CULTURE DIGEST: Politics cited as deterrent from church; church's film now on DVD ...

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--Socially conservative Christians may face a dilemma between being salt and light in the culture and alienating a new generation of potential believers who cite politics as the chief reason they don't attend church, according to an article circulated in several newspapers recently.

"Between 25 percent and 30 percent of twentysomethings today say they have no religious affiliation -- roughly four times higher than in any previous generation," Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, authors of "American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us," wrote for the Los Angeles Times.

"So, why this sudden jump in disaffection from organized religion? The surprising answer, according to a mounting body of evidence, is politics. Very few of these 'nones' actually call themselves atheists, and many have rather conventional beliefs about God and theology. But they have been alienated from organized religion by its increasingly conservative politics," Putnam and Campbell wrote.

The authors contend that as abortion and homosexuality became prominent issues and church attendance became more of an indicator of how someone would vote, Americans who have come of age since 1990 have been disillusioned by the politicization of the church.

A majority of the Millennial generation, Putnam and Campbell said, are more liberal on most social issues and increasingly characterize religion as "intolerant, hypocritical, judgmental and homophobic."

"If being religious entailed political conservatism, they concluded, religion was not for them," the authors wrote.

Putnam is a professor of public policy at Harvard University, and Campbell is a professor of political science at the University of Notre Dame. Their research, which includes a national survey of 3,000 Americans, indicates many people "are sorting themselves out on Sunday morning on the basis of their political views."

While a significant portion of young adults are navigating life with no religious affiliation, the authors said predictions of the demise of religion in America are premature.

"Jesus taught his disciples to be 'fishers of men,' and the pool of un-churched moderate and progressive young people must be an attractive target for religious anglers," Putnam and Campbell wrote.

"To be sure, some of these young people will remain secularists. Many of them, however, espouse beliefs that would seem to make them potential converts to a religion that offered some of the attractions of modern evangelicalism without the conservative political overlay."

R. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, called American Grace "one of the most significant analyses of religion in American public life to come in a very long time." An Oct. 18 podcast and transcript of Mohler's conversation with Putnam is available at albertmohler.com.

CHURCH'S FILM NOW ON DVD -- A movie by a small Canadian National Baptist Convention church that surprised many viewers by its quality is now available for purchase through Pure Flix at Pureflixstore.com, a website that sells faith-based films.

"The Scarf," a 2009 movie made by The Connection church in metro Vancouver, tells the story of two high school girls who embark on a science project to study UFOs. A desire to get an "A" on the project leads one of the girls to begin dabbling in the occult, and her Christian friends try to save her before it's too late. The movie -- dubbed a "teenage sci-fi thriller" -- was nominated for awards at a pair of 2009 film festivals.

"Be prepared to be pleasantly surprised at the quality of this production and impressed with the message it sends," Tom Blackaby, international director of Blackaby Ministries International, said in endorsing the film. Blackaby said the film will "challenge one's traditional thinking."

It was filmed on a $20,000 budget. Church pastor John Martens wrote the script for The Scarf, and youth and media minister Kyle Lawrence was its director, cinematographer and editor.

RELIGIOUS STUDIES ON THE RISE -- On campuses across the nation, religion is becoming a popular subject of study, The Buffalo News in New York said, citing several local colleges that have expanded their courses in response to increased interest in the topic.

The newspaper referred to a 22 percent increase in the number of college students enrolled as religious studies majors compared to the previous decade and said that while many students don't describe themselves as religious, they are intrigued by religion.

Patrick Lynch, chairman of the department of religious studies and theology at Canisius College, suspects the current economy, threats of terrorism and the war in Afghanistan have steered more students toward examining questions about values and the purpose of life, The News said.

"They see the global ramifications of religion and as a result, they're really very interested," Marianne Ferguson, a religious studies professor at Buffalo State University, said.

At another local college, a 100-level course called "World Religions" is so popular that only upperclassmen get to take it.

"It fills right up to the top. In fact, freshmen can't get in," Dale Tuggy, associate professor of philosophy at Fredonia State College, said.

Tuggy said students typically have little knowledge of world religions when they start the class because high schools rarely address the topic. The News noted that is in line with a recent study by the Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life, which found that on average, Americans correctly answered about half of the questions on a basic religious knowledge survey.

Among the answers students gave for an interest in religious studies are that it helps determine how people think, helps them socialize better with people and helps them deal with people who are different from them.

At Niagara University, the chairman of the religious studies department said the school has added courses addressing how religion intersects with music, business, art and the environment.

"What we are saying is that religion is not a self-contained phenomenon cut off from the real world -- it is the real world," the department chairman said.

LEGALITY OF CHRISTIAN FLAG DEBATED -- In the small town of King, N.C., thousands of people have marched to show support for the return of a Christian flag to a war memorial in a local park, and the city council has voted on a solution that supporters find less than satisfactory.

The traditional Christian flag flew for six years next to the American flag as well as the North Carolina flag, the city's flag and several others. When a citizen complained about the Christian flag's presence and complaint letters followed from the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the city's attorney warned of a costly lawsuit if the flag were not removed.

The King City Council voted 3-1 in September to take down the flag, while many people, in addition to attending public hearings and rallies to show support for the Christian flag, have started flying the flag at their homes and businesses, the Winston-Salem Journal said.

The city government sought legal counsel regarding options, and on Nov. 1 voted 4-0 to develop a policy to eventually fly the Christian flag as part of a display allowing religious flags recognized by the U.S. military.

Many of the 80 flag supporters who attended the city council meeting said the council should have immediately returned the flag to the memorial rather than planning to spend two months working out details of the new policy with attorneys, the Journal said. Only a handful of residents publicly supported the removal of the flag, the newspaper reported.

An Air Force veteran who served in Vietnam has held an around-the-clock vigil to guard another Christian flag hanging on a wooden pole in front of the war memorial, the Associated Press reported Oct. 31, and for days supporters have delivered meals and blankets.

Supporters of the flag also are concerned that the city will remove a nearby metal sculpture depicting a soldier kneeling before a cross.

"I have already told the city, 'Before you can take it down, I'll tie myself to it and you can cut me down first,'" the veteran said.

The Journal said the legality of religious symbols on public property is a "murky area of constitutional law." This particular case echoes the Mojave Desert cross case, which is still pending.


Erin Roach is a staff writer for Baptist Press.

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