More evidence that scientists–especially social scientists–need to study philosophy, particularly the complicated question of what constitutes causality: A study of ELCA congregations has found that the more racially diverse a congregation is, the more it has declined in attendance. The implication being that white people leave when minority races show up. This effect is especially evident, the study says, in older congregations.
But there are lots of reasons that ELCA congregations have been declining in membership! The study says nothing about the theological shift leftward that has caused so many members to leave. Or, even more to the point, neighborhood demographics. “Older congregations” originally started in big cities are nearly always in decline as assimilated immigrants and young families move to the suburbs. These congregations do pick up some racially diverse members from the neighborhood, but since African-Americans don’t have a tradition of becoming ELCA Lutherans (though they could well be Missouri Synod Lutherans, which has a long tradition of black membership), there will be a net loss. But to interpret this as racism is grossly inaccurate. To use statistical terms, correlation is not causation. [Read more…]