What Makes a "Good" Christian?

in Humanities/Social Science, News Releases, School of Theology
July 8th, 2005

Contact: Jon Kniss, 617-353-2240 | jkniss@bu.edu

(Boston) – In today’s day and age, with society’s ever-changing and evolving principles, morals, ethics, activities, practices and norms, there are a wide variety of opinions about “What makes a ‘good’ Christian?” The many answers to this intriguing question are of considerable interest to Boston University School of Theology researchers launching a wide-ranging Internet-based public survey of society’s characterization of what constitutes the actions, practices and beliefs of a ‘good’ Christian.

The current Web survey follows-up the team’s extensive review of existing scales of religiosity, the quality of being religious, which examined some 150 measurements used by psychologists, sociologists and others. Research on the relationship of religious faith and facets of today’s society such as volunteerism, belief systems, tolerance, prejudice, forgiveness and more, depends upon the availability and accuracy of such scales.

”We are hoping to use the results of the survey to learn what a broad cross section of people see as the ideals, concepts, beliefs and actions of a ‘good’ Christian. Many of the current religiosity scales were developed within the conservative or evangelical Christian community with a focus on items related to those points of view, rather than the broader scope of human social behavior,” said BU assistant professor and lead researcher Rev. Marsha Cutting, Ph.D. “In addition, the scales have traditionally failed to account for variances in the age, geographical, social class and educational backgrounds of study participants.”

In a 59-question survey at www.religiosityscalesproject.com, respondents state their feeling on the importance of the following to being a “good” Christian in today’s world…. Volunteering extensively? Opposing abortion and the death penalty? Questioning the teachings of the church? Using birth control or engaging in sex outside of marriage? Judging or condemning others? Believing in change and redemption of others? Drinking alcohol, gossiping or avoiding other worldly vices? Supporting the church, social or political organizations financially? Attending weekly services and read the Bible? Respecting other religions and beliefs?

“It’s worth noting that in the phrase ‘a good Christian,’ the term ‘practicing’ may be substituted for ‘good,’ since the study is seeking to determine the importance of each of the items in the lives of Christians, not the ‘goodness’ or ‘badness’ of Christians,” said Cutting.

It should take participants less than a half-hour to complete the full survey at www.religiosityscalesproject.com. For each of the 59 multiple choice questions, respondents are asked to judge the importance of each action, task, practice or principle to being a “good Christian,” or “practicing Christian.” Choices are on a one to five scale and range from “not at all important” on one end to “absolutely essential” on the opposite end of the spectrum. The survey is open to men and women of all ages, races, ethnicities, social classes, geographical regions and political and social beliefs. While respondents are asked for their age, gender and ethnicity, the Web site does not collect specific identifying information, making it impossible to connect any individual with their respective responses.

Joining Cutting on this ongoing initiative are BU STH students Carl Kantner, MA; Cherita Cloy, MTS; Cristian Onofrei, MS and Michelle Walsh, MSW, LICSW, along with Sharon Houlahan, MA of Boston College.

As the founding school of Boston University, the Methodist-based School of Theology, founded in 1839 and devoted to theological training, offers a wide-range of masters and doctorate programs spanning the spectrum of past and present theology in culture and society. BU is the fourth-largest independent university in the United States with an enrollment of more than 29,000 students.

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