- “Science proves kids are bad for Earth. Morality suggests we stop having them.” (NBC)
- “Want to Slow Global Warming? Researchers Look to Family Planning.” (NPR)
- “Having Children Brings High Carbon Impact.” (New York Times)
- “Having children is one of the most destructive things you can do to the environment, say researchers.” (The Independent)
- “The climate crisis is a reproductive crisis” (Conceivable Future)
To his credit, President Harrison has been upfront about the state of Missouri Synod Lutheranism. We are losing people, not quite as fast as the ELCA, but still bleeding off members at an alarming rate. This has not gone unnoticed among our leaders although the discussion has become less than salutary. Harrison is absolutely correct in saying that we are having fewer children as LCMS people and that this has been the trend for quite some time. The obvious truth of this is lost on no one. In part this means that our membership is aging -- who isn't! What this really means is that absent the natural church growth of children to counter the trend of people living longer, our average age is increasing more quickly than it did in the past. Again, everyone knows this even if we need to actually say it out loud every now and then just so that it does not get forgotten.
But some are intent upon playing this out politically. Visit the website called congregationsmatter.org and you will find articles that ridicule this information as a way of blaming women for the decline in Missouri. Really? Is the mere fact that identifying such things as couples of child-bearing age having fewer children and people marrying later or not marrying at all a slap against anyone? Apparently the writers of this web site believe that it is offensive to admit the obvious. Who is playing the blame game here?
Harrison also reminds us that much of our growth in the past was fueled by the children born to LCMS parents, baptized in LCMS congregations, confirmed in LCMS congregations, and then themselves married in LCMS congregations. Again, this is not rocket science. Of course it was. We would expect faithful folks in the pews to bring their children to baptism, Sunday school, catechism classes, etc... No one is saying that outreach did not bring people into the church but rather that a significant disconnect between the past and today in our church body is the fact that baptisms and confirmation of youth are down very substantially.
The demographic studies also point to the changing status of marriage and the many factors pressing against marriage (from the high rate of divorce to the high rate of cohabitation and many other things). The fact that we as a church must face up to the challenges placed before us and figure out how to strengthen marriages and the family is an important goal. It is not the means to ending the downward trend in membership but it is key to helping our people deal with the stresses and challenges laid before them as husbands and wives by the changing culture and values of that culture on daily basis. Again, the website in question presumes that Harrison or anyone is saying that if our people married earlier, stayed married longer, and had more children while married, all our problems as a church body would be over. I don't hear him or anyone from Synod suggesting that at all.
In fact, at the very beginning of the Journal of Lutheran Mission issue in which the demographic studies and other articles address the topic of our Synod's health and future, Harrison has these bulleted points:
- This demographic decline is not only an LCMS problem. It is a problem for all the historic American denominational groups. The LCMS decline has actually been far less than the declines experienced by the ELCA, Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church–USA and the like.
- In fact, all denominations gain the overwhelming majority of their membership from natural growth: from children of adult members raised in the faith. Thus, the retention of baptized and confirmed youth is a key area on which to focus.
- The LCMS’s persistent, long-term decline manifests itself both in a massive decrease in child baptisms(down 70 percent since their peak in the late 1950s) and a smaller but still significant decrease in adult converts (down 47 percent since their peak, again in the late 1950s). Indeed, the number of child baptisms and adult converts have decreased together in a remarkably similar pattern.
- Thus there is no wedge that can be driven between openness to life (family size) and sharing life (evangelism). They are two sides of the same coin. Even down to the congregational level, churches with lots of growing families have lots of adult converts. The two simply go together; they either increase or decline together as these data demonstrate.
There is, however, a false enemy of growth and a false means to growth being promoted by some in our church body. Some presume that our interest in doctrine and doctrinal unity is an enemy of church growth and some presume that abandoning our liturgical identity on Sunday morning will promote church growth. These are the ones who have politicized the issue and these are the ones who are pitting faithfulness against mission in ways that our own history proves wrong.
TIME Magazine in 1958 recognized Lutheran growth in America and suggested it was due to the fact that Lutherans were not afraid of the questions being asked and were confident of the answers from Scripture and confessed in their Book of Concord. It identified the liturgical identity of Lutherans that made it possible to enter nearly any Lutheran congregation on Sunday morning and find the same liturgy, hear the same lessons read, and sing many of the same hymns (as a positive aspect of their confessional identity before the world). It recognized their use of technology (from The Lutheran Hour to This Is the Life) and their willingness to use this technology to proclaim the Gospel. It also identified their vibrant sacramental focus on the Christ who is present concretely in His Church through the means of grace. Finally, it recognized the mission focus of Lutherans both nationally and throughout the world.
Yes, the families have changed, the birth rate is lower among our people, and we are bringing in fewer people from outside the church. But it occurs to me that perhaps the very things that TIME noted as our strengths in 1958 have become weaknesses. Are we still as confident in the message of the Scriptures and the living testament to that faith in our Confessions or are we unsure what we stand for and what we believe? Do we have a common liturgical identity anymore or are we so diverse on Sunday morning as to have no real common liturgical face for what we believe? Are we on top of technology and using it to proclaim unequivocally the unchanging Christ for a changing world or are we hesitant to use that technology to speak the Gospel boldly? Do we have a focus on the Christ among us in the means of grace or have we turned our attention from forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation to personal happiness and success in the present moment?
Harrison is falsely accused of blaming women or naively thinking that simply having more babies will fix what is wrong in our church body but there are those who are responsible for falsely blaming doctrine, liturgy, and the hymnal for our decline. Such things should be beneath us as we pursue our best for His glory but it seems that no crisis is immune from politicization -- even in the Church. For that we are all the poorer.