New research from LifeWay about what Americans value reveals they prize "personal freedom" most, a finding one leading pastor and radio host believes reflects a "me-centered" culture.
The survey, which was published in May, measured the responses of 1,000 adults polled last fall, asking them several questions about which emotions they most want to avoid and which desires are the strongest in their lives.
Forty percent of respondents said that "personal freedom" was what they most desired, 31 percent desired "respect," and 28 percent expressed the desire "to overcome." Shame constituted the emotion that 38 percent wanted to avoid most, while "guilt" and "fear" received 31 and 30 percent, respectively.
Interestingly, respondents who attended church more often valued personal freedom less than others. Of those who identified as having evangelical beliefs, 32 percent valued personal freedom most compared to 42 percent of those without evangelical beliefs who said the same.
Among respondents who attend services less than once each month, 44 percent value personal freedom most. That number falls to 36 percent for those who attend more than once a month. Among the "nones," those who identify as religiously unaffiliated, more of them said they want to avoid guilt (35 percent) than those who are religious (30 percent). By contrast, 39 percent of religious respondents say they want to avoid shame compared to 33 percent of "nones."
Sam Rohrer, president of the American Pastors network, said in a statement Monday in response to the survey that the findings highlight the "me-centered culture" of the United States and shows how Americans confuse personal and constitutional freedoms with freedom in Christ.
"As terrorism permeates society, freedom is under attack, especially from those who wish to eradicate anything to do with Christianity. Likewise, laws in our own country compromise religious freedom, and Americans are becoming more focused on their wants, needs, entitlements and how they think they deserve to live their own life, sometimes with no regard for others around them," Rohrer said.
Freedom is a concept the Pastors Network frequently explores with churches. Rohrer, who is also the host of the daily Stand in the Gap radio program heard on 425 stations across the U.S., maintains that a right understanding of freedom, that it is God-given and not humanistic, is essential for personal and civic liberties to endure.
"Personal freedom and civic freedom can only exist in a culture where sufficient people have experienced freedom from sin through Jesus Christ and, as our founders did, established a basis in law that reflected that spiritual freedom in civil freedom," he said.
"Where there is a rejection of the concept of freedom in Jesus Christ there will only be totalitarian government."
LifeWay's findings also indicate that people's perceptions about these negative emotions have influenced how churches present the Christian faith to the public. The research was born out of questions LifeWay researchers had about whether guilt remains a significant issue for Americans and if guilt, fear and shame affects how Christians speak about what they believe.
Another question the survey asked was: Which of these directions do you value the most? The three possible choices were "Reaching my potential," "Bringing honor to my friends and family" and "Having friends in high places." Only 3 percent chose "having friends in high places."