March 27, 2009
The Wrong Boogeyman (Part 1)
Is the government really to blame for declining church attendance?
Two weeks ago the American Religious Identification Survey [ARIS] released its findings and announced that "secular" Americans now account for 15 percent of the population. That is up from 8 percent in 1990 and just 2 percent in 1962. Among the young the trend is even higher. Only 25 percent of people between 21 and 45 years old regularly attend church.
Who is responsible for this dramatic downturn in commitment to church attendance? According to some church leaders it's the government.
In a blog post from March 19, Al Mohler discusses an article in The Wall Street Journal by W. Bradford Wilcox who believes "the expansion of the government sector to offer cradle-to-grave social services contributes to the secularization of society." According to Wilcox as people become increasingly dependent on government programs for their daily bread, they become less dependent upon the church.
Mr. Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, warns:
"A successful Obama revolution providing cradle-to-career education and cradle-to-grave health care would reduce the odds that Americans would turn to their local religious congregations and fellow believers for economic, social, emotional and spiritual aid."
Wilcox recognizes that many people engage religious institutions for reasons other than material aid, but then reminds his readers that "many of those who initially turn to religious organizations for mutual aid end up developing a faith that is as supernatural as it is material. But first they need to enter the door." Mohler shares this viewpoint saying that Wilcox's article "is not only an article that should be read, but an argument that must be heard."
Am I the only one who finds this line of reasoning dubious? Are we to believe that the number of secular Americans has nearly doubled in the last 18 years because of liberal government programs? The argument becomes even more incongruous when we remember that conservatives ran the Congress for 12 of those years and the White House for 10. And are we supposed to oppose health care reform and better schools because healthier, more educated Americans may be less likely to attend a worship service?
Government has always been a popular boogeyman for cultural crusaders, but this is downright bizarre. What if the exodus of young people from the church isn't the government's fault but ours? And what if the solution isn't opposing a certain political agenda, but working harder at building relational trust with the young adults in our churches, families, and neighborhoods?
It's time to stop blaming the big bad liberal wolf for the church's collapse, and start recognizing that we carry responsibility for building our houses out of hay and sticks.
In part two of the post, Jethani addresses the notion that the increase in the number of single adults is to blame for declining church attendance.