When it comes to what changes are "absolutely necessary" for the United States to address in the next 10 years, the most likely answer among Americans pertains to children's future. Among evangelicals, however, the priority was much different, a new survey found.
Among various groups – including conservatives and liberals and blacks and whites – the latest Barna survey found that the most radical differences of opinion on what needs to change in America were between evangelicals and those who are not born-again Christians.
Overall, 82 percent of American adults said a change in the overall care and resources devoted to children is absolutely necessary in the immediate future. Evangelicals were 20 percentage points below in ranking that issue a top priority.
While enhancing the health of Christian churches was listed as the lowest priority among Americans (44 percent), evangelicals listed it among their highest priorities in changes that need to be addressed.
Also among top evangelical priorities was upgrading the state of marriage and families and improving the spiritual condition of the nation. In each of those cases, evangelicals were more than 30 percentage points more likely than other adults to identify those issues as an absolutely necessary focus for the immediate future. Improving the moral content of mass entertainment was also a top priority for evangelicals.
Some of the issues evangelicals placed at the lower end of priorities for change included protecting the environment (35 percent), improving the quality of public school education, and enhancing the lives of the poor and disadvantaged.
Meanwhile, 60 percent of other American adults said a change is absolutely necessary in the investment in environmental protection; 82 percent said the same on the issue of improving the quality of a public school education; and 69 percent said improving the lives of poor and disadvantaged people is needed.
"Overall, evangelical Christians stood out as the segment that holds views that are most dissimilar from the typical perspectives of Americans," the Barna report stated. Evangelicals were at least 10 percentage points different from the national average in eight of the 11 issues tested. Atheists and agnostics held the same difference from the national average in seven of the issues.
The majority of Americans overall said it's absolutely necessary to change national security in the U.S. (72 percent); the reliability and honesty in news reporting (63 percent); the state of marriage and families (60 percent); and the spiritual state of the country (53 percent).
"A majority of Americans said we need significant change in relation to eight of the 11 issues we posed to them," said George Barna, who directed the study. "The desire for a new direction is harbored not simply by those on the ideological extremes, but by a majority of those who hold the ideological middle ground, as well. Americans contend that they lead a good life, but the survey points out that it is not necessarily their desired life, nor are they comfortable with the society they are leaving to their children.
Leading up to the 2008 presidential election, the study noted that the biggest issue Americans are concerned about (children's future) doesn't seem to be an issue presidential hopefuls are focused on.
“The challenge for today's leaders is to find the intersection of doing what is right and best with doing that which is popular and achievable," Barna continued. "The lack of a common vision for the future is making the identification of such common ground increasingly difficult, if not impossible.
“The presidential candidates seem to delve rather quickly into promoting programs rather than establishing a consensus around the ideal of what America represents and where it needs to go in the years to come,” the researcher continued. “Gaining widespread ownership of such a broad-based vision of the character and goals of the United States must be the starting point for rebuilding unity and strength within the nation.
“Providing a compelling and comprehensive notion of who we are as a people and what we stand for as a nation would be the most valuable contribution our leaders could offer," Barna concluded.
The latest figures, which were released Monday, were based on a survey conducted in August 2007 among 1,000 adults age 18 or older.