Do Christians Contribute to Society?

Do Christians Contribute to Society? October 25, 2010

The most recent Barna Report concerns Christians’ perception of contributions to society. Here are the positive contributions:

In response to an open-ended question – meaning that survey respondents were not prompted with a list of possibilities but were asked to provide answers off the top of their head – one out of every five adults (19%) mentioned how Christians in the United States have helped poor or underprivileged people to have a better life. Adults under the age of 25 were especially likely to cite such service (34%). Others who were more likely than average to point out how Christians have helped those in need included blacks (28%) and those who describe themselves as “mostly liberal” on social and political matters (29%). Interestingly, evangelicals (11%) and those who say they are “mostly conservative” on socio-political matters (11%) were among the people least likely to list this as the greatest contribution of American Christianity.

The second most prolific contribution named related to evangelism – i.e., efforts to advance belief in God or Jesus Christ or to promote becoming an adherent of the Christian faith. Overall, one out of every six adults (16%) offered this response. Evangelicals (25%) and non-evangelical born again Christians (23%) were among those most likely to list evangelistic efforts. While one-quarter of all Protestant adults (26%) named evangelism, just one out of ten Catholics (11%) followed suit.

The third most common contribution listed was shaping or protecting the values and morals of the nation. This perspective was given by one out of every seven adults (14%). Those in the “mostly conservative” segment (19%) were among the most likely to mention this contribution. Young adults, Skeptics, and people in the “mostly liberal” categories were only half as likely as the national average to mention this outcome.

Overall, just 6% mentioned positive contributions by the Christian faith that related to marriage, and 5% listed favorable actions related to stopping abortions.

Slightly more than one out of every ten adults (11%) said Christianity had not made any positive contributions to the United States. This perspective was most common among people associated with a faith other than Christianity (23%) and Skeptics (27%).

The most frequent response, however, was the inability to think of a single positive contribution made by Christians in recent years. One out of every four respondents (25%) said they could not recall anything of this nature. Skeptics (34%), unchurched adults (33%), and Independent voters (29%) were more likely than other people to fall into this response category.


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  • Tim

    Do Christians contribute to our society?

    On charity:

    A big yes.

    On advancing social values:

    A big yes on the golden rule

    A big yes on encouraging people to stay committed to their spouses and families.

    A big no on the anti-homosexual agenda

    A big no on fundamentalist indoctrination and presupositionalism damaging its adherents’ ability to critically think

    A big no on the anti-science push to keep evolution out (or at least water down it’s teaching) and get creationism/ID into our schools

    A big no on European Union/United Nations distrust (I think this comes from a reading of Daniel in combination with Revelation that indicates a new “Rome” will arise and lead to the Apocalypse. Since the EU is located in what used to be Rome….)

    A big no on the “Israel can do no wrong” foreign policy (and I’m a supporter of a strong Israel by the way).

  • Tim

    …to add to the above:

    A big no on hard exclusivist’s view of non-Christian human nature – that of a nature lacking in the grace of God and all the “light”, joy, love, vibrancy, life, etc. that comes with that. Essentially a dehumanization of outside groups by defining humanity outside of the Christian fold as dark, dark, dark in matters of the soul.

  • Interesting survey and results. As one whose particular church has been deeply involved in both social justice issues and proclamation/evangelism (see chapter 22 of A Heart for Community by John Fuder and Noel Castellanos), I find it disappointing that the church is not known for both.

    May Christ continue to purify and strengthen both the faith and the goodness of his bride the church and may we continue to pursue humility and service alongside of passionate and prophetic preaching of the good news.

  • DRT

    Being as this thread is the poor step son today, it may be OK to go a bit off topic.

    Tim,

    Why a yes on the golden rule? To me, the example set by the church is the most important part of that.

    And on staying committed to spouse and family, I agree with you, but does this come at the expense of women?

  • Tim

    DRT,

    Thanks for engaging me on this topic 🙂

    I would say that Christianity is not a monolithic entity. There are instances of Christian communities exemplifying the golden rule, and there are instances where other Christian communities have trod it underfoot. I do think that Jesus really did teach that charitably and peacefully following the golden rule was of the utmost importance, however. So to the degree that Christian communities break with that, they cease exemplifying Christianity.

    On the issue of gender inequality in Christianity, I think that is a fair issue. But at the time of the OT, I don’t think that the Hebrew people were substantially worse off in that regard than their contemporaries. Nor do I think that the NT author’s teachings were substantially worse than the views of their contemporaries at that time. In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that Paul, for his day, was significantly more egalitarian than was common for his culture – with the harsher passages limiting women’s participation in the church being later interpolations. Of course, Jesus is often seen in very egalitarian terms as well. So it might be possible that later expressions of Christianity deviated from Jesus and Paul to become less egalitarian, which again would mean that they exemplified Christianity to a lesser degree.

    One of the things that worries me in our modern culture is the notion that as long as we don’t violate anyone’s rights, we can live as we please. Well, we certainly can, but this isn’t terribly healthy or moral. I think we have a duty to our fellow man, and I think families have shared duties to each other. I don’t think there should be an imbalance in that, however. I’m not a complementarian, and think that wives should expect from husbands the same that husbands should expect from wives.

  • John I.

    One should not forget that many Christians firmly believe in “not letting the left hand know about the good works of their right hand.” Many Christians involved in social good works do not care if it comes to the attention of society at large. On the other hand, even though early Christians did not give press releases about their good works (saving babies, etc.), they were extremely well known for it–and had a much bigger impact on society than politically involved Christians today.

    On other issues, ID is not the same as creationism, is not anti-science, and does not seek to be taught in the school system. Hence, it should not be lumped in with creationism. Whether ID is true, or has non-truth benefits, is a completely different issue.

    John I.

  • The survey would seem to indicate a tendency toward “phariseeism”. Rules vs relationships.

  • Tim

    John,

    The “/” in “creationism/ID” was an either/or. And the discovery institute was trying to get ID taught in the schools. Of course, if you talk to many creationists today, they often just switch around the terminology and adopt ID when discussing their views as they think it has more scientific street cred. I would also note that the ID camp has not defined special creationism as outside what constitutes ID – which seems right now to be a “big tent” term lumping those who accept common descent but believe they can demonstrate divine (sorry, designer) intervention, old earth creationists, and young earth creationists all under the same tent.

  • John I.

    The Discovery Institute does not, and indeed never has, tried to get ID taught in schools. It is, and always has been, the official policy of the Discovery Institute not to agitate for teaching ID in schools. The fact that creationists who know little about what they believe in the first place, might want to use the lingo of ID does not mean that they are IDers or represent the principle thrusts of the ID movement or the Discovery Institute.

    John I.

  • The sentence in your post that really made me think was this one:

    “The most frequent response, however, was the inability to think of a single positive contribution made by Christians in recent years.”

    This is interesting in light of the incredible work being done across the globe by churches (ministry to the poor, aids relief, digging water wells in third world countries, etc.)

    Could it be that the negative perceptions are so loud and irritating that they completely overshadow these good works? I wonder.