doctrine

Life after Sexual Revolution: United Methodists still waiting for final shoe to drop

Life after Sexual Revolution: United Methodists still waiting for final shoe to drop

After decades of fighting about sex and marriage, the world's 12.5 million United Methodists are still waiting for a final shoe to drop.

Now, it's less than a year until a special General Conference that has been empowered to choose a model for United Methodist life after the Sexual Revolution -- some path to unity, rather than schism.

As the faithful watch and wait, Boston-area Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar composed a prayer for use among United Methodists in New England, on of the church's most liberal regions.

"God help us! Help us … to take the next faithful step forward not based on doctrine, tradition or theology; judgments, fears or convictions; notions of who are the righteous and unrighteous," wrote Devadhar. "God help us! Help us … to take the next small faithful step forward that is neither … right or wrong; good or bad; for or against; left or right; pro or con."

The problem is that ongoing battles among United Methodists have demonstrated that any realistic unity plan has to address this global church's doctrinal fractures, said the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, vice president of the conservative Good News organization. He is a member of the Commission on a Way Forward that will make recommendations to the historic Feb. 23-26, 2019, General Conference in St. Louis.

If United Methodists had a "quick and easy way" forward that managed to ignore "doctrine, tradition and theology" they would have tried it already, he added. Meanwhile, many of the church's leaders still have "a dream that there are millions of evangelicals who are willing to live in a United Methodist Church that doesn't defend the authority of scripture and our church's own teachings."

Meanwhile, on the left, many United Methodists fear the growing flocks of evangelicals in their denomination -- especially overseas.

Yes, it appears that Easter and resurrection of Jesus are still controversial

Yes, it appears that Easter and resurrection of Jesus are still controversial

It's a challenge, but every Easter preachers around the world strive to find something different to say about the Christian doctrine of the resurrection.

This applies to the pope, as well, in his Holy Week and Easter sermons. Journalists always sift through these papal texts searching references to the Middle East, global warming, social justice or other "newsy" topics worthy of headlines.

 But Pope Francis did something different this year, abandoning his prepared sermon to speak from the heart about a recent telephone conversation with a young engineer who is facing a serious illness, as well as life-and-death questions.

Christians insist that Easter is the ultimate answer, said Francis.

"Today the church continues to say: Jesus has risen from the dead. … This is not a fantasy. It's not a celebration with many flowers," he said, surrounded by Easter pageantry.

Flowers are nice, but the resurrection is more, he added. "It is the mystery of the rejected stone that ends up being the cornerstone of our existence. Christ has risen from the dead. In this throwaway culture, where that which is not useful … is discarded, that stone -- Jesus -- is discarded, yet is the source of life."

So the pope has to defend Easter? As it turns out, anyone seeking other motives for the pope's blunt words could point to headlines triggered by a new BBC survey claiming that many self-identified British Christians have rejected, or perhaps watered-down, biblical claims that Jesus rose from the dead.

The BBC.com headline proclaimed: "Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians." Among the survey's claims:

Canadian researchers find that doctrine really does matter, in terms of church growth

Canadian researchers find that doctrine really does matter, in terms of church growth

When they set out to find growing mainline churches, sociologist David Haskell and historian Kevin Flatt did the logical thing -- they asked leaders of four key Canadian denominations to list their successful congregations.

It didn't take long, however, to spot a major problem as the researchers contacted these Anglican, United Church, Presbyterian and Evangelical Lutheran parishes.

"Few, if any, of the congregations these denomination's leaders named were actually growing," said Haskell, who teaches at Wilfrid Laurier University in Branford, Ontario. "A few had experienced a little bit of growth in one or two years in the past, but for the most part they were holding steady, at best, or actually in steady declines."

To find thriving congregations in these historic denominations, Haskell and Flatt, who teaches at Redeemer University College in Hamilton, had to hunt on their own. By word of mouth, they followed tips from pastors and lay leaders to other growing mainline churches.

The bottom line: The faith proclaimed in growing churches was more orthodox -- especially on matters of salvation, biblical authority and the supernatural -- than in typical mainline congregations. These churches were thriving on the doctrinal fringes of shrinking institutions.

"The people running these old, established denominations didn't actually know much about their own growing churches," said Haskell, reached by telephone. "Either that or they didn't want to admit which churches were growing."

