,” Barna concluded. “The level of importance assigned by people to their religious faith is very high—two-thirds say their faith is very important to them. More than four out of five people pray during the week.

Bible reading is on the increase. Half of all adults claim to have a devotional or quiet time at least once during a typical week. And church attendance has remained stable while participation in virtually every other form of traditional activity—including the frequency of watching television, exercising, reading for pleasure, and spending time with the family—has declined in recent years. Spirituality remains important to people, but we’re still in a shake-up period where people are trying to discover how to fit it into their increasingly fragmented, busy and changing lives. Few people are seeking to remove God from their life. They’re just not sure when and how often they will pencil Him ,into their schedule.”

The study is based on telephone interviews with a nationwide sample of 1,002 adults and has a maximum sampling error of plus or minus three percent at the 95 percent confidence level.


MONTPELIER, Vt. (EP) — The closest thing to homosexual marriage seen in the U.S. was approved March 16 by the Vermont House. The House voted 76–69 to approve the bill and send it to the Senate, where it is expected to win approval. Democratic Governor Howard Dean has said he will sign the bill.

Though the proposal doesn’t open traditional marriage to homosexuals it creates a new “civil union” that is virtually the same. Couples pay $20 for a civil union license and have their partnership certified by a judge, justice of the peace, or clergy member. Civil unions can be dissolved only in family court, like marriages. Couples in civil unions are entitled to some 300 legal rights and privileges that had been reserved for married couples, including pension and health insurance privileges, child custody rights, and inheritance rights.

Same-sex unions performed in Vermont are not likely to be recognized elsewhere. More than 30 states and the federal government have banned same-sex marriage and passed laws expressing denying recognition of such unions formed in other jurisdictions.

California recently voted to officially limit marriage to relationship between one man and one woman. Proposition 22 passed with the support of 61.4 percent of California voters in an election where more than half of eligible voters went to the polls.

GLASGOW, Scotland (EP) — DNA taken from what scientists believe is a 29,000-year-old bone has cast doubt on the theory that modern human beings evolved from short, thick-browed Neanderthals. In a report published in the March 30 issue of Nature, researchers at the Human Identification Center in Glasgow, Scotland challenge the theory that modern humans evolved from Neanderthals, saying that Neanderthal DNA is too dissimilar from human DNA.