Prof. Robert Cargill to Appear on Iowa Public Radio’s “News Buzz” Today at 12:45c to Discuss List of Most and Least Bible-minded Cities

I’m scheduled to appear on Iowa Public Radio’s “News Buzz” segment today (Friday, January 24, 2014) at 12:45 (central) with Ben Kieffer.

I’ll be discussing a new report completed by the American Bible Society and the Barna Group, which ranked the most and least Bible-minded cities in the US. Specifically, I’ll be addressing the Cedar Rapids/Waterloo/Iowa City area, which ranked the 5th least Bible-minded city, up (or down, depending on your perspective) from #9 on last year’s inaugural list.

America's Most (and Least) Bible-minded Cities for 2014. (Image source: American Bible Society/Barna Group)

America’s Most (and Least) Bible-minded Cities for 2014. (Image source: American Bible Society/Barna Group)

The results were based upon responses to over 46,000 surveys of adults nationwide over a seven-year period asking whether respondents had “read the Bible withing the past seven days” and whether they “agreed strongly in the accuracy of the Bible”. According to Barna, “respondents who report reading the bible within the past seven days and who agree strongly in the accuracy of the Bible” are identified as “Bible-minded” individuals.

The Top 10 Bible-minded cities are:

1. Chattanooga, TN
2. Birmingham, AL
3. Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA
4. Springfield, MO
5. Shreveport, LA
6. Charlotte, NC
7. Greenville/Spartanburg, SC/Asheville, NC
8. Little Rock, AR
9. Jackson, MS
10. Knoxville, TN

By contrast, the least Bible-minded cities:

1. Providence, RI/ New Bedford, MA.
2. Albany, NY
3. Boston, MA
4. San Francisco, CA
5. Cedar Rapids/Waterloo, IA
6. Buffalo, NY
7. Hartford/New Haven, CN
8. Phoenix, AZ
9. Burlington, VT
10. Portland, ME

Time’s Denver Nicks points out that “many cities in the East Coast continued to rank as the least Bible-minded in 2013,” and suggested that New York City’s “large Jewish population may have rescued it from the bottom ten.” (The survey allowed respondents to determine for themselves whether or not reading the Torah counted as reading the Bible for the purposes of the survey.)

The Blaze’s Billy Hallowell has a nice analysis of the data.

The American Bible Society notes that of the top 25 most Bible-minded cities, only three of them have populations over one million people, suggesting an inverse relationship between urban population and Bible-mindedness. Smaller towns tend to be more Bible-minded.

Christianity Today notes that small towns that are home to Bible colleges tended to rank as much more Bible-minded. They note that “19 of the top 20 most ‘Bible-minded’ cities host sizable Christian colleges.”

I’ll contribute the following:

1) The highest ranked Bible-minded city in the upper-Midwest is #28 Indianapolis, IN, which coincidentally was the only Great Lakes state that voted from Romney in the 2012 Presidential election.

2) Iowa City lawyer and friend, Steve Klesner, points out that this may be due to the fact that the immigrants that settled the upper-Midwest are from places that traditionally value and abide by the rule of law and the authority of secular governments more so than, for instance, those immigrants that settled the South, who traditionally might be more likely to settle disputes personally (with fists or guns). This may be due to the historical South’s tendency to distrust the federal government and its legal system (dating all the way back to pre-Civil War days), or may be a result of a reliance on what Southerners believe to be a “higher authority” made knowable only through the Bible. In such a case, we might expect those who read the Bible both more frequently and literally to be less supportive of the federal government, while those who do not read the Bible as frequently or as literally might place more trust in the fairness of the government.

3) The above supports what appears to be an obvious correlation between traditional “red states” and “blue states” and this survey of Bible-mindedness. Note that the Bible Belt is home to most of the top Bible-minded cities, whereas the northeast and west coast are home to many of the least Bible-minded cities.

Note that the Top 20 Bible-minded cities are all in states that voted for the Republican candidate Mitt Romney in the 2012 Presidential election with the exception of the swing states of Virginia and Florida. The exceptions can be explained by noting that both exceptions listed in the Top 20 (#3 Roanoke/Lynchburg, VA in western Virginia, and #18 Jacksonville, FL in northeastern Florida near Georgia) are considered conservative strongholds within these swing states.