The researchers stated their conclusions in the title -- "Theology Matters" -- of a peer-reviewed article in the current Review of Religious Research. In all, they plan five academic papers build on their studies of clergy and laypeople in nine growing and 13 declining congregations in southern Ontario, a region Haskell called church friendly, in the context of modern Canada.

"Shocking" news for postmodern nuns

In the beginning there was the Conference of Major Religious Superiors of Women's Institutes, which was established with the Vatican's blessing in 1959 during an era of rapid growth for Catholic religious orders. Then along came two cultural earthquakes, the Second Vatican Council and the Sexual Revolution. In 1971 the women's conference changed its name -- this time without the Vatican's blessing -- to become the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. Two leaders in this transformation later wrote that the goal was to become a "corporate force for systematic change in Church and society."

The rest is a long story, ultimately leading to a blunt April 18 missive (.pdf) from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. This long-expected Vatican broadside noted "serious doctrinal problems" in LCWR proclamations, characterized by a "diminution of the fundamental Christological center" and the prevalence of "radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

Women's conference leaders offered a terse response, saying they were "stunned by the conclusions of the doctrinal assessment" from Rome.

"Stunned" was the key word for legions of headline writers, whose work resembled this Washington Post offering: "American nuns stunned by Vatican accusation of 'radical feminism,' crackdown." The Chicago Sun-Times went even further, proclaiming: "Vatican waging a war on nuns."

Truth is, tensions have been building for decades between the LCWR leadership and Vatican leaders. Thus, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith missive stressed that its call for reform was built on a lengthy study of materials created by "a particular conference of major superiors and therefore does not intend to offer judgment on the faith and life of Women Religious in the member congregations."

This particular investigation began in 2008 and Catholic leaders first discussed some of its findings two years later. The final "doctrinal assessment" document was completed in January of 2011. Some of the specific events criticized in the Vatican document took place during the 1970s and '80s.

"It certainly didn't help matters" that there has been so much publicity about liberal nuns supporting White House health-care policies and new Health and Human Services regulations that require most religious institutions to include free coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives in their health-insurance plans, noted John L. Allen, Jr., of the National Catholic Reporter.

Nevertheless, "it doesn't withstand scrutiny for anyone to say that this conflict is about the bishops and Rome being upset about the sisters, Obama and birth control," said Allen, in a telephone interview from Rome. Also, "no one is upset about all the sisters have done to abolish the death penalty, stand up for immigrants, care for the sick and help the poor. Rome praised them for that. ...

"Frankly, his report could have been written 20 years ago. The real issues in this case are that old."

For example, the Vatican noted that in 1977 the LCWR leadership openly rejected Catholic teachings on the "reservation of priestly ordination to men." The women's conference later published a training book suggesting that it's legitimate for sisters to debate whether celebrations of the Mass should be central to events in their communities, since this would require the presence of a male priest. In the '80s, leaders in female orders backed the New Ways Ministry's work to oppose Catholic teachings on homosexuality.

A pivotal moment came in 2007, when Dominican Sister Laurie Brink delivered the keynote address (.pdf) at a national LCWR assembly stating that it was time for some religious orders to enter an era of "sojourning" that for some would require "moving beyond the church, even beyond Jesus."

With the emergence of the women's movement and related forms of spirituality, many sisters would see "the divine within nature" and embrace an "emerging new cosmology" that would feed their souls, said Brink. For these sisters, the "Jesus narrative is not the only or the most important narrative. ... Jesus is not the only son of God."

A year later, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith opened its investigation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

The Brink address, noted the resulting doctrinal assessment, "is a challenge not only to core Catholic beliefs; such a rejection of faith is also a serious source of scandal and is incompatible with religious life. ... Some might see in Sr. Brink's analysis a phenomenological snapshot of religious life today. But pastors of the Church should also see in it a cry for help."

T.D. Jakes and the Trinity

For more than a decade, Pentecostal Bishop T.D. Jakes has lived in the shadow of a Time magazine cover that asked, "Is this man the next Billy Graham?" That was a loaded question, because of tensions behind the scenes between the multi-media Dallas superstar and many mainstream Christian leaders.

