Sept. 11 had only temporary effect on religious faith

By Julie Fann
star staff

Despite talk that the events of Sept. 11 boosted church attendance and augmented spiritual growth in the nation, that trend was only temporary, according to national research and the opinion of a local pastor.
   "The research that I've seen since Sept. 11 indicates that there was a spike in church attendance right after it happened, but it pretty soon leveled off and went back to normal levels," said Luis O'Bourke, pastor of the Christian and Missionary Alliance Church in Elizabethton.
   The Barna Research Group Ltd., a California-based marketing research company that provides information regarding cultural trends and the Christian church, found that Christian church attendance rose to about half of the adult public immediately following the attacks. However, by November of last year, levels dropped to normal.
   Also, 56 percent of Jews, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists said their churches have ignored the attacks, according to Barna, and few people said the terrorist attacks have had any impact on their religious faith.
   Only 12 percent of those surveyed admitted to the events of Sept. 11 increasing spiritual awareness. Women were twice as likely as men to indicate there was any change in their personal faith. Just 16 percent of women admitted to a spiritual impact, compared to only 7 percent of men.
   "As a pastor, I would wish for a greater difference in the level of godliness among Christian believers and a greater amount of people coming to Christ for their salvation, and those numbers aren't there, and I wish they were there," O'Bourke said.
   Also, barely half of the nation's Christian churches acknowledged or addressed the attacks in any way during the past year, according to congregation members. Among people who attend Christian churches, 41 percent said their church has done nothing at all since last September to address the attacks or their implications.
   "I think one thing that is both good and bad about our country is the whole spirit of independence and self-sufficiency, the philosophy of depending on ourselves and our own hard work. It's a good thing in many areas, but it's a bad thing when it comes to spirituality," O'Bourke said. However, when tragedy strikes, individuals turn to religious faith, though perhaps briefly, because they see that safety is not a guarantee, according to O'Bourke.
   "We have a God who has designed us to depend on Him and to look to Him for the things that really matter -- things like peace and love and our very own preservation. We miss out on experiencing that kind of relationship when we're always thinking we have to do everything ourselves," O'Bourke said.
   Some Christians believe the events of Sept. 11 fulfilled prophecy mentioned in the Bible's book of Revelation; however, O'Bourke said he hesitated promoting an adherence to that belief.
   "People have been doing that for many, many years and have been wrong. Jesus did say there would be wars and rumors of wars before He came back, and I think it can be documented in the 20th century that it is true that more wars have gone on than ever before," he said.
   Evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, immediately after Sept. 11, caused an uproar with the suggestion that the tragedy was God's judgment upon America because it had fallen into moral decay.
   "I'm personally not comfortable with making dogmatic statements like that. I would not be one that would say that was God's judgment on America. The real issue is that God has seen fit to give us a free will and sometimes man exercises that free will in very awful ways, and we've seen that throughout human history," he said.