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Charting Cultural Bankruptcy: George Barna's Research Shows Us We Need to Do Better

According to a study, a majority of Americans, belonging to seven different faith groups, found morally acceptable three of ten behaviors traditionally deemed sinful: gambling, cohabitation, and sexual fantasies.

Lee Duigon
  • Lee Duigon,
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Update, "Morality Continues to Decay."

According to this study by Barna, a majority of Americans, belonging to seven different faith groups, found morally acceptable three of ten behaviors traditionally deemed sinful: gambling, cohabitation, and sexual fantasies. The other seven were abortion, adultery, pornography, profanity, drunkenness, homosexual activity, and drug abuse.

Worse, Barna found a "generation gap" suggesting that the two youngest groups polled — "Mosaics" (18–19 year olds) and "Busters" (20–38 year olds) — accepted eight of these ten behaviors, rejecting only homosexual activity and drug abuse. [For the complete statistics and methodology, see the above-named articles archived on the Barna Group's website,]

These findings force us to ask ourselves, "Are our young people getting the message?"

If not, what must we do to deliver it?


"There is no single explanation" for the moral generation gap, George Barna told Chalcedon. "It results from a combination of factors. Among the most significant are the negative moral influence of the mass media, the lack of personal moral accountability, inadequate worldview training by churches and families, the elimination of discipline and high standards in public schools, and poor role modeling by high-profile public leaders."

Barna is not a theologian. He is a statistician, whose work can be a valuable tool for Christian parents and teachers.

Calvinists believe the cause of moral decay anytime, anywhere, is the inborn depravity of human nature — our original sin. Calvinists are skeptical of legislative or institutional "solutions" to the problem of sin. They don't need to be persuaded that human nature is bad; that the institutions devised by human beings can be no better than their sinful human creators; or that this fallen world, without God's grace, must continue to fall.

What Barna's answer means to us is that our worldly "solutions" to moral problems — our mass media, our public schools, our leaders, and even, to a degree, our churches — aren't working.

The Message

Barna's job is not to solve the problems of the world. His job is to provide "information and analysis regarding cultural trends and the Christian Church." His stated mission is "to provide organizations with current, accurate, and reliable information … to help facilitate effective and strategic decision-making."

Nobody does it better. But our job is to make the decisions, basing our actions on the Word of God.

Barna's information can provide us with valuable feedback. If we accept his findings — and his firm has the highest reputation for accuracy — we are on much firmer ground than those who can only say, "Well, it sure looks to me like there must be something wrong!" Now we have solid evidence to back up our claim.

If our young people don't have a Biblical worldview, could it be because we didn't successfully equip them with one? Do we need to try harder, or employ different teaching techniques?

Parents, pastors, and churches who train children must themselves have a Biblical worldview. Barna has research (see his archived Update for January 12, 2004, "Only Half of Protestant Pastors Have a Biblical Worldview") that suggests that some of us, Christians included, may be on shaky ground there. Reconstructing from the bottom up, we must first train ourselves before we can train children.


Asked how he would address the problem of moral decay, Barna offered these suggestions:

  • The moral training of children should begin as early as possible, "as early as age three, but starting no later than age five."
  • "Families and ministries must become more active players in that process."
  • Churches must focus on equipping parents to train their children to think and behave morally and spiritually — "to intentionally and strategically develop a Biblical worldview, from the time children learn to speak."
  • When necessary, churches should cut some programs and concentrate their resources on training children.

"The more we invest in facilitating proper habits at a very young age," Barna said, "the more likely people are to maintain those habits over time — or to return to them if they go through a wayward period."

Or, as Solomon observed, "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Pr. 22:6).

We cannot argue with Barna's assertion that we need to go to work on our children early in their lives. Indeed, we have a God-given duty to teach God's law to our children ("teach them your children" Dt. 11:19).

Should our churches concentrate harder on this task? It's hard to argue otherwise. If that means having to make cuts elsewhere, so be it.

We can provide Christian homeschooling in place of the morally illiterate public schools. We can't entirely shield children from the toxic effects of the mass media. We can't insulate them from the bad examples set by Bill Clinton, Janet Jackson, Ken Lay, or Martha Stewart. But a strong Christian faith is the best defense against all the fiery darts of the wicked.

Barna has not told us why there is a lack of personal moral accountability. It's not his job to tell us. Besides, the Bible already tells us why.

"And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?" (Ps. 73:11).

Yes, God knows. And knowing God is fully aware of everything you do can go a long way toward establishing a sense of personal accountability.

Lee Duigon
  • Lee Duigon

Lee is the author of the Bell Mountain Series of novels and a contributing editor for our Faith for All of Life magazine. Lee provides commentary on cultural trends and relevant issues to Christians, along with providing cogent book and media reviews.

Lee has his own blog at

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