Year and review 2009: Signs and wonders

Religious Influence in Decline
According to a 2009 Gallup survey, two-thirds of Americans think religion is losing its influence on U.S. life. 67 percent of Americans think religious influence is waning, while just 27 percent say it is increasing. That perspective demonstrates a continuing downward trend, Gallup said. But the 27 percent figure is still higher than the record low, set in a 1970 poll, when just 14 percent of Americans thought religion was increasing in influence.

STDs on the Rise
Rates of chlamydia are at a record high, and rates of syphilis rose for the seventh consecutive year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every year in the U.S., there are an estimated 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), almost half of them among those 15 to 24 years of age. Pro-family experts say abstinence-based sex education gives teens the skills to eliminate all risk of STIs. However, less than one in four kids has access to this type of program. Valerie Huber, executive director of the National Abstinence Education Association, said, “We must increase efforts to prevent the transmission of STDs, by providing accurate information and skill-building tools implicit in abstinence-centered education to teens in all communities across America, but especially among those most at risk.”

Casinos Retrench

With many casinos closing their doors, the casino industry is aggressively pursuing large, untapped states like Texas and Montana. More than 60 gambling-related bills are sitting in 17 state legislatures, including 12 in Texas and eight in Montana. Many of the bills would expand gambling. States considering an expansion of gambling include Alaska, California, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah and Washington.

Pass the Plate, Take a Condom
According to the HIV and AIDS Network of the United Church of Christ (UCC), condoms should be distributed at places of worship, but the announcement was met with outrage by the conservative Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD). The March 19 statement also called for making condoms available in faith-based educational settings. According to UCC executive Michael Shuenemeyer, “The practice of safer sex is a matter of life and death. People of faith make condoms available because we have chosen life so that we and our children may live.” The UCC membership has dropped steadily, from 2.1 million in 1967 to 1.2 million today, in part because of its liberal positions on social policies such as gay marriage and abortion.

Billion Dollar Baby (Killers)
The Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) has released its Annual Report for 2007-2008. The organization says 305,310 abortions were performed in its facilities in 2007, up 5.4 percent over 2006. The abortions generated $130 million in income for the organization. Only 4,912 Planned Parenthood customers were referred to adoption agencies. PPFA’s share of the abortion market continues to grow. In 1984, it committed just over 5.5 percent of all abortions in the United States. By 2004, that figure had risen to nearly 20 percent. In addition, PPFA sold more than 1.42 million emergency birth-control kits in 2007 (nearly one percent fewer than in 2006). Every PPFA clinic dispenses emergency birth control. Most pro-life activists and organizations believe these emergency birth-control kits are in fact drugs that induce early-stage abortions.

Addicted to Video
An estimated three million U.S. children who are eight to 18 years of age show multiple signs of behavioral addiction, according to an Iowa State University study. Lead researcher Douglas Gentile found 8.5 percent of all youths who play video games exhibited such symptoms. “It becomes an addiction when it starts damaging multiple areas of your life,” he told Fox News, “such as your social functioning, your psychological functioning, your family functioning, your occupational functioning, your school functioning.” Kurt Bruner, co-author of Playstation Nation, said video games can trigger high dopamine levels in the brain, similar to cocaine addiction. “It’s unlike TV,” he said. “It’s unlike other things that might be a waste of time, because video games actually become a replacement for real life. The best thing a parent can do is understand the process that’s taking place and make wise decisions.”

Sex and TV
Children who are exposed to adult-themed TV shows and movies are more likely to have sex in early adolescence, according to a study by Children’s Hospital Boston. The study found that for every hour the youngest group of children (6- to 8-year-olds) watched adult-targeted content over the two sample days, their chances of having sex during early adolescence increased by 33 percent. Dr. Jennifer Shuford, director of applied science at the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, said other research has shown children don’t have the capacity to distinguish Culture from reality. “When they see sexual activity on television, it becomes part of their reality,” she said. “As an adult, you can look at that and say, ‘That’s television, and that’s not the real world.'”

Beating the Average
On a scale of 1 to 36, home-schoolers scored an average of 22.5 on the ACT, one of the nation’s leading college entrance exams. The national average for the all students taking the test was 21.1. “This is a remarkable achievement and shows that home-school parents are successfully preparing their children for college,” said Michael Smith, president of Home School Legal Defense Association. A total of 1.48 million students took the ACT in 2009, which included 11,535 home-schoolers, or just under one percent of the total. It has always been the position of home-school advocates that the one-on-one instruction provided by dedicated parents is a more effective way to educate children. It’s also much cheaper. The average public school spends $10,000 per child per year, whereas the average home-schooler spends $500 per child per year.

Home schooling is also growing rapidly. The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the Federal Department of Education, estimates that home schooling is growing at around seven percent per year.

Warren Cole Smith is the editor of the Evangelical Press News Service.

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