Now, this legendary preacher -- often listed as one of America's most powerful evangelicals -- has taken a big step toward convincing his critics that he is, in fact, an evangelical. Jakes has, after years of rumors about private assurances, publicly affirmed that he believes in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

The Rev. Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle asked the question directly, during the recent Elephant Room conference at the First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla. This annual event brings together Christian leaders from a variety of backgrounds to discuss tough subjects. Baptist Press has circulated the interview transcript nationwide.

"So you believe," said Driscoll, that "there's one God, three Persons -- Father, Son and Holy Spirit? You believe Jesus was fully God, fully Man?"

Jakes didn't flinch: "Absolutely."

That one word represents a significant change for Jakes, the leader of The Potter's House, a 30,000-member megachurch that serves as the base for his thriving work in books, Gospel music, social-justice causes and a host of other ministries. While the church is nondenominational, the preacher has long been associated with an unorthodox stream of faith known as "Oneness" Pentecostalism.

The ancient doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is one God, yet this God has been revealed in history as three distinct persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is a core doctrine that unites Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant Christians worldwide -- including most who embrace Pentecostal and "charismatic" Christianity, the world's fastest growing Christian movement.

The split between Trinitarian and the "Oneness" Pentecostals occurred in stages early in the 20th Century, soon after the Azusa Street Revival in Los Angeles. That famous spiritual earthquake ignited the interracial Pentecostal movement, with its emphasis on spiritual gifts such as prophecy, healing and "speaking in tongues."

"Oneness" leaders denied the reality of the Trinity, saying there is one God -- period. Thus, they continue to baptize in the name of Jesus, alone, rather than using references to "Father, Son and Holy Spirit." Critics call this approach "modalism."

In the Elephant Room interview, Jakes noted that his father was Methodist and his mother was Baptist. However, he stressed that he made his own decision to become a Christian in a "Oneness" Pentecostal church. Thus, he said, "I ended up Metha-Bapti-Costal, in a way."

Several scripture passages influenced his change of mind on this issue, he said, especially the account of the baptism of Jesus.

"Jesus was baptized in the Jordan River, for example, coming up out of the water [and] the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, the Father speaks from heaven and we see all three of them on one occasion," said Jakes. This and other references "began to make me rethink some of my ideas and some of the things that I was taught.

"I got kind of quiet about it for a while. Because when you are a leader and you are in a position of authority, sometimes you have to back up and ponder for a minute, and really think things through."

"Oneness" churches represent a relatively small piece of the global Pentecostal movement -- about 5 percent of an estimated 640 million believers. Nevertheless, Jakes has clearly been trying to find a way to keep expanding his work into the evangelical, "charismatic" mainstream without cutting his ties to his past, said historian Vinson Synan of Regent University, author of numerous books on Pentecostalism.

"The reality is that he had to address this issue sooner or later because he has all kinds of followers, including lots of Trinitarians," said Synan. "This man sells millions of books, makes movies and is an award-winning Gospel singer. He's a major force in Christian culture in this land. ...

"Well, he might not be able to keep doing all of that if millions of evangelicals think he is some kind of heretic. So he makes this one statement and he's cleared with most evangelicals and charismatics, most of the time. He's on his way to being more acceptable to just about everybody. That's big, in the post-denominational world in which we live."

Real, live, postmodern preacher

The Rev. Gordon Atkinson had few specific goals when he started planning his 13-week sabbatical from his duties at Covenant Baptist Church near San Antonio. "I knew that I didn't want to be in charge of anything," said Atkinson, long known as the "Real, Live, Preacher" to those who read his intensely personal online journal (reallivepreacher.com).

"Preachers talk and talk and I wanted to get away from that. I didn't want to be a worship tourist, but I thought it would be refreshing to worship in some places where I was the person in the room who knew the least about what was going on."

It helps to know that Atkinson leads an unusual Baptist flock, a "contemplative Christian community" that holds spiritual retreats based on the writings of St. Francis of Assisi and men's fellowship meetings over beer and pizza. Covenant's belief statement stresses that the "fullness of the gospel cannot be contained in any one church."

While proud of his Baptist heritage, Atkinson said the "glory days" when "moderate" and "conservative" Baptists fought to control the old corporate machinery are long gone. Now, many congregations are experimenting with "emerging," "post-denominational" and "postmodern" identities and forms of worship.