2012 US Presidential Election Electoral Results

2012 US Presidential Election Electoral Results

4) This correlation is also consistent with surveys that have ranked the smartest cities and/or states in America. According to multiple surveys, there is an inverse correlation to overall education level of a state’s residents (based upon high school graduation rate, percentage of residents with college and graduate degrees, etc.) and what this survey would characterize as Bible-mindedness. That is, with few exceptions, the cities that rank as the smartest cities in the nation generally correlate with cities listed as the least Bible-minded in the survey. So for cities in Iowa to be listed along side well known intellectual centers like Boston and the San Francisco Bay Area is a well-deserved achievement, and accurately reflects the priority Iowans place on education as well as the payoff we are beginning to realize on the investment Iowans are making in public education.

5) Specifically addressing the Waterloo/Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area as the 5th least Bible-minded city, this may be explained by the fact that Iowans, and in this case, eastern Iowans are relatively highly educated, fiercely independent, and do not take well to being told how to think by any organized group, whether it be a religious group, a political group, or any other kind of organization. Kevin Hall of the Iowa Republican writes that:

“Democrats in Iowa outnumbered Republicans 640,776-636,315, a difference of 4,461…Both parties are dwarfed by the number of registered independents, which surged to 722,348.”

That is, there are more registered Independents in Iowa than either registered Republicans or Democrats, again supporting the independent-mindedness of Iowans.

6) Without a doubt respondents who answered that they neither read the Bible nor believe the Bible to be accurate must contribute to some of these Cedar Rapids/Waterloo/Iowa City numbers. Thus, we cannot overlook the fact that a large concentration of Iowa independents and free thinkers necessarily suggests a growing number of increasingly proud and vocal atheist, secularist, and humanist groups in Iowa.

7) However, I believe it is also important to differentiate between the two criteria used by the survey to describe “Bible-mindedness”, as the survey’s questionable methodology may undervalue the presence and significance of a large number of progressively-minded Christians. While many respondents in the Cedar Rapids/Iowa City area may have reported reading the Bible within the past seven days, the frequency of one’s reading of the Bible is quite different from how one might judge the “accuracy” of the Bible, which may or may not be understood as “inerrancy” or “infallibility” of the biblical text by those taking the survey. That is to say, there may be many quite faithful Christians in this area who may have been educated in a non-confessional religious studies department like the University of Iowa’s Department of Religious Studies in which I teach, where the approach to the biblical text is one based upon literary critical, archaeological, and generally more academically analytical approaches, as opposed to the more apologetic, theological, and/or confessional approaches employed by the faculties of many of the small Bible colleges present in 19 of the Top 20 Bible-minded towns.

Thus, a respondent who felt the Bible is not factually “accurate” with respect to stories such as a six-day creation, the biblical flood, etc., may be identified as not Bible-minded by the survey, despite the fact that they read the Bible daily and may be an active, confessing Christian. That is, the survey may be better described as a survey of “fundamentalist Bible-mindedness” or “Biblical-literalist cities,” as the survey tends to equate Bible-mindedness with a belief in the “accuracy” of the biblical text – something that progressive-minded Christians are more inclined to reject as evidenced by other recent surveys that show that nearly two-thirds of Christians now accept human evolution.

[Again, note that in this Pew research poll, a disproportionate number of white, evangelical Protestants (who would make up a large percentage of those believing in the inerrancy and infallibility, and therefore the “accuracy” of the Bible), still reject evolution and cling to the biblical account of Creation.]

For more, be sure to tune in at 12:45 today to listen.

god’s power over time

This cracked me up. So, based upon a tip from James McGrath, here it is:

Power of God over Time

the problem with “fun” youth groups

Almost ChristianMy wife (a former youth minister) has said this repeatedly (screamed it in fact), but now national studies are supporting her experiences with evidence.

Too many church youth groups are making three fundamental mistakes:

