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Lloyd Omdahl, Published April 22 2013

Letter: We can find sin anyplace

After a couple centuries of government support, the Protestant mores that have dominated the American culture are disappearing from the public square.

A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage, legalizing marijuana, and abortion, not to mention other activities and values that many Christians find objectionable. Sunday baseball is here to stay.

Scattered state laws will not turn the tide. Even in North Dakota, if the three anti-abortion measures passed by the Legislature were referred to a vote of the people, they would be defeated. Handily.

In this mobile society, state boundaries mean nothing. If sin isn’t available in one state, there are at least a dozen other states where it will be.

The secular society has taken charge of the moral issues, and there is no prognosis that suggests a resurgence of Christian values.

In his recent book, Frank Newport of the Gallup organization pulled together polls and other research to support a conclusion that Christianity will bounce back when people move to the more religious areas of the country. This is wishful thinking.

The findings of David Kinnaman of the Barna Christian research group cannot be ignored. He noted a significant decline in the commitment of the younger generation Christians to the faith. His observations have been confirmed by numerous surveys.

A major cause of the disenchantment of youth with Christianity has been the unchristian behavior displayed by religious leaders as they battle the secular public over moral issues

The younger generation sees more mean-spirited rhetoric than the gentle demeanor of Jesus in these confrontations. Once engaged, Christians have tended to distort facts and use as much inflammatory rhetoric as the secularists on the opposing side.

Christians have depended on secular legislation too long for the preservation of scriptural values. We have benefited from governmental support and protection since the very founding of the country.

Times have changed, and the unfounded argument that America was created as a Christian country doesn’t carry any water these days.

With other faiths to be accommodated, separation of church and state has taken on new meaning. Instead of ramping up our blood pressure over this separation, we should be thankful that Christianity has been so favorably treated for 200 years.

Without the government or secular society to lean on, the Christian community will now have to assume its moral leadership on same-sex marriage, homosexuality, abortion and the other issues it regards as unchristian.

Of course, the primary problem for the church is that many of the self-proclaimed Christians have fallen in with the secular society so that believers are indistinguishable from unbelievers. (Catholics are practicing birth control and Protestants are supporting same-sex marriage.)

But the honeymoon is over. The Christian community must assume responsibility for its own values. It is time for the church to teach its own members on the issues of same-sex marriage, materialism, greed, abortion, guns, homosexuality, media trash, big-bang theories, and whatever other controversies appear. Forget about the government.

And it is no longer enough to give old pat answers to complex questions. As young people become more educated, they want more thoughtful responses. The Earth is more than 6,000 years old and they know it.

The church may need to revolutionize its traditional methods of teaching, its agenda, its governance structure and its communication strategy so it can reach its own members more effectively. From the drift of public policy, we can see that the weekly 30-minute lecture from the pulpit has not been working.

Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com