CULTURE DIGEST: Most professors hold unfavorable view of evangelicals, study says

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--The majority of professors at America's colleges and universities hold an unfavorable view of evangelical Christians that leads to prejudice and intolerance in the classroom, a recent study on educators' religious opinions confirmed.

Evangelicals were the only major religious denomination to be viewed negatively by a majority of faculty, the study released May 7 by the Institute for Jewish & Community Research noted.

Among non-evangelical university faculty, 53 percent in a sampling of 1,200 said they held an unfavorable view of evangelical Christians while expressing positive feelings toward most other religious groups. One professor said he attributes the disdain for evangelicals to their Republican Party activism and their perceived opposition to science.

Gary Tobin, the institute's director and chief pollster, said the results undoubtedly reveal "bias and prejudice" among the nation's educational leaders.

"If a majority of faculty said they did not feel warmly about Muslims or Jews or Latinos or African Americans, there would be an outcry," Tobin told The Washington Post. "No one would attempt to justify or explain those feelings. No one would say, 'The reason they feel this way is because they don't like the politics of blacks or the politics of Jews.' That would be unthinkable."

Tobin found that 71 percent of faculty members agreed with the statement: "This country would be better off if Christian fundamentalists kept their religious beliefs out of politics."

David French, a lawyer with the Alliance Defense Fund, sued Missouri State University in 2005 after a professor accused an evangelical student of discriminating against homosexuals and recommended her for disciplinary action because she refused to advocate adoptions by same-sex couples.

"On many campuses, if you're an evangelical Christian, you're going to have to go through classes in which you're told that much of what you believe religiously is not just wrong, but worthy of mockery," French told The Post.

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, addressed the issue on his blog May 8, saying the study exposes an imbalance among university faculty.

"The fact that such bias exists is significant in its own right, considering the fact that a majority of Americans at least claim to be evangelical Christians," Mohler wrote at albertmohler.com. "The ideological chasm that increasingly divides the academic elite from the larger culture is in full view here. Many academics, by their own admission, look down upon evangelical students, evangelical churches, and evangelical citizens.

"This means that many academics, comfortably situated in their tenured positions, willingly take tax and tuition dollars from a population they look down upon," Mohler said.

FAMILY BREAKDOWNS WORRY YOUTH MOST -- Family breakdowns leave a void that many youth today are looking to fill with spirituality, a pastor told the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune in conjunction with a study that found the issue that most concerns young people today is the lack of a harmonious home.

"This generation is deeply marred by family breakdown," Efrem Smith of Sanctuary Covenant Church, a multiethnic congregation in Minneapolis, told the Star Tribune, adding that many youth are victims of out-of-wedlock childbearing and divorce and even children in intact homes feel neglected because of parents' busy schedules.

"Kids understand that a strong, loving family is the core, the base, of what it takes to develop a moral compass, a sense of purpose, an identity," Smith said.

With no moral compass or guidance at home, many youth are open to letting that void be filled by spirituality, Smith told the newspaper. They're hungry for God because they're hurting, he has found.

The study, conducted by New America Media, examined the hopes and fears of people ages 16-22 in California, a state that is home to 1 in 8 of the nation's youth, the Star Tribune said.

Almost 90 percent of the youth said they hoped to get married and have children themselves, and almost three-fourths said religion and spirituality are important to them.

THIS SPRING WORST IN TV VIEWING HISTORY -- For all the experts who say children should spend less time in front of the television in order to avoid obesity, there might be some good news. This spring has been the worst in recent history for TV ratings.

"This may be the spring where we see a radical shift in the way the culture thinks of watching TV," Sarah Bunting, co-founder of the website Television Without Pity, told the Associated Press.

At least 2.5 million fewer people watched the major broadcast networks this spring compared to the same time last year, statistics show, and NBC set a record in April for its least-watched week during the past 20 years.

Since early March, prime-time viewership for the four biggest broadcast networks was down to 37.6 million people, from 40.3 million during the same period last year, AP said. Advertisers are hesitating to fund new shows, and industry executives are puzzled at the cause of the ratings slip.

Some attribute the change to a growing use of digital video recorders among average Americans. Nielsen Media Research only counts viewers in the ratings of a specific show if they watch it within 24 hours of the original air time, but many people are choosing to watch shows at their own convenience, sometimes days later.

"And you're not counted by Nielsen under any circumstances if you downloaded a show on iTunes and watched it on your iPod or cell phone, or streamed an episode from a network Web site," AP reported.

So maybe kids are jettisoning the television set in favor of riding bikes and playing basketball outside, or maybe adults are incorporating more gadgets into their lives. There's really no way to know right now, Nielsen said, but the industry is scrambling to reform the way it measures viewers.

MOVIE NEWS -- FoxFaith's "The Last Sin Eater," which is based on the novel by Francine Rivers, debuts on DVD May 15. The movie -- rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violence -- focuses on a 19th century Appalachian community where freedom from sin supposedly is obtained through an ancient Welsh ritual. But a guilt-ridden adolescent girl, not satisfied with the ritual, searches until she finds the true Sin Eater, Christ. Released first in theaters, "The Last Sin Eater" received high marks from mainstream and Christian reviewers alike. The New York Times said it was "handsomely produced, earnestly performed" and was "religious art for mainstream consumption."

In other movie news:

-- "Prince Caspian," the next movie in the Chronicles of Narnia series, currently is being filmed and is set for a May 2008 release. Douglas Gresham, the step-son of Narnia author C.S. Lewis, is serving as co-producer.

-- "Angels & Demons," the prequel to Dan Brown's controversial book "The Da Vinci Code," apparently will be made into a movie, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The news website reported that actor Tom Hanks and director Ron Howard are "in final negotiations" for the film.


Michael Foust contributed to this report.

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