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CULTURE DIGEST: Barna survey: Easter’s meaning unclear to many Americans

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–While most Americans continue to view Easter as a religious celebration, many of them are unclear on the underlying reason for the occasion, The Barna Group found in a recent study.

“Perhaps most concerning, from the standpoint of church leaders, is that those who celebrate Easter because of the resurrection of Christ are not particularly likely to invite non-churched friends to worship, suggesting that their personal beliefs about Jesus have not yet translated into a sense of urgency for having spiritual conversations with their acquaintances,” David Kinnaman, Barna’s president, said.

Kinnaman noted a substantial gap between people’s openness to inviting an unchurched person to worship on Easter and the likelihood of them actually doing so.

“Realistically, if all of the people who said they would bring unchurched people with them on Easter were to follow through, America’s churches couldn’t handle the overflow,” he said.

“The statistics project to something like 40 million church regulars who claim they are likely to bring someone as their guest. If each of those people brought just one adult as their guest, that’d be the equivalent of adding 115 new people per Christian congregation. That would more than double the size of the average church. That is clearly an overestimate,” Kinnaman said.

“But we shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that so many people are at least open to the idea of offering such invitations to their friends and family. One of the challenges to pastors and other church leaders is to find out what’s actually preventing them from following through on that willingness.”

The study, based on telephone interviews with roughly 1,000 adults in February, found that 67 percent of the respondents mentioned some type of theistic religious element in Easter, including the fact that it’s a Christian holiday or it’s a special time for church attendance.

Only 42 percent of those surveyed said the meaning of Easter was the resurrection of Jesus or that it signifies Christ’s death and return to life, Barna said. Two percent said they would describe Easter as the most important holiday of their faith.

“Even within the religious definitions offered by Americans there is a certain degree of confusion: 2 percent of Americans said that Easter is about the ‘birth of Christ’; another 2 percent indicated it was about the ‘rebirth of Jesus’; and 1 percent said it is a celebration of ‘the second coming of Jesus,'” Barna said. “Not included in the theistic category was another 3 percent who described Easter as a celebration of spring or a pagan holiday.”

Evangelicals and those who attend large churches were among the most likely to express some type of theistic religious connection with Easter, Barna said. The youngest adult generation, those ages 18 to 25, were the least likely age segment to say Easter is a religious holiday, which Barna said reflects an increasingly secular mindset in young adults.

Those who were more politically conservative were more likely than those who were politically liberal to describe Easter as a celebration of the resurrection, the study found.

While most active churchgoers said they would be open to inviting people to attend worship services with them, only 31 percent said they would definitely do it this year. Those who identified Easter with the resurrection were no more likely than other religiously oriented respondents to indicate that they would invite friends to church for Easter, Barna said.

For more information, visit barna.org.

HEALTH CARE BILL FUNDS ABSTINENCE EDUCATION — While conservatives find much to dislike in the health-care legislation passed by the Obama administration, the National Abstinence Education Association noted one bright spot: more than $250 million available for abstinence education.

In a news release March 23, the organization said its bipartisan efforts to secure such funding were successful and the money will be available to all states through the Title V funding stream from 2010 to 2014.

“We are encouraged that funding will continue so that the important health message of risk avoidance will reach American teens,” Valerie Huber, executive director of the NAEA, said.

The health-care bill, though, provides significantly more funding for comprehensive sex education programs, which teach contraceptive methods in addition to mentioning the abstinence option.

“The dual approach to sex education funding can help states and communities offer parents and schools real ‘choice’ when it comes to the type of sex education they want for their children and should be a sound public policy consideration in further appropriations,” Huber said.

Funding for abstinence education has been under fire during the Obama administration, with the president eliminating federal funding for it in his first proposed budget.

“In facing the complex problem of teen sex, we must not limit solutions,” Huber said. “We must support what works and continue to find even more effective ways of reaching our youth.”

CENSUS APPEALS TO SELFISH NATURE — At least one conservative commentator has noticed U.S. Census officials’ appeal to Americans’ selfish nature in order to motivate people to complete the census forms and return them promptly.

Bruce Chapman, writing on a Discovery Institute blog March 17, took issue with the appeal included in the letter that U.S. residents received ahead of the form, alerting them to the importance of reporting pertinent information.

“Results from the 2010 Census will be used to help each community get its fair share of government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs you and your neighbors need,” the letter said. “Without a complete and accurate census, your community may not receive its fair share.”

Chapman, a public policy specialist, wrote, “This language apparently is meant to motivate people who have a self interest in getting in on as many government programs as they can. In some eyes, at least, it tends to present the government as a giant warehouse of goodies that will be dispensed only if enough people in ‘your community’ fill out the Census forms.

“True, there is a danger that certain minority and impoverished persons will ignore the Census unless they can see some benefit, and the ‘fair share’ argument is supposed to address that,” he added.

Whatever the language, Chapman identified two overriding reasons to answer the census.

“First, it is your patriotic and legal duty, one of the few functions of the federal government specifically mandated in the Constitution. It is hallowed by age and law,” Chapman wrote. “It is an integral part of representative democracy, by which members of Congress are apportioned and seats in state and local government are redistricted.

“The second reason is that without the Census many of the other numbers that society counts on — conservatives or liberals alike — would be compromised, especially economic data pertaining to everything from employment to housing. The private sector as well as the government needs an accurate Census. This has been true for literally two centuries.

“So it is important to answer the Census. Just ignore the appeals to self-interest — real or contrived. Let answering the Census be one of the real, if small, satisfactions of living in this great and free country.”
Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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