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

War with Iran Isn’t on the Horizon. So Why All the Arguments against It?

As the U.S. has responded to Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf, various observers in the press have argued that National Security Advisor John Bolton somehow seeks to drag President Trump into a war with Iran against his will. Matthew Continetti points out the absurdities of this argument, and its origins:

Never mind that President Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and Bolton have not said a single word about a preemptive strike, much less a full-scale war, against Iran. Never mind that the president’s reluctance for overseas intervention is well known. The “anti-war” cries are not about context, and they are certainly not about deterring Iran. Their goal is saving President Obama’s nuclear deal by manipulating Trump into firing Bolton and extending a lifeline to the regime.

It’s a storyline that originated in Iran. Toward the end of April, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif showed up in New York and gave an interview to Reuters where he said, “I don’t think [Trump] wants war,” but “that doesn’t exclude him basically being lured into one” by Bolton. . . . And now this regime talking point is everywhere. “It’s John Bolton’s world. Trump is just living in it,” write two former Obama officials in the Los Angeles Times. “John Bolton is Donald Trump’s war whisperer,” writes Peter Bergen on CNN.com. . . .

Recall Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission to the New York Times Magazine in 2016 [that] “We created an echo chamber” to attack the Iran deal’s opponents through leaks and tips to the D.C. press. . . . Members of the echo chamber aren’t for attacking Iran, but they are all for slandering its American opponents. The latest target is Bolton. . . .

The Iranians are in a box. U.S. sanctions are crushing the economy, but if they leave the agreement with Europe they will be back to square one. To escape the box you try to punch your way out. That’s why Iran has assumed a threatening posture: provoking an American attack could bolster waning domestic support for the regime and divide the Western alliance.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Javad Zarif, John Bolton, U.S. Foreign policy