Thus, Atkinson began his sabbatical by visiting the radical stillness of a Quaker gathering, a tradition that asks believers to remain silent until God inspires someone to speak. For 30 minutes, every cough, sneeze or stomach growl was audible.

"You have to lose a lot of your shame when you sit in silence with people," he wrote. "These sounds are not disturbing to the time of worship. Not at all. They are the delightful sounds of humans trying to be quiet. And we cannot. ... So even the sounds of people trying to be quiet are a part of the lesson."

A few Sundays later, Atkinson found himself swimming in words and symbols when his family visited an Eastern Orthodox sanctuary.

"It was like they were ripping raw chunks of theology out of ancient creeds and throwing them by the handfuls into the congregation," he wrote. "I heard words and phrases I had not heard since seminary. Theotokos, begotten not made, Cherubim and Seraphim borne on their pinions, supplications and oblations."

The experience, he concluded, was an "ADD kid's nightmare," with the "robes, scary art, smoking incense, secret doors in the Iconostas popping open and little robed boys coming out with golden candlesticks, chants and singing from a small choir that rolled across the curved ceiling. ... There was so much going on I couldn't keep up with all the things I couldn't pay attention to."

His family struggled, but Atkinson had tears in his eyes by the end of the nearly two-hour liturgy. After years of focusing on user-friendly ways to attract people to church, he was stunned to attend a service that -- much like the Quaker meeting -- placed intense demands on all the participants.

It was, he concluded, as if visitors were being told: "You don't know what Theotokos means? Get a book and read about it. You have a hard time standing for two hours? Do some sit ups and get yourself into worship shape. It is the Lord our God we worship here, mortal. ... THIS IS BIGGER THAN YOU ARE."

Atkinson was intrigued and eventually attended Russian, Greek and Antiochian Orthodox churches.

Nevertheless, by the end of his sabbatical this liberal Baptist preacher knew he had a problem. While Atkinson appreciated the symbols, rituals and sacraments he encountered, he also knew that he couldn't accept the doctrines that defined the worship, especially the Orthodox rites.

Simply stated, his views on sin, sexuality, salvation, heaven and hell were too modern. There was "no wiggle room" in the ancient doctrines and, Atkinson concluded, "I just couldn't buy all of it."

Now he is returning to his Baptist pulpit, while hearing choirs of voices arguing in his head representing many different eras of church history.

"What I don't know how to do is rank all of these voices and decide who has authority," he said. "Who is right and who is wrong? ... And I want to know, where does Gordon Atkinson fit into this whole picture? I know that I can't go back to the old Protestant, evangelical way that I was, but I don't know where I'm supposed to go now. This is a problem."

Facing the unChristian reality

Times were hard for the single mother and her 4-year-old son, so she did what hurting people often do -- she joined a church seeking solace and support. But there was a problem, one that drove her right back out of the pews.

"Everyone told me what to do as a parent," she told pollster David Kinnaman, "but no one bothered to help."

This blunt encounter wasn't one of the formal interviews that led Kinnaman and social activist Gabe Lyons to write their book, "unChristian: What a new generation really thinks about Christianity ... and why it matters." But what the young mother said was painfully consistent with what they heard time after time during three years of research, as they focused on the concerns of Americans between the ages of 16 and 29.

The problem wasn't that she was turned off by the Christian faith or that she was an outsider who had never stepped inside a set of church doors, said Kinnaman, leader of the Barna Group in Ventura, Calif., where he has led nearly 500 research projects for both secular and religious clients.

From this woman's perspective, it was crucial that her anger and disappointment were rooted, not in ignorance or nasty media stereotypes, but in her own close encounters with Christians. She believed that real, live Christians had failed to treat her in a Christian manner -- leaving her burned and bitter.

Growing numbers of young "outsiders" say they know exactly how she feels.

"Most Mosaics and Busters ... have an enormous amount of firsthand experience with Christians and the Christian faith," wrote Kinnaman and Lyons, referring to Americans born after the massive Baby Boom. "The vast majority of outsiders within the Mosaic and Buster generations have been to church before; most have attended at least one church for several months; and nearly nine out of every 10 say they know Christians personally, having about five friends who are believers."