  1. The youth group is about having fun and entertaining teens, rather than educating them about the biblical text, its possible interpretations, and modeling proper Christian behaviors of service and compassion. Ski trips and pizza parties, while useful for occasional team building, should not be the core of a youth group’s activities. (Nor should “really relevant worship” for that matter, but that’s another story. I’ve come to believe that “worship” has become the new “doctrine,” which is emphasized by churches to impart a sense of self-assuredness or personal benefit, and distracts Christians from focusing upon the more important, yet difficult central aspects of Christianity like service to others and nonviolent dispute resolution. But I digress…)
  2. Parents rely on the youth minister as a babysitter and scapegoat, and often blame the minister for their child’s spiritual (and academic, and social…) shortfalls, when evidence shows that it is the parent (go figure!) who is actually the most influential person in a child’s spiritual development. The youth minister is not the reason your child is failing math, not the reason he’s a punk, and not the reason you can’t get him to clean his room or call home when he’s out late. If your child is misbehaving and causing problems in youth classes, it’s most likely because he feels it’s the one place he can get away with it. Sending your wreck of a child off on a ski trip when he needs to learn how to sit still, keep his mouth shut, respect others, and not act like a reprobate does not help his cause.
  3. Free expression and the permission of teenage angst are favored by many parents (when they don’t have to deal with it!) above modeling and insisting upon proper behavior in youth classes. All too often parents send their problem children to youth group with the hope that the youth minister can cure in one hour a week what the parent has been unable to prevent throughout the child’s entire lifetime. Worse yet, kids who act up and disrupt youth classes are often backed by their parents, who refuse to believe that their perfect child could possibly be at fault for disturbances in youth group classes.

According to new studies by Kenda Creasy Dean highlighted at CNN.com:

Your child is following a “mutant” form of Christianity, and you may be responsible.

Dean says more American teenagers are embracing what she calls “moralistic therapeutic deism.” Translation: It’s a watered-down faith that portrays God as a “divine therapist” whose chief goal is to boost people’s self-esteem.

Allow me to translate:

YOUTH GROUPS ARE NOT THERAPY SESSIONS FOR YOUR KIDS! While they may be places of refuge where kids who may not have safe places at school to develop socially can thrive, this is not the primary purpose of church youth groups. They are not social clubs. Church youth groups should exist to instruct teens about the Bible, and to teach kids how to work together collaboratively to serve others and resolve differences peacefully – that is, to act like Christians! YOUTH GROUPS SHOULD NOT BE VENUES FOR MISCREANTS TO FIND RELIEF FROM THE PROPER DISCIPLINE THEY SHOULD BE FINDING AT HOME AND AT SCHOOL!

Youth groups that exist purely for the social benefit of teens may be beneficial to some teens’ self esteem, but lacking any deeper foundational instruction that helps shape their behavior and teaches kindness toward others, youth groups become worthless. They simply perpetuate the same social cliques present on any school campus.

The study, which included in-depth interviews with at least 3,300 American teenagers between 13 and 17, found that most American teens who called themselves Christian were indifferent and inarticulate about their faith.

So, they learned how to ski, and how to make jokes in class, but they never got around to learning about what the Bible teaches, because that wasn’t “cool.”  And now they are giving you problems at home, and don’t care much about faith, and you’re upset that the youth minister didn’t “fix” this, when it was the parents who insisted upon the ski trips over the textual studies and discipline to begin with. Again, go figure.

Many teenagers thought that God simply wanted them to feel good and do good — what the study’s researchers called “moralistic therapeutic deism.”

And this is the problem with “fun” (only) youth groups: when they don’t have fun, or actually have to do something “hard” like learn, or serve, they see this as a failing of Christianity and leave. And the sad part is, it is often because the parent insisted that the youth minister provide more fun activities and spend more time trying to appease the child’s wild behavior rather than insist upon a solid biblical curriculum, and authorizing the youth minister to discipline the child when necessary.

Dean, a United Methodist Church minister who says parents are the most important influence on their children’s faith, places the ultimate blame for teens’ religious apathy on adults.

Some adults don’t expect much from youth pastors. They simply want them to keep their children off drugs and away from premarital sex.

Others practice a “gospel of niceness,” where faith is simply doing good and not ruffling feathers. The Christian call to take risks, witness and sacrifice for others is muted, she says.

Simply put, you cannot blame a youth group or a youth minister for failing your kids, especially if some youth advisory committee is tying the hands of the youth minister and dictating what he/she should be doing. As Dean’s book, Almost Christian, concludes, a child’s behavior is the result of a parent’s parenting, and not a youth group. Of course, most would say, “Duh. That’s obvious anywhere, not just church,” and they’d be right, except, of course, in the mind of a distressed parent looking to a youth group to fix a poorly parented child, and to deflect responsibility and blame the youth group for the child’s problems if it fails to do so.

Youth groups should be fun, but that is not their primary mission. If a youth group is nothing more than a social activity club for teens, it is lost. And don’t be surprised if the students are lost soon thereafter, especially once they learn that a rational knowledge of what one actually believes, a life of service, and proper behavior are non-negotiables in an adult life of faith.

(HT: Jim West)

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