CULTURE DIGEST: Family time trumps church; Americans ignorant about religion ...

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--A growing number of families would rather spend their increasingly limited free time together than at church, a study by Leadership magazine found.

“The increased emphasis on ‘family time,’ even at the expense of meaningful involvement in church life, is a sign of the times,” reporter Eric Reed wrote for Leadership. “It’s one way Generations X and Y are making up for the hands-off, latch-key childrearing styles that characterized their Boomer parents: heavy investment in the kids, and everything else takes a back seat -- including church.”

Leadership surveyed 490 pastors about what is keeping people away from church, and the Christianity Today-owned magazine found that people routinely choose family events over church commitments because they say they’re not finding church to be a relevant enough resource in their time-crunched lifestyles.

More churches are seeing decreased attendance at church events, especially those held on weeknights, because when families feel obligated to participate in sports, music lessons and other extracurricular activities, the only night of the week they have to be together just might be Wednesday, Leadership found.

Another problem families seem to be voicing is that when they arrive at church they’re split up into different age groups and sometimes husbands and wives are split into gender-segregated classes. Families often are quicker than churches at realizing no family bonding is going to occur at church when that method is used, the magazine reported.

“Shouldn’t we as a church try to bring families together?” Carol Welker, children’s ministry pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Fla., told Leadership. “Instead what we do is bring them to church and then put mom and dad in this room, the high school kids in that room, and the elementary kids down the hall. It’s no wonder families are spending more time doing family things than they are spending at church.”

Welker suggested churches plan events around school calendars and events in the community that could force families to choose between church and other obligations, and she said family focused dinners at church help provide a time for both family and church fellowship.

“When family members hardly see each other at church activities, the congregation needs to take a quick inventory of its concept of ministry,” R. Albert Mohler Jr. wrote on his blog at albertmohler.com March 14.

“At the same time, when Christian parents take their kids to Little League games rather than worship on the Lord’s Day, these parents teach their children that team sports are more important than the worship of God,” Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said. “Every kid has a ‘thing’ going on virtually all the time. That is the condition of life today, it seems. But when that ‘thing’ keeps the child -- or the whole family -- away from church, we need to name that thing what it is ... at best a snare, at worst an idol.”

Evangelist Jerry Drace told Baptist Press, "What I have found in surveying thousands of teenagers across this country in our Hope for the Home conferences is that even when church families are not in church they are not necessarily together in other activities either. Teens and their parents are going in different directions at the same time.

“The one common denominator for families is sports,” Drace, of Humboldt, Tenn., said. “We have many fathers and mothers skipping church on Sunday to watch their child participate in his/her favorite team sport. When this happens, the god of sports replaces the God of Scripture. When the church seeks relevancy over relationship, you lose both faith and family. Worship should be a family event. This requires creative planning by the leaders."

AMERICANS IGNORANT ABOUT RELIGION -- It’s clear from media reports that religion is in the spotlight more today than in previous decades, but it seems that a majority of Americans are unprepared to discuss the topic with adequate knowledge.

According to a report in USA Today March 7, Americans would receive an “F” in religion if they were graded on their ability to answer questions correctly. In fact, the newspaper said 60 percent of Americans can’t name five of the Ten Commandments and half of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married.

“More and more of our national and international questions are religiously inflected,” Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University and author of the book “Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know -- and Doesn’t,” told USA Today. “If you think Sunni and Shia are the same because they’re both Muslim, and you’ve been told Islam is about peace, you won’t understand what’s happening in Iraq.

“If you get into an argument about gay rights or capital punishment and someone claims to quote the Bible or the Quran, do you know it’s so?” he added. “If you want to be involved, you need to know what they’re saying. We’re doomed if we don’t understand what motivates the beliefs and behaviors of the rest of the world.”

Prothero believes all Americans should strive to grasp Bible basics as well as the core beliefs, stories, symbols and heroes of other faiths. To facilitate that goal, he advocates requiring middle-school students to take a course in world religions and high school students to take a class on the Bible, USA Today reported.

All college undergraduates should take at least one course in religious studies, Prothero said, and biblical knowledge should be added to lessons on history and literature where it’s relevant.

These days, only 8 percent of public high schools offer an elective Bible course, and some say it’s because schools are afraid to touch the Bible for fear of backlash, even though it is legal to educate students about the Bible in literature and history classes.

FIRST CONGRESSMAN PROCLAIMS ATHEISM -- U.S. Rep. Pete Stark, a Democrat from the San Francisco Bay area, has become the highest elected official and the first congressman to declare himself an atheist, according to a statement he provided to the Associated Press March 12.

“I look forward to working with the Secular Coalition to stop the promotion of narrow religious beliefs in science, marriage contracts, the military and the provision of social services,” Stark wrote, adding that he is “a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being.”

The Secular Coalition for America had offered a $1,000 prize to the person who could identify the “highest level atheist, agnostic, humanist or any other kind of nontheist currently holding elected public office in the United States,” AP said.

Stark, who began serving in Congress in 1973, was nominated as the highest level atheist by a member of American Atheists California.


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