Here's the bottom line, according to their research: "Christians are primarily perceived for what they stand against. We have become famous for what we oppose, rather than what we are for."

To be blunt, young "outsiders" think that modern Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, clueless fanatics who choose to live in protective bubbles, except when they venture out to attack homosexuals, run right-wing political campaigns and proselytize innocent people who would rather be left alone. Things are getting so bad that many young Christians -- especially evangelicals -- say they are embarrassed to discuss faith issues with their friends.

It's easy to tap into this kind of hostility and get angry or scared or both, said Kinnaman, speaking at the annual Presidents Conference of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities in Washington, D.C. Some religious leaders may even be tempted to rush into changes that compromise essential doctrines.

"The thing that we don't want to do is take a poll, figure out what kind of faith people want, and then just create Christianity in that sort of image," he said. "What I am not saying is that we change this, that we somehow lose touch with the biblical reasons why these perceptions exist.

"Jesus talks about sin. The Bible is clear about our brokenness. This is going to lead to the perception, sometimes, that we are judgmental."

But pastors, educators and other religious leaders must realize, Kinnaman insisted, that attitudes among young Americans have truly changed. The culture has moved light years past the skeptical attitudes that believers faced in earlier generations, when many young people rebelled and then, as they grew older, returned to traditional forms of faith.

At some point, he stressed, church leaders must find ways to listen to their critics and take their concerns seriously.

This will lead to hard questions. Can Americans listen to Christians in other parts of the world? Can religious leaders tune in signals from mass media? Can older Christians hear the voices of young people who struggle with pornography, who express their fears by cutting their own bodies, who struggle with issues of sexual identity?

"We have been the party in power for several hundred years," said Kinnaman. "That gives us a different kind of challenge, a different set of opportunities. ... We have been so busy trying to be a Christian nation that I think we may have forgotten what it means to follow Christ.

What, me worry? Whatever II

EDITOR'S NOTE: Second of two columns on teens and ethics. When pollsters ask Americans the Eternal Question they almost always say, "I believe in God."

Ask young Americans about faith and the response is something like, "I believe in God and stuff." Finding the doctrinal meaning of "and stuff" is tricky.

"God made us and if you ask him for something I believe he gives it to you. Yeah, he hasn't let me down yet," said a 14-year-old Catholic from Pennsylvania, when researchers Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton asked him why religion matters. "God is a spirit that grants you anything you want, but not anything bad."

The key is that this God -- part Divine Butler, part Cosmic Therapist -- watches from a safe distance.

"God's all around you, all the time," said conservative Protestant girl, 17, from Florida. "He believes in forgiving people and what-not, and he's there to guide us, for somebody to talk to and help us through our problems. Of course, he doesn't talk back."

If grown-ups roll their eyes at litanies such as these, most teens offer a chilly response that sums up their creeds -- "whatever."

Thus it was significant, in the Josephson Institute's latest Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth, that 48 percent of the students surveyed in 100 random public and private high schools said they had "never" violated their own "religious beliefs" during 2007. Other parts of this survey made headlines, especially its reports that a third of the students said they stole something from a store during the previous year, while 38 percent committed plagiarism, 64 percent cheated on a test and 83 percent lied to a parent about something important.

Few of these young people are "unbelievers" or, heaven forbid, "secularists," noted Smith, director of the Center for the Study of Religion and Society at the University of Notre Dame. The overwhelming majority of them -- like their parents -- would insist that they are practicing Christians, Jews, Muslims or whatever.

"Plenty of religious kids do steal and cheat and whatever," he said, responding to the Josephson survey. "They have in their heads some image of what 'religious' really looks like. For many -- not all -- young people, the meaning of that word is so vague it can mean almost anything or nothing whatsoever. The bar is set low and their take on religion certainly doesn't include concepts such as self sacrifice, repentance or self mortification."

These young people are religious, he stressed. They are simply practicing a new religion, one that Smith and Denton called "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism." When crunched to its basics, this faith teaches that:

* A God exists who "created and orders the world" and watches over our lives.

* This God wants people to be good, nice and fair to one another, as taught by most major religions.

* The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good.

* God is rarely involved in daily life, except when needed to solve a problem.

* Good people go to heaven.

