Thursday, October 20, 2005

Mainline church decline caused by fertility rates, study shows

CHICAGO (ABP)The decline membership in of mainline churches over the last century had more to do with sex than theology, research by a trio of sociologists suggests.

The popular notion that conservative churches are growing because mainline churches are too liberal is being challenged by new research that offers a simpler cause for much of the mainline decline—the use of birth control.

Differences in fertility rates account for 70 percent of the decline of mainline Protestant church membership from 1900 to 1975 and the simultaneous rise in conservative church membership, the sociologists said.

“For most of the 20th century, conservative women had more children than mainline women did,” three sociologists—Michael Hout of the University of California-Berkley, Andrew Greeley of the University of Arizona, and Melissa Wilde of Indiana University—wrote in Christian Century.

“It took most of the 20th century for conservative women to adopt family-planning practices that have become dominant in American society,” the writers said. “Or to put the matter differently, the so-called decline of the mainline may ultimately be attributable to its earlier approval of contraception.”
(Read the rest here.)

“The decline membership in of mainline churches over the last century had more to do with sex than theology.“ What a wonderful example of how we slide painlessly towards the Apocalypse! Behavior has been successfully decoupled from theology. What we do in our bedrooms can’t possibly have anything to do with how we see God, His will for man, and His relation to the created order.

I think you can make a pretty good case that it was the general acceptance of contraception by the mainline churchgoer that began the slide of what Philip Turner calls the “practical theology” of the church. Prior to that, revisionist thinking was largely limited to the seminaries and universities. Contraception opened the laity to the theology of expedience and acculturation; separation of belief from behavior led to the wide acceptance of Gnostic philosophies, where “those in the know” are viewed as leaders and “those who do” are marginalized.