Apr 27, 2009

From the Archives

America’s Seven Faith Tribes Hold the Key to National Restoration

Apart from the current economic woes of the nation, bestselling author and researcher George Barna warns that the United States is immersed in a serious decline that shows no signs of reversal –and that it is not politicians but the country’s dominant faith communities that hold the key to restoring the nation to strength and stability.

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Citing statistics that underscore the demise of the U.S. in its fundamental institutions – such as families, schools, media, churches, and government – Barna shared research results from his analysis of more than 30,000 personal interviews with Americans that outlined the identity, nature and restoration potential of the seven dominant religious groups – which he entitled “faith tribes” – in America.

The Impetus for Demise

Asked why the nation is in a downward spiral, the author of more than 40 books about American culture, faith and leadership noted the dramatic shift in goals and values that has redefined the United States in the past three decades.

“We have shifted our energy from a willingness to work hard toward achieving significant outcomes to an attitude of entitlement,” Barna noted. “Instead of merely accumulating and enjoying leisure time to get refreshed, we now use it to express ill-formed, narrow-minded opinions that preclude dialogue and personal learning. We expect the market to pander to our needs in customized and personalized ways, producing a fragmented marketplace. We have transitioned from having a commitment to the common good based on shared values to an emphasis on personal good and individual values.

“In the midst of all these – and other – transitions,” Barna continued, “our religious communities have not adapted well to the challenges of the day. Rather than facilitate people’s commitment to positive, life-affirming values and dedication to serving others, and living a balanced and moral life, churches and other ministries have fallen prey to the competitive spirit of the American system. Many of our religious organizations have focused on competing for bodies, dollars and talent rather than upholding core values such as service, obedience, simplicity, purpose, responsibility, accountability, humility, compassion and community. Without our faith tribes playing their historic role as the moral and spiritual leaders of the nation, we have taken our values cues from the political and business sectors. That has lowered the bar on character and vision. That, in turn, has led the nation to deteriorate from a place on unity amidst diversity to a place of individualism amidst competition for personal comfort and supremacy.”

Barna indicated that by ignoring the foundational values that built America has produced five dangerous outcomes:

  • the absence of a shared vision of the future
  • confusion regarding appropriate values for decision-making
  • the elimination of a sense of the common good
  • the deterioration of respectful dialogue and the fruitful exchange of competing ideas
  • and the abandonment of moral character and personal decency

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The Seven Tribes

Citing his research, Barna indicated that the United States has seven dominant faith tribes that hold the key to the restoration of the nation. “We must recover the values that made this nation great and that must be firmly in place for order, reason, freedom and unity to prevail,” the researcher explained. “Our faith tribes are central to the development and application of people’s worldviews, which in turn produce the values on which we base our daily decisions. It is on the basis of such values that a nation rises to greatness or plummets to oblivion. The choice is ours. And it is up to our faith tribes to demonstrate the courageous leadership necessary to facilitate a national restoration of the mind, heart and soul. Without a nationwide commitment to this process, we are destined to become a country of historical significance and present-day insignificance.”

Drawing from the research, Barna identified the seven faith tribes as:

  • Casual Christians – 66% of the adult population
  • Captive Christians – 16% of the adult population
  • Jews – 2% of the adult population
  • Mormons – 2% of the adult population
  • Pantheists – 2% of the adult population
  • Muslims – one-half of 1% of the adult population
  • Skeptics – 11% of the adult population

In his new book, The Seven Faith Tribes, Barna goes into considerable detail describing each of those seven tribes – their religious beliefs and practices, their primary lifestyles and attitudes, their political inclinations and recent voting history, and the values that characterize them.

Returning to Our Shared Values

In the course of Barna’s research, he discovered that while the seven faith tribes have vastly divergent theological and doctrinal positions, they share 20 common values. Those values, he contends, have historically served as the basis of the nation’s consensus about how to be a great nation and achieve the common good.

Those twenty values are expressed differently in the various tribes, Barna discovered, but essentially provide common ground across all of the faith groups in the nation. This is not a call for some kind of watered-down ecumenism, though; Barna stated that each faith has important spiritual distinctives that cannot be compromised, but sufficient overlap in ideology and life principles that a clear and meaningful sense of shared purposes can be jointly embraced and pursued.

In addition to describing the 20 shared values in his book, Barna provides a strategy for converting the latent energy of each faith tribe into a means of mobilizing Americans to action that will get the United States back on track. That restoration strategy involves specific and significant action by families, leaders, those who empower leaders, and the media, as well as the faith tribes. “The symptom of the ills plaguing the United States are most clearly seen in our political process. The fundamental disease, however, is a loss of moral and spiritual equilibrium – a decay of our character,” Barna commented. “If those who are mostly responsible for developing and reinforcing our values can focus on the elements most integral to the restoration process, we can return to national health and growth, as well as positive global influence.”

The Seven Faith Tribes, published by Tyndale, is scheduled to release on May 1, 2009.

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About Barna

Since 1984, Barna Group has conducted more than two million interviews over the course of thousands of studies and has become a go-to source for insights about faith, culture, leadership, vocation and generations. Barna is a private, non-partisan, for-profit organization.

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