As 2016 drew to a close and Synod President Matt Harrison’s salary ballooned to $252,573 from $210,156, Harrison ended his lucrative year by laying the blame for declining LCMS membership in the laps of what he considers not-pregnant-often-enough LCMS women.
Professor William Schumacher disagrees with Matt Harrison’s conclusions. In his 10 page article in the May 2017 issue of Lutheran Mission Matters titled Demography and Mission in the LCMS: A Response to Journal of Lutheran Mission, December 2016, Schumacher responds to the errors in demography, correlation and missional theology. Click here to download a PDF copy of his article from the web.
Harrison’s Flawed Analysis
In his response, Professor Schumacher of Concordia St. Louis dismantled Matt Harrison’s arguments which blamed women for declining Synod numbers. Congregations Matter notes Harrison attempted to put the best construction on these conclusions in his President’s Report to the Milwaukee Convention, but Harrison’s argument still connected the dots between fertility and decline:
“Last year’s number of LCMS births was down some 70 percent from 1959. Society has changed. Marriage is delayed. Education comes first. Debt affects marriage and families. Delaying marriage and child rearing means far fewer children. Children are very expensive. There is much, much more that is affecting the LCMS that we will share.
After the third study was done, I asked for just a little more information. I asked for a county-by-county report on the birth rates for each district area of the LCMS. Guess what? The district/state with the highest birth rate in the past ten years (South Dakota), happened to be the best performing district of the LCMS (only a 4 percent decline from 2002–2012). New Jersey had the lowest birth rate over the past decade, and the district accordingly showed the greatest losses over ten years (33 percent). What’s more, the performance of each district lines up almost exactly with the birth rate of each area.
The brutal fact is that the growth of the LCMS has overwhelmingly occurred via childbirth….I have raised this issue so that we can together make informed and wise decisions about our mission today in this nation.” 2016 Convention Workbook, Page 2 [Emphasis Harrison]
Since When Does Birthrate = Mission?
Schumacher knows about mission: he serves the Synod as mission professor of historical theology and as director of the Institute for Mission Studies at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. In addition, he was an evangelistic missionary to Botswana for nearly a decade.
Earlier, in the December 2016 Special Issue of Journal of Lutheran Mission (https://blogs.lcms.org/2016/journal-of-lutheran-mission-december-2016/), Harrison claimed the cause of declining membership is too few LCMS babies. Fewer members mean less revenue for Synod. This truism became painfully obvious when the Synod BOD’s minutes recently stated Synod was down to five days of working cash.
First, Professor Schumacher reveals Harrison’s hypothesized correlation between declining LCMS birth rates and declining membership is weak. Second, Schumacher reminds the Synod these correlations do not prove causation.
Harrison Blames LCMS Women For Synod’s Decline
Schumacher summarizes Harrison’s ballyhooed studies as follows:
“One may, without caricature, summarize the view of (LCMS) women and their education in these studies thus: The overeducated white women of the LCMS are responsible for the denomination’s numerical decline. Our women get too much education, which leads them to want to work professionally, raises their aspirations for material prosperity, burdens them with student debt, makes them too persnickety in their choice of husbands, and delays their proper Christian work of child-bearing.”
In his introduction to the Journal studies, Harrison vainly attempts to parry the conclusion most readers will reach after reading his demographic studies – they are a navel-gazing indulgence – first, to excuse himself as Synod President for declining membership, and second, to blame LCMS women. He tries to put a fig leaf over the real purpose of his demographic studies by claiming HIS focus is on outreach. We can’t read his mind, but Harrison’s studies aren’t about evangelism.
Increased Fertility Is Not the Point
Schumacher disagrees with the fertility focus of the Synod studies. Contrary to Harrison’s demographic study, religion is no longer an “inherited trait.” Schumacher observes:
“The focus on birth rates and family formation is central throughout the studies, and this focus points us repeatedly and emphatically to the question of how to increase fertility of LCMS women. But that focus itself is based on the assumption that “LCMS affiliation tends to be an inherited trait”….But it is no longer a valid assumption, because religion is no longer an inherited trait….The assumption that people will remain in the religious tradition into which they are born cannot form the core of our thinking about how to bring the Gospel to unbelievers.”
In accord with his myopic focus on accruing ever more ecclesiastical power to his desk in St. Louis, Matthew Harrison’s studies overlook the fact that the lost mainly hear about Jesus in local congregations. As Professor Schumacher writes:
“The LCMS as a denomination does not reach the lost. People who do not know or trust Jesus will probably not hear the Gospel from a district office. Local congregations, in all their bewildering variety and individual uniqueness, are the primary agents in communicating Christ to their neighbors so that they, too, may hear the Gospel promise and be drawn into a life of faith in Jesus. Research that aims at helping non-Christians to hear the Gospel must focus on congregations, not on the denomination.”
Schumacher’s point: Synods don’t reach the lost. Congregations do. Congregations matter!
Jesus Was Not Concerned About Birthrate
Jesus was concerned for those lost to eternal salvation. In conclusion, Rev. Dr. Schumacher summarizes:
“In the end, one finishes the whole “special issue” with a gaping, unanswered question: What about the lost? The copious data and capable methodology presented in these helpful studies do not provide us with an answer to this question. Answers we must seek elsewhere, if it is a question we ask seriously. If we want to document decline, we should look at ourselves. If we want to seek and save the lost, we should look at them—and at Christ, because He is in that business (Luke 19:10).”
Congregations Matter couldn’t agree more. The harvest is plentiful (Luke 10:2) all around us. God has placed the LCMS in the great mission field of America. When He walked among His people, the Son of Man said He came to seek and to save the lost, not to blame women for not bearing enough children.
Click here to download the PDF of the Special Issue of the Journal of Lutheran Mission Special Issue, December 2016