Europeans recognise 'Christian values' but want responsive churches

By Ecumenical News International
April 20, 2010

Almost two-thirds of Europeans think ‘Christian values’ are still relevant to contemporary life and are ready to acknowledge the Church's efforts to promote them, a recent survey carried out for La Croix daily newspaper has found – writes Jonathan Luxmoore.

"Yet while two-thirds think Christianity's message is still up-to-date, this isn't the case for the other third. So, Christianity remains an element marking the religious culture of the Old Continent, but no longer claims exclusivity," France's Roman Catholic-linked newspaper commented earlier this month.

In the survey, conducted during March by France's Institut Francais d'Opinion Publique (IFOP) in Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, 57 per cent of respondents said they believe Christians are "sufficiently visible" in society. That was compared to 28 per cent who thought they were "not visible enough" and 15 per cent who considered them "too visible".

Although 61 per cent of Europeans said the "message and values" of Christianity remain topical, only Italians believe churches are doing a good job in communicating and reaching out to young people, compared to between 74 and 80 percent of British, French, German and Spanish respondents who thought the opposite.

Forty-eight per cent of Europeans assigned a key role to Christian values in promoting "dialogue with different cultures and religions" and "solidarity with the poor," compared to between three and 13 per cent believing these values are important in bioethics and respect for life, in "moralising capitalism" or on issues such as immigration and environmental protection.

At the same time, slightly more than 80 per cent of respondents said church priorities for the 21st century should include action for world peace and combating poverty at home, while a third believe churches should be "available at life's key moments" and one in five think their priorities should include "making Christ's message known".

In its commentary, La Croix said the "Christian anchorage" of Europeans appears "too deep to be shifted by the waves stirred by current events", and has been little affected by current abuse scandals in the churches. However, it also notes strong national differences in attitudes to Christianity, with French citizens voicing stronger criticisms than their Italian neighbours.

In Britain and Germany, where religious pluralism and coexistence are a "well anchored historical reality", according to La Croix, more citizens regret the failure of traditional churches to hold their ground against new minority faiths.

"For the English above all, religion is a private affair. The Church should be there at life's important moments, rather than to support world peace, whereas in Germany the churches have a recognised social role as a sort of State institution," the newspaper noted.

"By contrast, if the majority of French are strongly detached from religion, French Catholics display a more marked religious outlook than Italian or Spanish Catholics. They are also proportionately more numerous in voicing an attachment to Christian values," it stated.

The survey by IFOP, which was founded in the 1930s, follows other poll results suggesting interest in religion remains extensive in Europe, despite what many see as the continent's outwardly secular character.

[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]

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