In a 2002 article, statistician George Barna wrote, “Every day, the church is becoming more like the world it allegedly seeks to change.” Think about that. The attitudes and behaviors of people who say they know Jesus is becoming more and more like those of the people they say need Jesus. If there is so little difference between the life of people who know Jesus and people who don’t, do they need him?
Barna’s statement is not vague speculation. It is based on extensive studies on the influence faith has on behavior in the United States. One study suggests that thirty-three percent of Americans who consider themselves born-again have divorced. This is virtually the same as the population as a whole (thirty-four percent), and ninety percent of those Christians who divorced did so after accepting Christ. Only twelve percent of almost two and a half million youth who have pledged to abstain from sex before marriage keep that pledge. In 1989, Gallup did a survey to gauge the level of racism in the United States. The two groups found most likely to object to African-American neighbors were Baptists and Evangelicals.
These statistics are more than a little disappointing. Don’t we teach that being a Christian leads to an ethical and moral life? So why have I been told on more than one occasion by small business owners that the most difficult people to do business with are Christians? Why do restaurants, especially the servers, dread the post church lunch rush on Sunday afternoons?
If I am honest I must admit that I am not above this issue. On more occasions than I would care to admit, I am surprised by how ugly I am toward myself and other people. I can be selfish, spiteful, rude, and downright mean. People tell me I am being too harsh on myself, but that just means I have done a decent job of hiding my internal reality. I may not verbalize it, but when someone I compare myself to experiences success or something gets in the way of what I want, I can become a wreck internally. I can be a selfish, mean-spirited a*****e that does not love people in the way Jesus said I should.
According to these studies, I am not alone. There seems to be a sharp disconnect between what we teach and what we do. These stories and statistics led one person to conclude, “Faith has had a limited affect on people’s behavior, whether related to moral convictions and practices, relational activities, lifestyle choices or economic practices.” Why do you suppose this is? Why does our faith have so little impact on our behavior?