Wednesday, November 22, 2006

A green church without children?

Katharine Jefferts Schori was recently elected as the first woman head of the Episcopal Church (the American branch of the Anglicans). A few days ago she was interviewed by the New York Times and made the following comments:

Q. How many members of the Episcopal Church are there in this country?

About 2.2 million. It used to be larger percentagewise, but Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children.

Q. Episcopalians aren't interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?

No. It's probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

I had to read that last bit twice to make sure I'd understood correctly. But it's stated very clearly: Jefferts Schori tells us that Episcopalians are not interested in replenishing their ranks by having children, but in the opposite - in not having children as a moral aim.

The whole instinct here is wrong. The very liberal Jefferts Schori has too little sense of the civilisational issues at stake when family formation and fertility rates are depressed; she is too fatalistic about the losses to her own church; and she too readily abandons the appeal of the church to those wanting a supportive environment for the raising of their families.

Perhaps Jefferts Schori has been influenced by a 2004 report on population trends within the Episcopal Church. This report found that the church had lost 829,000 members between 1967 and 2002, and that this was due to a fall in the fertility rate of white Americans, "our main constituency".

The decline in white fertility hit Episcopalians hardest, as better educated and wealthier white women have the lowest fertility rate, and there are more such women in the Episcopal Church than other denominations. The fertility rate of Episcopalians is estimated to be 1.5, well below replacement level (see p.17 of the report).

How does the report suggest that the problem be addressed? You would think the first concern of the church would be to encourage a stronger family ethos amongst its existing membership. But this is totally ignored.

Instead the report states blandly that,

The bottom line is this: given the demographic characteristics of our members, sustained growth is unlikely unless we begin to reach out beyond our historic constituency ... The problems facing the Episcopal Church are daunting due to the nature of our main constituency.

Again, it is just assumed that middle-class, white Americans aren't going to have children. This despite the fact that the church grew significantly in the 1950s when its existing members actually were having kids.

Instead, the church report simply accepts the radical changes to family life as a "demographic characteristic of our members" and suggests seeking out a replacement constituency.

Perhaps Jefferts Schori has accepted this fatalistic view and is trying to put a positive spin on it: there won't be Episcopal babies, but this is because we're smart and environmentally conscious and not because we (and other churches) have failed to hold together a healthy culture of family life.

Hat tip: Dog Fight at Bankstown


  1. in about 50 years when the congregation starts dissappearing, more funerals than baptisms, they might figure it out.

  2. It's called "liberal death wish".

    I look forward to Bishop Mrs Schori's sermon on that well-known text of St Paul, "Let the women keep silent in the assembly".