Barna Study: America Has a New Moral Code

by Ken Ham on June 12, 2016

For years I’ve been saying that America as a whole has replaced its foundation of God’s Word with fallible man’s ideas about the past—that man determines truth. And we’re seeing the fruit of this evolutionary thinking in modern attitudes toward morality, both outside and inside the church. New research from the Barna organization sheds light on these modern ideas of morality and should serve as a wake-up call to the church.


Relative Morality—the Popular Philosophy

Barna recently conducted a general population survey to determine current American views on morality. The results are saddening. Overall, eight in ten Americans “express concern about the nation’s moral condition.” People of all ages, backgrounds, and religious beliefs are rightly recognizing that we have a problem in this nation. And yet these same people are confused about what or who determines morality; two-thirds of American adults admit that they believe morality is relative to the circumstances.

It’s interesting that they are concerned about America’s moral condition when many believe morality is simply relative.

Over half of Americans think that “whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.”

Over half of Americans—and three-quarters of millennials—think that “whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.” And 41% of Christians agree with this idea! This idea is the same as the prevailing philosophy in the book of Judges: “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

We have a culture in which many people now profess that morality is decided by what works best for individuals. Yet we also live in a society that is quick to judge others or condemn them as “intolerant” or “bigoted” for not agreeing with popular opinions. Just look through the comments at the end of a news item or go on social media for ten minutes, and you can quickly see this!

And two-thirds of Americans agree that “every culture must determine what is acceptable morality for its people”; however, these same people would likely decry the actions of radical Muslims, brutal dictators, or oppressive governments. Yet they believe that each culture can determine its own morality. Though this is completely inconsistent, it’s how many people think.

A New Moral Code

Barna’s president David Kinnaman argues that the formerly, nominally Christian ethic that used to characterize this nation is being replaced with “a new moral code.” He says this morality can be characterized by self-fulfillment and has six guiding principles. These principles, listed below, are troubling.

  1. “The best way to find yourself is by looking within yourself.” An incredible 91% of US adults and 76% of practicing Christians agreed “completely” or “somewhat” with this statement.
  2. “People should not criticize someone else’s life choices.” Overall 89% of adults and 76% of Christians agree.
  3. “To be fulfilled in life, you should pursue the things you desire most.” 86% of American adults and 72% of Christians said, “Yes.”
  4. “The highest goal of life is to enjoy it as much as possible.” 84% of adults and 67% of Christians agreed that this was the highest goal of life.
  5. “People can believe whatever they want, as long as those beliefs don’t affect society.” Those who agreed with this statement consisted of 79% of American adults and 61% of practicing Christians.
  6. “Any kind of sexual expression between two consenting adults is acceptable.” Incredibly, nearly 69% of American adults and an astonishing 40% of Christians agreed with this.

These statistics should provide a wake-up call to every Christian. Though you will not find any of these ideas in Scripture,1 the majority of Christians accept five out of six of them!

For my coauthored book Ready to Return, we commissioned research that looked at the beliefs of millennials (in their 20s and early 30s) in the church, and the results were similar to those Barna found. Many young people in our churches don’t know what to believe, and Scripture certainly doesn’t serve as the starting point for their thinking. They have been so influenced by the culture that they have a very weak biblical worldview with which to frame their thinking. David Kinnaman has some sobering thoughts on this new morality, our culture, and the church.

The highest good, according to our society is ‘finding yourself’ and then living by ‘what’s right for you.’ . . . There is a tremendous amount of individualism in today’s society, and that’s reflected in the church too. Millions of Christians have grafted New Age dogma onto their spiritual person. When we peel back the layers, we find that many Christians are using the way of Jesus to pursue the way of self. . . . While we wring our hands about secularism spreading through the culture, a majority of churchgoing Christians have embraced corrupt, me-centered theology.

A Big Problem

The secular culture has infiltrated many people—especially young people—within the church and they aren’t even aware of it.

Church, we need to wake up! The secular culture has infiltrated many Christians—especially young people—within the church, and they aren’t even aware of it. These young people are the next generation of pastors, church leaders, parents, missionaries, college professors, and so on; yet they can’t even tell us where moral absolutes come from! This should concern every single Christian.

I like to remind people that this sad situation reflects the compromise that is so rife in the church of this era. Generations of people have been told they can take man’s ideas about evolution and millions of years and reinterpret Genesis—so now we observe an increasing number of people taking man’s ideas about morality and reinterpreting Scripture. For years I’ve been predicting this will happen. Once you unlock the door to use man’s fallible ideas to change what the Bible says in one area, you will begin to consistently do this in other areas. That’s why we’ve been saying for many years that the real battle is one over authority—who is the ultimate authority, God or man?

In my experience, many young people, even those who faithfully attend church and Sunday school every week, do not understand how Scripture flows together as a whole. They do not understand how to start their thinking with God’s Word. They haven’t been taught the discernment to engage culture with Scripture as the starting point. Many of them only know isolated Bible “stories” (often treating them more like myths) from the Old Testament and a few scattered verses from the New Testament. Because many pastors never discuss current social issues such as abortion, gay “marriage,” transgender behavior, atheism, or evolution, young people are at a loss to understand how to use the Bible to interpret these issues.

Pastors, parents, church leaders, Sunday School teachers—we need to be dedicated to teaching all Christians, but especially young people, a biblical worldview. They need to see how God’s Word relates to history, morality, and culture. As they float in a sea of man’s opinions, they need the solid anchor of God’s Word to hold them fast. We can do this by helping them to see the big picture of God’s Word and how it connects to history, morality, and culture. We can’t assume they just naturally know how to do this! We need to be active in teaching and equipping them.

A Solution—Answers Bible Curriculum

Because we recognized the problem of biblical illiteracy and the loss of a biblical worldview among many Christians, we wrote a Sunday school curriculum to help combat this. Answers Bible Curriculum (ABC) is a chronological Sunday school (or homeschool or home study) curriculum that walks through the whole Bible with synchronized lessons for every age group. It focuses on apologetics and developing a biblical worldview. I highly recommend this resource for every church and family. You can learn more about it.

Thanks for stopping by and thanks for praying,

This item was written with the assistance of AiG’s research team.


  1. A fervent Christian who has submitted his will to Christ could legitimately agree with question number three, and be in accord with Scripture (Psalms 73:25; Proverbs 11:23; Isaiah 26:8; 2 Timothy 2:22, 4:7–8) in that he desires what God desires and orders his life that way. Sadly, most of the time our desires are for ourselves or the things of this world; therefore what we desire most is not God honoring.

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