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CULTURE DIGEST: Community service develops teens’ faith; Iran readying students for war; workplace not family friendly

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Church youth leaders tend to organize retreats and special conferences designed to enrich the faith experience of students, but a report by Baylor University found that the best way to strengthen teens’ faith may be to involve them in community service.

The study, called “The Role of Service in Faith Development of Adolescents,” was conducted by Baylor’s School of Social Work and sponsored by Lilly Endowment Inc.

“The connection of community service with faith maturity and engagement in faith practices, such as prayer and Bible study, is powerful according to our findings,” Michael Sherr, co-investigator on the project, said in a Jan. 22 news release. “In fact, involvement in community service is far more significant to the faith development of teens than involvement in worship.”

Researchers say the key is to let teens participate in “authentic service that meets real human needs,” and they need opportunities to process the experience with adults. The study indicates that teenagers who are encouraged to give something to others will be less absorbed in themselves, and they could be more open to counter-cultural ideas presented in the Bible.

“The findings show that any young person can experience significant faith development through authentic service to real needs whether or not he or she attends Sunday School or worship regularly, and whether the young person is a visitor of a congregation or a member since birth,” Diana Garland, another co-researcher, said.

Baylor utilized data from surveys of 631 adolescents between the ages of 11 and 18 from 35 Protestant congregations in six states. Researchers also noted data from the 2002-03 National Study of Youth and Religion, which found that just 30 percent of teens had ever participated in a missions team or service project organized by their church. Comparatively, 50 percent of teens had been on a youth retreat or to a conference.

“This should be a compelling argument for congregational leaders to be intentional about involving parents and youth together in community ministry programs,” Garland said. “The opportunities to help our youth grow in their faith literally are as close as the neighborhoods outside the church’s door.

“Young people need to be partners in ministry, not solely the object of ministry,” she added. “This is an important and empowering distinction for developing new generations of spiritual leaders for today as well as tomorrow.”

IRAN PREPARING STUDENTS FOR WAR — A new report based on information gleaned from textbooks in Iranian schools indicates the rogue nation is preparing its youngest citizens for a war against “infidel oppressors” such as the United States and Israel.

“America is known as an imperialist country, which embarks on military intervention wherever it sees that its interests are in danger,” a sociology textbook for 11th-grade students in Iran says. “It does not refrain from massacring people, from burying alive the soldiers of the opposite side and from using mass destruction weapons.”

The study, released Jan. 30 in Brussels, was conducted by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, an Israel-based think tank. Arnon Groiss, the report’s author, is a Princeton- and Harvard-educated journalist who also has critiqued education systems in Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, according to The Washington Times.

For the Iran study, Groiss examined 115 textbooks and teachers guides published in 2004 and found what he called a “global war curriculum.”

“Iran’s war curriculum is a danger to the world’s peace and security,” he said, according to Reuters. “This is the way the books develop a siege mentality in the minds of the students.”

Children as young as 9 are being taught that the West is evil, the first-of-its-kind study said, and Groiss found that “hate indoctrination is a professed goal of Iranian textbooks.”

“This has been a structural component of the Iranian regime since [the Islamic Revolution in] 1979,” Groiss said.

Israel is marked on maps as “Occupied Palestine” and is otherwise referred to as “the regime that occupies Jerusalem” in the textbooks, Reuters said, and the United States is referred to as the “Great Satan,” the “World Devourer” and the “Arrogant One.”

U.S. WORKPLACE LESS FAMILY FRIENDLY — Although a study covered in Culture Digest Jan. 10 said U.S. employers are accommodating families more, a study released by Harvard and McGill University researchers Feb. 1 says the United States lags behind nearly all wealthy nations in providing family oriented workplace policies.

“More countries are providing the workplace protections that millions of Americans can only dream of,” Jody Heymann, the study’s lead author and founder of the Harvard-based Project on Global Working Families, said. “The U.S. has been a proud leader in adopting laws that provide for equal opportunity in the workplace, but our work/family protections are among the worst. It’s time for change.”

Researchers studied 173 countries and found that 168 guarantee paid maternity leave, with 98 of them providing 14 or more weeks of paid leave. The United States does not require paid leave for mothers, putting it on a list with Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea as the only countries studied that don’t provide paid maternity leave.

The study found that at least 134 countries have laws that fix the maximum length of the work week, while the United States does not have a maximum work week length or a limit on mandatory overtime per week.

At least 126 countries require employers to provide a day of rest each week for workers, but the United States does not. And 137 countries require employers to provide paid annual leave, while the U.S. does not, according to a news release from McGill University.

At least 145 countries provide paid sick days for short- or long-term illnesses, with 127 providing a week or more annually, the study found. The U.S. provides unpaid leave only for serious illnesses through the Family & Medical Leave Act, which does not cover all workers, and has no federal law providing for paid sick days.

GROUP PUSHES ‘TERROR-FREE GAS’ — The Terror-Free Oil Initiative has opened a gas station in Omaha, Neb., that sells gasoline that comes from countries that do not finance terrorism.

“We felt like every time we filled at the pumps we were sending our money to a part of the world that wanted our destruction,” Joe Kaufman, a spokesman for the Terror-Free Oil Initiative, told ABC News. “We felt like sending a message to gas companies that purchase crude oil from the Middle East that we are sick and tired of financing our own demise. We would like to avert the next 9/11.”

Rather than selling gasoline from companies like Exxon Mobil, Gulf and Shell that import oil from the Middle East, the “terror-free” gas station obtains gasoline from a Salt Lake City-based company named Sinclair Oil Corp., which gets most of its oil from Canada and the United States, ABC News said.

“We have investors that have gotten together to purchase these stations,” Kaufman said. “We’re in negotiations to open them up all over the country.”

    About the Author

  • Erin Roach