This is not a faith that can stand on its own, noted Smith, in a lecture at the Princeton Theological Seminary Institute for Youth Ministry. Instead, it is a "parasitic religion" that creates weakened, less rigid versions of other faiths -- such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. There may even, he noted, be "Nonreligious Moralistic Therapeutic Deists" in modern America.

When describing their beliefs, most young people say it's important to be kind to one another and to try to live a good life. There are few limitations on behavior, other than loose rules that say it is wrong to hurt other people, especially one's friends. "Don't be a jerk" is a common refrain.

Words such as "sanctification," "Trinity," "sin," "holiness" and "Eucharist" have little or no meaning. Most references to "grace" refer to the television show "Will and Grace." If teens mention being "justified," this almost always means that they think they have a good reason to do something that others consider questionable.

This faith, Smith explained, blends well with popular culture and media.

"It's a religion that works at the level of email and texting and long hours talking on your cellphones," he said. "It's all about relationships. Your religion has to work with your friends and it has to bring you happiness. That's what really matters."

What, me worry? Whatever

EDITOR'S NOTE: First of two columns on teens and ethics. Take comfort in this: The items on the following "to do" list do not apply to all teens today.

Lie to your parents about those wild weekend plans -- check.

Steal that scarf you want at the mall -- check.

Download that term paper off the Internet and add a few mistakes to confuse the teacher -- check.

Inflate your volunteer hours at your church's soup kitchen to pump up that college application -- check.

The problem with the Josephson Institute's latest survey -- the 2008 Report Card on the Ethics of American Youth -- is that it contained so many bad numbers that many depressing readers were tempted to pin an "all of the above" verdict on most teens.

Consider the numbers on stealing. Nearly of third of the students surveyed -- 29,760 in 100 randomly selected public and private high schools -- admitted stealing from a store during the previous year. Also, 23 percent said they stole from a parent or relative. The numbers were lower for honors students and those who attended religious schools, but around 20 percent of them stole something from someone.

It's easy to criticize the young, but it's also important to know that they're learning these behaviors from the adults around them, said Michael Josephson, founder of the Los Angeles-based ethics center.

"Did you lie about your child's age to save money? Did you provide your child with a false excuse for missing school? Did you lie about your address to get your child into a better school?", he asked, in a commentary about the survey. "Most of us stray from our highest ethical ambitions from time to time, but we usually do so selectively, convincing ourselves that we're justified and that occasional departures from our ethical principles are inconsequential when it comes to our overall character.

"Most of us judge ourselves by our best actions and intentions, but the children who watch everything we do may be learning from our worst."

The sobering numbers leapt into headlines nationwide, while the researchers said the truth was almost certainly worse -- since 26 percent of the participants admitted that they lied on at least one or two of the prickly questions. Students took part in the survey during class sessions, with guarantees of anonymity.

Other results noted by the institute included:

* More then eight in 10 students -- 83 percent -- admitted that they lied to a parent about an issue of some importance, while 43 percent of the students in public and private schools said that they have lied to save money.

* In a 2006 survey, 60 percent of the students said they cheated on at least one test and 35 percent cheated two or more times. This year, the numbers rose to 64 percent and 38 percent on the same issues.

* The Internet makes plagiarism easy, with 36 percent of the students confessing that vice -- up from 33 percent in 2004.

* Self-esteem is not a problem, since 93 percent of the students reported that their ethics and character were satisfactory and, in a popular quote from the survey, 77 percent said, "when it comes to doing what is right, I am better than most people I know."

Buried deep in the survey form was another question that would be of special interest to clergy and other religious leaders who work with the young. When asked if they had done "things in violation of my religious beliefs" during the past year, 48 percent of those polled affirmed a simple answer -- never. Another 15 percent confessed to one violation of their personal religious beliefs.

This survey is more proof that something has gone wrong with the way Americans are teaching their young people the meaning of right and wrong, said evangelical activist Charles Colson.

"Instead of being rooted in an objective moral order that exists independently of ourselves, right and wrong are subjective -- they're the product of the person's 'values.' In that case, it makes perfect sense that people can lie, cheat, and steal and still be 'satisfied' with their ethics," he said, in a radio commentary.

"After all, they are not answerable to God or the community, only to themselves. The question isn't, 'How shall we live?' but, 'How do I feel about it?' "

NEXT: The theological content of "whatever."