'Social justice' is killing organized religion
A fascinating article by Joel Kotkin in The Tablet describes the precipitous decline in membership to organized churches and synagogues, with a primary reason being the growing influence in these religious organizations of leftists and leftist dogma.
The numbers are shocking. It's not just the decline of members that's concerning; it's the aging of the church-going population that jumps out at you. For example, attendance at conservative and reformed synagogues is declining at a time when the average age of Reform congregations is 54, and only 17 percent of members say they attend religious services even once a month.
It's just as bad for Christians.
But Jews, and their religious institutions, should not feel singled out. The share of Americans who belong to the Catholic Church has declined from 24 percent in 2007 to 21 percent in 2014, a more rapid decline according to Pew, then any other religious organization in memory. There are 6.5 former Catholics in the U.S. for every new convert to the faith, not a number suggesting a very sunny future.
The mainstream Protestant churches are not exactly filling the sanctuaries either. Some, like the internally conflicted Methodists have seen their number of North American congregants drop from 15 million in 1970 to barely half that today. Since 2007 alone, America's mainstream churches have lost 5 million members, and even the once vibrant evangelical movement is losing adherents outside of the developing world. Ever more churches, particularly in urban areas, are being abandoned, turned into bars, restaurants, and luxury condos. And nothing augurs worse for the future than the fact that American millennials are leaving religious institutions at a rate four times that of their counterparts three decades ago; almost 40 percent of people 18 to 29 are not unaffiliated.
It's not that the young consider themselves less "spiritual" than their elders. Millenials have eschewed traditional, mainstream faiths and, according to one author, are constantly searching for a spiritual outlet:
For one thing, young Americans have different habits. Rather than join institutions, millennials, argued Wade Clark Roof, author of the book Spiritual Marketplace, are indulging in a kind of "grazing," finding their spiritual fixes in various different places rather than any one organized church. As sociologists Robert Putnam and David Campbell explained, those in this age group "reject conventional religious affiliation, while not entirely giving up their religious feelings."
But there is plenty of evidence that the turn by mainstream religions away from traditional beliefs toward "social justice" causes is driving away more traditionally-minded members.
In this difficult environment, many religious movements — Reform Judaism, mainstream Protestantism, and increasingly the Catholic Church under Pope Francis — have sought to redefine themselves largely as instruments of social justice. Although doing good deeds, or mitzvot, long has constituted a strong element in most religions, the primary motivation of the faith community traditionally focused on heritage, spirituality, and family. In their haste to be politically correct, even Catholic private schools such as Notre Dame are rushing to cover up murals of Columbus, and, in one California case, a private Catholic grammar school has gone as far as hiding statues of saints.
Yet rebranding themselves as progressive often brings religious activists into alliances with people who reject their core values. The Catholic left, for example, allying itself with the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, implicitly embraces the advocates of the most extreme abortion liberalization. Sometimes, these linkages are ironic: Faith in Public Life, for example, a strident "religious" group advocating a progressive anti-Trump line, gets much of its funding from George Soros, arguably the world's most well-heeled and active promoter of atheism.
The Catholic Church has other problems besides embracing progressive thought. And mainstream protestant denominations are feeling it the most. Splits between conservatives and liberals among Methodists on LGBT issues has split the church. Some denominations embrace redefining marriage and gay clergy while others push back against the tide.
What seems clear is that churches that embrace progressive causes risk alienating many of their members. There are almost certainly leaders in these denominations who sincerely believe that these causes are based in faith. "What would Jesus do" is a popular question on the left because, in secular terms, Jesus was a revolutionary who cared deeply about inequality of wealth and the poor. An argument can be made that Christ's divine mission on Earth had nothing to do with progressive causes or even secular concerns. But as a man, Jesus fought for those who were less fortunate, which is how leftists have always seen themselves.
The Left doesn't care about traditional faith, largely because there are too many strictures against doing what feels good and a demand to treat others — even your political opponents — as you yourself would want to be treated. Churchmen who embrace social justice causes at the expense of traditional faith are either too stupid or too naïve to accept the Left's disinterest in them. They are simply used as tools to further the radical agenda.