INDEPENDENCE, Ohio, March 14, 2018 (LifeSiteNews) – The pro-life and pro-family movement faces a formidable challenge with society’s drift from biblical principles, Christian researcher George Barna told pro-life advocates at a Cleveland pro-life convention Saturday.
And a rethinking of approach is in order, due to worldview issues and data indicating that these are established when a person is quite young.
Americans are too busy and self-involved to concern themselves with discerning truth, and they don’t have much problem with abortion, Barna’s findings suggest. And despite seven out of 10 Americans identifying as Christian, it’s only a minority that regards life as having innate value because it is a gift from God.
Further, though Millennials are often regarded as a thoroughly pro-life generation, they are least likely to consistently support biblical morality on many issues. This negatively affects their take on being open to having children, defunding Planned Parenthood, and opposing gay “marriage.”
Barna, Executive Director of the American Culture and Faith Institute, presented his findings on “America’s Attitudes about Life and Abortion” for the Bringing America Back to Life convention. His myriad figures were illustrated throughout with graphics and charts, painting a literal picture of America’s troubling moral landscape.
Barna’s background has decades of experience in research in the areas of marketing as well as cultural and religious issues, and he is widely cited.
He warned his Cleveland pro-life audience out of the gate they would not like much of what he had to say, but he explained, “You cannot change culture unless you understand it.”
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The good news is that abortion policy remains on the agenda for millions and millions of Americans, he began. Abortion is ranked ninth by Americans in the top 10 issues challenging the U.S. today. However, by and large people are also somewhat ignorant and complacent about what’s been going on in terms of abortion policy in the last year.
Americans focused elsewhere
Americans right now are so busy that they really don’t invest very much in trying to understand everything that’s going on around them, he said, in fact, they don’t invest much at all in trying to discern truth.
“The focus in America right now is on experiencing happiness rather than identifying and living in accordance with truth,” stated Barna. “So there’s a completely different plan that we’re pursuing than what God intended for us.”
People are more interested in experience and personal connections than they are in justice and righteousness, he said. His research shows that most Americans are biblically illiterate and really have very little interest in biblical consciousness. This is not what drives their decision-making.
The level of Americans’ regard for life
Close to half of Americans describe themselves as pro-choice and about four in ten would say they were pro-life.
Barna’s stats show that only one out of three Americans say that abortion is an immoral behavior, about one out of four say it’s a moral behavior, and about 24% claim abortion isn’t even a moral issue.
“This is interesting because morality means right and wrong,” Barna pointed out, “and the research says one out of four adults in America believe that there is no right or wrong component to the act of getting an abortion.”
“That to me is one of the most startling revelations about what we’re trying to do with this movement,” said Barna, “is that people have so lost touch with right and wrong that they’re not even willing to describe this issue, this behavior, this choice, in those terms.”
Further, there are 16% of Americans who won’t take a stand on this.
“This tells me we’ve got a lot more to do than show videos of a fetus in the womb,” Barna told the pro-life gathering. “Those are very important those are impactful but there are some underlying issues we’re going to have to address.”
He said a myth that troubles him tremendously is that Millennials are the most pro-life generation the U.S. has had in years.
“I’ll show some of the data which would suggest otherwise,” he said. “I think maybe we’ve come to assume that because there are a lot of great young people – young adults who are very energetically involved in the life movement, and that’s a great thing.
“Maybe we’ve come to believe that Millennials are so deeply pro-life because they talk so much and think so much about social justice,” said Barna. “Maybe we’ve come to believe this because we know that Millennials want a kinder and gentler world. But the reality is when we look at this particular issue, we see other facets of the Millennials that come to the forefront, such as the sense of entitlement or selfishness that characterizes the generation.”
Barna clarified he was not trying to be judgmental, rather just looking at the data.
“I can tell you also that it’s a generation that believes in what some of us would call hyper-tolerant – that there ought to be no judgment of anybody else’s choices,” he said. “Which makes sense when you have a community or a country that doesn’t believe that something like abortion is a moral issue – so why not do whatever feels good – because that’s the appropriate thing to do in that mindset.”
Looking at the attitude and opinions of Millennials as compared to those of other adults, there are some pretty significant differences, he said.
Millennials are the generation in America today that is least likely to consistently side with biblical morality on a wide range of issues, according to Barna’s findings.
They’re the least likely generation in at least the last five generations to want children, they’re the least likely generation to say that the U.S. should cut or eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood. And they’re the most likely generation to reject marriage, while being most likely to approve of same-sex marriage as a reasonable life choice. They’re also most likely to approve of sex between teenagers.
“You put all this into context and it’s kind of alarming what we’re working with,” Barna stated, “because we have to understand that this is the next generation of leaders in America today. And that’s the mindset that they’re bringing to their positions of leadership.”
Reason in forming values and opinions
Continuing with a deeper look, Barna said something that has to be understood is that “reason isn’t something that equates to people’s points of view related to abortion policy.”
Americans hold inconsistent positions 78% of the time when looking at the legality of abortion, the morality of abortion, and at what age if any they believe a fetus becomes human.
Regarding what people believe about what gives life value, Barna said, “one of the most shocking things is that less than four out of 10 Americans believe that life has innate value because it’s a gift from God.”
“Remember this is a nation where seven out of 10 people calls themselves Christian,” he said, “and yet when we look at what does that mean in practice, this is where that begins to break down.”
When’s it okay to abort?
Only four out of 10 Americans say that the fetus becomes a human being upon conception.
