(CNSNews.com) - Evangelical Christians' priorities for change in government and society deviate from average Americans' priorities more than any other subgroup, according to a study released this week by the Barna Group, a Christian research firm.
The study asked respondents to rank the importance of 11 different issues, including overall care and resources devoted to children, the quality of public school education, national security, poverty, the state of marriage and families, the spiritual state of the country and the environment.
Among the general population, the issues receiving the most attention were overall care and resources devoted to children -- 82 percent said change was "absolutely necessary"; the quality of public education, 82 percent; and national security, 72 percent.
Among evangelical Christians, however, the top three priorities were "enhancing the health of Christian churches, upgrading the state of marriage and families, and improving the spiritual condition of the U.S."
"Overall, evangelical Christians stood out as the segment that holds views that are most dissimilar from the typical perspective of Americans," the Barna Group said. "They were at least 10 percentage points different than the national average in relation to eight of the 11 issues tested" and were "significantly different on 10 of the 11 dimensions."
The biggest difference came in environmental issues, where evangelicals dissented by 25 percentage points. Sixty percent of all respondents said addressing environmental issues was "absolutely necessary," while only 35 percent of evangelicals said the same thing.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in his daily radio commentary, which will air Friday, that evangelicals have the right approach. They want to improve churches, marriages and families, said Perkins.
"Last on their list is the environment," he added. "So much for the global warming hype. Despite what the media may want to project upon evangelicals, they understand that if we, as a nation, get the spiritual issues right and build strong marriages and families, most of the other problems will be solved in the process."
Exit polls conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life following the 2006 elections found evangelicals less out of line with average voters' views than the Barna Group study suggests.
While 49 percent of evangelicals in the Pew study ranked "values issues" as the most important issues, compared with only 27 percent of the general population, the subgroup listed the same top three priorities: the Iraq war, the economy, and values.
"The challenge for today's leaders is to find the intersection of doing what is right and best with doing that which is popular and achievable," George Barna, founder of the Barna Group, said in a statement. "The lack of a common vision for the future is making the identification of such common ground increasingly difficult, if not impossible."
Barna criticized presidential candidates for what he called a tendency to "delve rather quickly into promoting programs rather than establishing a consensus around the ideal of what America represents and where it needs to go in the years to come."
"Providing a compelling and comprehensive notion of who we are as a people and what we stand for as a nation would be the most valuable contribution our leaders could offer," Barna said.
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