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1999 NCC News Archives

Finding: Bible Study and Sermon Improve Christians' Involvement in Government
Surveys Reveal Year-Long Program Changes Attitudes, Increases Engagement

March 30, 1999, NEW YORK – Christians' attitudes about government and their civic engagement improve after they participate in a five-week Christians and Government Bible study and hear a sermon on the topic. That is the conclusion of survey results released today from a year-long Church and Government project, designed to encourage a healthy balance between confidence in government and criticism of government.

Churches from a range of denominations in nine cities joined the project. Each participating congregation engaged congregants in a five-session, 22-page Bible study developed by the National Council of the Churches of Christ of the U.S.A. (NCC), and arranged for one sermon to be preached on topics covered in the study. A collection of sermons from the project is also being released today.

Participating churches administered before and after surveys to participants. The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Research Services office developed the surveys and analyzed the results. This research revealed that small but consistent changes occurred both in participants' attitudes about government and in their projected involvement in government.

Prior to participating in the Church and Government program, 44 percent of respondents said they trust the government to do the right thing "most of the time" or "just about always." After participating in the program, 57 percent gave one of those answers. Overall, the survey found, confidence in government increased and cynicism dropped as a result of the Bible study.

"Christians have a biblical and faith tradition that abhors cynicism or apathy," said the Rev. Dr. Joan Brown Campbell, NCC General Secretary. "Biblical figures and Jesus' life include messages of both confidence and criticism regarding government. Yet Christians make good citizens because they pray and work for the poor and most vulnerable, thereby advancing the common good."

The NCC is a member of the Partnership for Trust in Government, a project of the Ford Foundation and the Council for Excellence in Government. "Churches can be a powerful place of learning," said Patricia McGinnis, President and CEO of the Council for Excellence in Government.  "The mission of the Partnership for Trust in Government, for the National Council for Churches of Christ and all its partners, is to improve and sustain government's place in the understanding and esteem of the American people. The Church and Government program is one important way to achieve that goal."

Among the other findings from the surveys:

A total of 798 individuals completed the surveys, and 289 completed them both before and after the Bible study.

The Church and Government program is supported by the Ford Foundation; it provides participating churches with five Bible study plans and "sermon helps" which are designed to help Christians strike a balance between confidence in government and criticism of particular government policies.

Participating congregations were from Albany (NY), Albuquerque (NM), Decatur/Atlanta (GA), Fresno (CA), Milwaukee (WI), Oklahoma City (OK), Portland (ME), Seattle (WA), and Wichita (KS). Congregations came from a variety of denominations, including: Roman Catholic; Lutheran; United Church of Christ; Disciples of Christ; Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.); United Methodist; Friends; Episcopal; Mennonite; Baptist; African Methodist Episcopal; Congregational; and Church of God.

The National Council of Churches of Christ is the nation's pre-eminent ecumenical organization, comprised of 35 Protestant and Orthodox member communities, to which 52 million people belong.

The Council for Excellence in Government, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization of former government leaders now in the private sector, works to improve the performance of government at all levels and government's place in the lives and trust of American citizens. The Partnership for Trust in Government unites 30 leading nongovernment organizations across American society to bring objective information about government to their employees, customers, members and audiences.

NOTE: The research report is available from Lisa Lederer at 202/371-1999 or Wendy McDowell at 212/870-2152.

A collection of sermons that were preached as part of the Church and Government project also is available to the media. Contact Wendy McDowell at 212/870-2152 to request a copy.

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