Christianity is fine,
but please don't mention the church

By Sarah Price
September 12, 2004
The Sun-Herald

The church is virtually the last image that should be used by Christian organisations to attract followers to God, research has found.

The study, carried out by Market Access Consulting and Research for the Bible Society NSW, has found that the most apparent barriers to Christian beliefs and practices were related to perceptions of the church.

Those included pedophilia in the church, perceived intolerance towards gay and lesbian lifestyles, perceived lack of equality regarding the role of women, hypocritical behaviour on behalf of church leaders and people who stand for Christian beliefs, and Christian leaders being seen as intolerant, hypocritical and judgmental, the opposite of Christian values.

Bible Society NSW communications manager Martin Johnson said that, while the research findings were not overtly surprising, the depth of feeling against the church was.

The society commissioned the research to help with its new advertising and marketing campaign, to be released next year.

"The positive attributes associated with the essence of Christianity have been badly tainted by perceptions and experiences of the formalised practices of Christianity," the report reads.

"Christian churches were strongly associated with intolerance and lack of acceptance, things seen to be directly contradicting some of Christ's most basic messages."

Some respondents said that living a Christian life outside the structures of organised religion was "more Christian" than participating in the more formal structures.

Mr Johnson said a positive of the research was that, while the respondents were critical of the church, they were not of its founder, Jesus Christ.

There was a positive response to the core values espoused in Christianity and displayed by Jesus, the report said. "Jesus himself, particularly his life and core teachings, was generally somewhat distanced from the negative elements associated with the practice of organised religion," it read.

The Bible Society's new campaign, "Jesus. All About Life", while still being formulated, was expected to acknowledge that there were difficulties with the church's image while embracing the positive side of Christian life and belief, Mr Johnson said.

He expected the research to surprise some church leaders, but not the majority.

"Most church leaders will say that's probably right," he said.

Angus Kinnaird, the strategy director of FutureBrands, which commissioned the study on behalf of the society, said about 50 people took part in the research, which was held through focus groups.

He said that, to address the concerns, the Christian community needed to tackle the issue head-on.

"The church does not have the right to be respected, it's got to behave in ways to earn respect," he said. "It has to go back to the fundamental concept of what has always attracted people to Christianity."

Sydney Anglican Archbishop Dr Peter Jensen said if people read the Bible, they would find Jesus was closer to the church than they believed and, if people went to church, they would find it was different to how they perceived it to be.

Cardinal George Pell, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, said he did not meet too many people who regarded the church as an insurmountable problem.


This article has been reprinted with permission from The Sun-Herald /Sydney NSW,  Australia.

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