WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Pollster George Barna warns that today’s Christian parents have been hoodwinked by political correctness into adopting an attitude so destructive to their children’s faith and future that he calls it “laissez-faire lunacy.”
But at the same time, he says, many of today’s grandparents are positioned better than ever to make an impact on their grandchildren’s lives.
Barna met with WND during the Iowa Renewal Project’s Pastor’s Policy Briefing to discuss the role of faith in America, when the conversation turned toward future generations:
“Our surveys show people’s faith is being decided upon at later and later ages in life, rather than embracing Christianity as a young person,” Barna said, then followed by explaining how that reality has permeated America’s younger parents.
“An activity that has traditionally been influenced by parents, attempting to get their children to embrace the parents’ Christian faith – we find more and more parents are saying, ‘Culturally now that’s unacceptable, that’s deemed inappropriate,’” Barna said, “so they’re not as aggressive in bringing their children along in the Christian faith.”
The net effect, Barna said, is that children today are increasingly left exposed to the appeals of many other religions, delaying their decision to follow a particular faith until later ages and turning more and more to atheism and agnosticism.
“I’m not saying that parents should protect their children from knowing about the hundred other faith groups from which they could choose, not to let them know that and then let them know why Christianity is our faith of choice,” he continued. “But to leave it completely in the hands of our children and say, ‘It’s their choice, their journey, I’m not involved,’ I think that’s lunacy.”
Barna is the author of more than 40 books and founder of Barna Group, a leading marketing, research and polling firm that focuses on the intersection of faith and culture and that compiles statistics and trends widely quoted in both Christian and secular media.
Barna told WND the politically correct idea that “parents should let children choose their own faith” might sound good to a postmodern mindset, but it fails both parents and their children.
“Parenting isn’t a democracy,” Barna said. “One of your jobs as a parent is to prepare your child for life. There’s probably no area of life that’s more significant than what you believe about God. Everything that you do in life, every decision you make, every relationship you build is going to flow forth from your perspective on key questions: Does God exist? Which god exists? What’s the nature of that god? Am I supposed to be like that god? What’s expected of me by that god? Those critical decisions form the foundation on which to base all your other decisions in life.
“As a parent, if I look at my children and say, ‘The only fair and proper thing is for me to allow the child to make up his or her own mind based on what they feel or believe, based on what they experience,’ that’s an appropriate postmodern point of view,” he continued. “I’m not sure, though, how well that prepares a child for life.
“If you as a parent believe it’s critically important that you understand there is a God and who that God is and what His role is in your life, if that’s important enough for you to buy into, then why wouldn’t you say that’s important enough for your children?” he asked. “If you believe that’s what’s going to prepare you for life successfully, then why wouldn’t you want to instill those same values and perspectives in your child’s life?”
“I don’t see that postmodern, laissez-faire approach to children as a virtue,” he concluded, “I see it as crippling a child.”
What about grandparents?
Barna told WND that culture-wide, grandparents often don’t have as much influence on future generations as they once had, simply because high divorce rates push Grandma and Grandpa out of the family relationship.
He also said, however, “We do find in those families where birth parents remain married and the grandparents are still alive, grandparents sometimes have as much or more influence than parents do.
“[Grandparents] don’t live with the children usually, so children are sometimes more willing to listen to them than their own parents,” Barna laughed. “But it’s also a treat to be with grandparents, often because of how grandparents treat their grandshildren, so when grandparents talk about how to live life, the children are often more open to hearing that.”
Barna warned, however, that there’s a right and a wrong way to influence today’s younger generations for Christ.
“The most critical part of how Christian faith gets passed on now is by Christians modeling what they say they believe,” Barna said. “But the big disconnect we see in the research is that tens of millions of the three older generations in America claim a set of beliefs that are not evident in the lifestyles that they lead or the kinds of relationship they develop.
“There’s a built-in radar in the younger three generations, where they’re looking for those inconsistencies,” he explained. “If I were to say to you I believe abc while I do xyz, which were antithetical to abc, it negates everything that I stand for, everything I’ve told you is important and everything that I’ve proposed to you to accept.
“If we’re trying to figure out how to influence younger generations,” Barna concluded, “number one, we have to build dynamic relationships with them. In the course of those relationships we then have to share experiences where I show you what I believe; I don’t [merely] tell you what I believe, but I demonstrate what it means to be a person that holds that belief so dearly that it comes out in my actions.”