An Embrace of Social Justice Won’t Help Synagogues Retain Members

March 5 2019

As the liberal denominations of both Judaism and Christianity face rapid demographic decline, they have turned increasingly to promoting social justice—in the form both of actively supporting left-wing causes and of engaging in charitable works. But, argues Joel Kotkin, this approach has done little to reduce defections or bring in new members. He writes:

However satisfying to its practitioners, the emphasis on social justice is clearly not attracting more worshippers. Almost all of the religious institutions most committed to this course are also in the most serious decline, most notably mainstream Protestants but also Catholics and Reform and Conservative Jews. The rapidly declining Church of England, which is down to a 2-percent share among British youth, is burnishing its progressive image by adding the use of plastics to its list of Lenten sacrifices, but seems unable to serve the basic spiritual and family needs of their congregants. By contrast, more conservative faith organizations generally enjoy better growth and higher birthrates, particularly in the developing world. . . .

To survive, less traditionalist faiths need less “virtue signaling” and more emphasis on serving the needs of congregants. Marshall Toplansky, who advises Church World Services, a major Protestant aid group, suggested that groups like Mormons and evangelicals who focus on providing services for families and their local communities fare far better than those more tied to strictly a social gospel. . . . Without engaging the faithful and addressing their needs, he noted, “people stop identifying with their local institution and stop participating in the local activities that defined them to begin with.” . . .

Ultimately. . . religions, including Judaism, can hope to thrive only if they serve a purpose that is not met elsewhere in society. It is all well and good to perform good deeds, but if religions do not make themselves indispensable to families, their future could be bleak. As we already see in Europe, churches and synagogues could become ever more like pagan temples, vestiges of the past and attractions for the curious, profoundly clueless about the passion and commitment that created them.

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More about: American Religion, Conservative Judaism, Reform Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Social Justice

 

Understanding the Background of the White House Ruling on Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act

Dec. 13 2019

On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order allowing federal officials to extend the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Jews. (The order, promptly condemned for classifying Jews as a separate nationality, did nothing of the sort.) In 2010, Kenneth Marcus called for precisely such a ruling in the pages of Commentary, citing in particular the Department of Education’s lax response to a series of incidents at the University of California at Irvine, where, among much elase, Jewish property was vandalized and Jewish students were pelted with rocks, called “dirty Jew” and other epithets, and were told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, U.S. Politics