This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, June 26, 2019:
Gerald Seib brings a secular background to the Wall Street Journal for which he has been writing since he graduated from the University of Kansas in 1978. In his present role as executive Washington editor, he, according to the Journal, “brings an insightful, predictive, and original” understanding to the news.
That would apply to the culture and the economy as well. On Monday he came close to wringing his hands over the state of both: “Americans are going to church less often, and are having fewer babies.”
He made a common and excusable mistake: he extended those trend lines into the future, drawing straight lines to describe a future curvilinear world. He said these two trend lines have “social and economic significance,” and he goes on to explain why.
First, referring to a recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, just 29 percent of Americans say they attend religious services at least once a week, down from 41 percent in 2000. Those who say they never attend church has, over the same period, risen to 26 percent, up from 14 percent two decades ago. Seib noted that “the share of … younger Americans who never attend religious services has more than doubled, to 36%.”
Seib also lamented the decline in America’s birthrate, reporting that “the number of babies born in the U.S. last year fell to a 32-year low … [while] the general fertility rate – defined as the number of births per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 – fell to the lowest level since the start of federal record-keeping.”
He then marks out the obvious: if these trends continue, Social Security and Medicare will be in ever-worsening shape due to lack of new people entering the workforce and paying for those who are leaving it. Schools will be razed and districts recombined. By implication, the U.S. is slowly becoming Japan. He says that unless something happens to change the trajectory, “the need for immigrants to retain a robust workforce will increase.”
Seib makes no reference to the decline of those in the evangelical community who supported Donald Trump in 2016, nor does he suggest that they have become so emaciated through age and attrition that they will have little impact in the 2020 presidential election. But a reader drawing those trend lines into the future can be excused if he comes to that conclusion.
Except that that conclusion would be wrong, seriously wrong. A closer look at that poll, along with studies derived from data provided by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), shows that the fertility rate among women ages 35 to 44 is increasing, not decreasing.
At least two reasons are given for that apparent conundrum: student debt and more professional young women in the workforce. Both work to delay – not eliminate – child-bearing among older women. Once they have achieved a measure of financial security and a marriage that has survived the early years, then they appear to be more willing to have babies: lots of them.
This bodes well as the Millennial cohort – currently numbering more than 70 million and expected to peak at 76 million in 2036 – moves into early and middle age, for it is then that they are more than likely to make up for lost time.
As for the decline in church attendance, Seib drew few conclusions. But Ben Trueblood of Lifeway, a research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, did. He said that young people aren’t leaving the church because of the atheistic environments found on the college campus, nor are they leaving out of bitterness: “What [our] research tells us [is that] there was nothing about the church experience or faith foundation of those teenagers that caused them to seek out a connection to a local church once they entered a new phase of life.”
What about the Gospel message? Were they not exposed to it during their “church experience”? Did not this lay a “faith foundation” once they moved on from their teen years? Was this not adequate to carry them through the changes and crises they faced as they moved through life?
What Lifeway discovered is that, for many, the answer is no. It wasn’t that the Gospel wasn’t preached; it was that it wasn’t received. It wasn’t planted deep enough to survive the lean and dry years.
But there is always a Remnant, and there always will be. Libertarian Albert Jay Nock paraphrased the call of God upon His prophet Isaiah to make that point. Using the vernacular of his day (the turn of the 20th century), Nock retold the story. God told Isaiah:
There is a Remnant there that you know nothing about. They are obscure, unorganized, inarticulate, each one rubbing along as best he can. They need to be encouraged and braced up because when everything has gone completely to the dogs, they are the ones who will come back and build up a new society; and meanwhile your preaching will reassure them and keep them hanging on.
God hasn’t abandoned America. He is merely testing its citizens while handing off its responsibilities to another generation.
The Wall Street Journal: Cradles, Pews and the Societal Shifts Coming to Politics by Seib
The Wall Street Journal: U.S. Births Fall to Lowest Level Since 1980s
The New American: Survey: Two Out of Three Teenagers Leave the Church as Young Adults
Mises.org: Isaiah’s Job by Albert Jay Nock