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Barna Survey Says Americans' Morals Decaying; Evangelicals Ruin the Curve

Fred Jackson and Jenni Parker

November 5, 2003 (AgapePress) - A new poll from Christian researcher George Barna shows the majority of Americans have come to regard many kinds of sinful behavior as acceptable.

The exception to that trend continues to be evangelical Christians. The poll conducted by Barna Research Group found that 60% of Americans consider gambling, cohabitation, and sexual fantasizing "morally acceptable."

Nearly half of those surveyed feel it is morally acceptable for a person to have an abortion or to have sex with someone other than his or her own spouse. And about a third say they have no moral problem with pornography, profanity, homosexual activity, or drunkenness.

But this latest Barna poll indicates that evangelical Christians are the least likely group to condone such behaviors. Faith groups included in the study were adherents of non-Christian faiths, atheists and agnostics, Catholics, and several categories of Protestant Christians.

While atheists and agnostics found nine of the ten behaviors morally legitimate, and half of people of other faiths had no problem with at least seven of them, out of the 10 behaviors evaluated, fewer than 10% of the evangelicals surveyed considered any of the activities legitimate.

According to Barna, "Less than one out of every ten evangelical Christians maintained that adultery, gay sex, pornography, profanity, drunkenness, and abortion are morally acceptable. In contrast, every one out of those ten behaviors was deemed 'morally acceptable' by more than one out of ten people from each of the other six faith groups studied."

Evangelicals Exceptional Even Among Christians Barna notes that people who self-identified as Christian but not evangelical had a higher level of acceptance of the immoral behaviors. The researcher defines an evangelical as someone who says he or she has been "born again" and
that their salvation is by grace alone, not by works. Other defined conditions include belief in a literal Satan and belief that the Bible is the Word of God.

The research group's survey also looked at Christians who neither described themselves as born-again nor believe they will go to heaven based on confessing their sin and accepting Christ. This group was shown to be somewhat less likely than people aligned with other faiths to consider the polled behaviors morally legitimate.

However, the results indicate that members of this "notional Christian" group are more likely to find the polled sinful activities acceptable than evangelicals are. According to Barna's findings, "On average, born-again Christians who are not evangelical were more than three times as likely as evangelicals to describe any given behavior tested as morally acceptable."

Generation and Gender Gaps

The Barna poll on acceptance of certain behaviors also uncovered evidence of a generational "morality gap." According to the findings, "In nearly every case there was a pattern of Mosaics (the oldest members of the youngest generation, currently 18 or 19 years old) and Busters (those 20 to 38 years of age) being most likely to deem the behavior morally acceptable." Baby Boomers, aged 39-57, were less likely to condone each behavior, and Elders (the two oldest generations combined) were least likely to embrace these sinful actions as acceptable.

Another noteworthy difference was the finding that men were more likely than women to deem nine of the ten behaviors morally acceptable. The exception was homosexual relations, which women were slightly more likely to condone. But the largest gaps were related to drunkenness and pornography, with men twice as likely as women to deem pornography as morally acceptable.