Three out of four Americans believe abortion should be legal if the pregnancy was caused by rape, and that same number believes this for pregnancies where the mother’s life is in danger by giving birth.
A plurality believes in legal abortion if testing shows the child is likely to be mentally ill, and around half say abortion should be legal if the mother is under age 18 but the parents of the birth mother have given permission for the abortion.
Almost half say if the mother is under 18, with no other condition, abortion should be legal. And close to half say that if tests show the child would be physically disabled that’s grounds for having an abortion as well.
The stats showed that just under half of Americans opposed legalizing abortion in circumstances involving financial or emotional hardship or when the father opposes the abortion.
How did we get here?
The situation of America’s attitudes on abortion was not arrived at because there were not enough pro-life rallies and such, Barna said.
The issue is one of what influences you to think what you think, and do what you do.
Three tiers of entities affect this. Barna told the pro-life crowd that to have a long-term influence on what people think and do, the pro-life movement has to have influence on these different entities.
Movies, TV, music, books, Internet and social media, public policy and laws, and family and parents made up the top tier. Taken together they have about 60-70% of the influence over what a typical person thinks and does.
“The game of life is determined by those seven entities,” said Barna.
“If we want to begin to think strategically about how is the life movement going to be able to move forward and get people on board with the whole idea that life matters, that you’re not just killing cells, you’re killing a human being by having an abortion,” he said further, “we’ve got to deal with this whole issue of worldview.”
It starts young
Everyone has a worldview, and it begins to develop on average in a child’s life between 15 and 18 months of age and 13 years old, as confirmed by brain imaging and other technology, he said. And the worldview does not change much, if at all, once established in that preteen time.
What you get from the world between 15 months and 13 years of age is going to determine your moral foundations for the rest of your life, Barna said.
Barna said the pro-life movement must be thinking about what is being done with children, because until now the tendency has been to devote almost all resources to changing the minds of adults, and the result is frustration when it doesn’t happen.
“It’s important to understand that people don’t get born with a biblical worldview,” Barna said. “If you want them to have that, we have to be very intentional about educating them about that, about shaping, about accountability, about exhortation and encouragement.”
“All of those are part of that developmental process,” he said, “unless we simply leave it up to the default mechanism, saying, “We’ll let society take care of that, because it’s not my job. Every one of us has to take that job on.”
Biblical worldviews are disappearing
“What we know is that in America today, only 10% of all adults actually have a biblical worldview,” said Barna.
This is also on the decline when viewed from one generation to the next, arriving at just four-percent when it comes to Millennials.
“One out of every 25 Millennials we estimate to have a biblical worldview,” Barna said. “You do what you believe. This is frightening.”
Raising the future
“One of the reasons why it’s frightening is we’re talking about the importance of raising up children that will have a biblical worldview so that they understand what life is all about and how important it is to support life in all its various forms,” he said. “And yet what we know about Millennials is only four percent of them have a biblical worldview, and they are America’s primary parenting generation today. The reality is you can’t give what you don’t have, and most of them don’t have that kind of worldview to give.”
Different worldviews mean huge differences in stances on social and theological issues, he said.
On the question of whether abortion is morally acceptable, where almost 9 out of 10 people with a biblical worldview said it was not, just one out of three people with other worldviews held this stance.
Seventy-percent of people who do not have a biblical worldview say there’s no such thing as absolute moral truth.
“Truth is what I determine it to be, based on my emotions and my circumstances,” Barna said. “That’s the point of view of the vast majority of Americans. Two of three Americans overall believe that. Only three percent of people with a worldview buy into that. There’s your battle right there.”
“Keep in mind this is a nation with seven out of ten Americans calling themselves Christian,” he added, yet, “only one out of 10 Americans with a worldview.”
Where are the Christians?
“We want to think about how we would move the pro-life movement forward,” Barna told the conference. “If we got Christians onboard with the way that God thinks, simply understanding core biblical principles, there would be no war, no culture war. The war would be over, there’d be nobody to fight.”
“But we have churches that have chosen to remain silent,” he continued, “and not really intentionally and strategically helping people to develop a biblical worldview. We need to change that”.
What Barna discovered in his research is what Americans value today are comfort, experiences, personal expression, happiness, independence, entitlement, control, acceptance, and freedom.
“Those aren’t necessarily bad things,” he said, “but when it becomes what defines your life and the kind of nation that you demand – that changes everything.”
The moral landscape in America today would be virtually unrecognizable to anyone who lived there in the 1600-1700’s, 1800’s and even later, he said.
The three things that most impact how things got to this point are media, government and family, he said.
Who’s teaching and reaching the kids?
The media have an agenda, he pointed out, children are most susceptible to what they are projecting, and parents are abdicating their parenting to social institutions.
“The reality here is that the issue that you and I are fighting in the life movement isn’t abortion,” Barna said. “It’s our rejection of God’s truth and principles.”
“If we don’t first and foremost address the issue of America’s worldview and how it affects every single choice you and I and everybody else makes every day of our lives, Barna warned, “we’re just fooling ourselves into thinking that we’re good enough campaigners, we’re strong enough communicators, we’re smart enough intellectually and we’re energetic enough and passionate enough to change people’s minds and hearts through what we tell them.”
That’s not how it works, he said, because these efforts go through that worldview mental filter that people have already begun to develop at 15 months of age, and the decision they come to is based on that worldview.
Barna’s entire presentation was to be made available on the Bringing America Back to Life website the week following the convention.