i said i'd write on rowan williams and ruth frankenberg a few posts ago, and i will soon. but i couldn't resist this comment on an article in the recent issue of books and culture.
in a wonderfully informative summary article, james a. mathisen details the twists and turns of sociological research on church growth and decline in the u.s. over the past 40 years or so. the occasion of his article is the growing consensus that dean kelley's famous book of thirty years ago, why strict churches are strong, is wrong! written by michael hout, andrew greeley, and melissa wilde, published in the american journal of sociology (that's right, the 'big kahuna' journal in sociology), they basically say that it is not that churches are strict but that people in strict churches have more babies. huh? well, they did sophisticated analysis of lots of data and that is their conclusion.
the really interesting thing, however, is the way mathisen develops a critique of the critique through informal conversations with sociologists of religion at a guild meeting. the critique, it turns out, is wrong (partly), too. why? because having babies does not mean having adult members (as any parent or youth director knows). so, the issue may be largely mislabeled with the introduction of the term strict. a better term might be serious. serious about faith convictions, about living those convictions out, and about passing those convictions on to the young and the new. in other words, churches that have strong religious identities (whatever type, but they tend not to be cultural christianity, anything goes churches even if they are not all 'conservative' or 'strict'). and, churches that are motivated and innovative in socialization of the young and the newcomer into these identities.
a better title might be, why living faith as a way of life makes churches strong!
anon, and +peace