The Rev. Ed Bez, working out of an office in Social Circle, Ga., has tallied about 1,700 documents from newspapers, news releases and summary reports from around the world pointing to a problem with the Bible - while many people own one or more copies, few know what is inside.
"(It's) a malady that I would say is a literary holocaust. We are killing off any reference to biblical people, events and stories - great moral stories - in the name of fairness and tolerance," he said.
The Rev. Bez's national ministry, Focus on the Bible, is dedicated to avoiding what he calls a catastrophic dumbing down of the Bible and of culture.
He was a senior pastor at a church in Homestead, Fla., in the mid-1970s when he and associate ministers came to the conclusion that they were preaching over the heads of congregants.
Pastors got blank stares instead of looks of recognition when they related scriptural stories, he said.
If they preach or teach the Bible beyond five to seven minutes, people tune out, become bored, restless and eventually move on, the Rev. Bez said.
People "want sermons that are emotionally stimulating, visually stunning but bereft of biblical content."
He attends the central campus of Mount Paran Church of God in the Atlanta area, where he teaches the teachers of Bible at his church.
His ministry has developed a test to gauge a congregation's biblical literacy to help pastors know where the people's strengths and weaknesses are, the Rev. Bez said. Biblical illiteracy goes beyond the churches.
"Our culture at large has entirely forgotten that a large part of our vocabulary has been contributed to us by what I would call Judeo-Christian documents. English teachers are complaining all over the country that students are becoming functionally illiterate because they are biblically illiterate," he said.
According to a recent Gallup Poll, about 10 percent of 1,002 teenagers surveyed thought Moses was one of Jesus' apostles. Fewer than half knew that the Bible says Jesus turned water into wine at the wedding at Cana.
A report was released by the Fairfax, Va.-based Bible Literacy Project in conjunction with the poll. When surveyed, 40 of 41 English teachers known for excellence among their peers said that pupils had a distinct educational advantage if they knew Bible stories.
The Rev. Bez said that if he could figure out how to get people to sit down and read the Scriptures, he could be the next Bill Gates.
People want life to be easy and convenient, said Paul Volpitto, the coordinator for The Augusta School of Biblical Studies. Many people's only exposure to the Bible is a few verses accompanying a Sunday school lesson or a passage they might find in a religious book, though a good book will lead the reader back to the Bible, he said.
"The bottom line is, our churches would be stronger if our families were stronger," Mr. Volpitto continued. "The family is struggling so the church is struggling."
Reach Virginia Norton at 823-3336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.