A study last year claimed governments lose $71 billion a year because of the tax exemptions of religious institutions but a new book by sociologist Rodney Stark suggests religion saves America $2.6 trillion a year:
The biggest by far has to do with the criminal justice system. If all Americans committed crimes at the same level as those who do not attend religious services, the costs of the criminal justice system would about double to, perhaps, $2 trillion annually. Second is health costs. The more often people attend religious services, the healthier they are. However, the net savings involved is reduced somewhat by the fact that religious Americans live, on average, seven years longer than those who never attend religious services.
So then religion in America is worth the money? The math on this would be mighty interesting. But, hopefully this is more information on this in the book.
It does strike me that this is a strange way to talk about religion or any social good: does it really come down to money? This strikes me as a very American conversation where we care about the value of things and bang for our buck.
Joe Carter at First Things discusses some comments made by sociologist Rodney Stark in a recent interview. Stark suggested that the Mainline denominations, Episcopalians, Congregationalists, Methodists, Presbyterians, and a few others, are now the periphery while Evangelicals are the core.
No offense to my mainline friends, but I’ve never understood why they continue to be considered mainstream by the the mainstream media. The Southern Baptist Convention has as many members as all mainline denominations combined. Yet the dying denominations get all the attention.
I suspect that within my lifetime the only mainline denominations that will continue to exist will be those that, as Stark notes, are led by clergy who are “generally evangelical in their convictions.”
While Carter may have a point about Mainline denominations receiving an inordinate amount of attention compared to their size, there are still some reasons to consider and track the Mainline:
1. They represent an important historical era of Christianity in the United States and their slow decline is of interest. Once the dominant denominations, they are now in a different position. How their theological beliefs have changed over time is fascinating. Tracing these changes is useful just as tracking how Evangelicalism has changed and will change over time is also useful.
2. Mainline denominations have historically had middle-class and upper-class adherents as opposed to more conservative denominations which had less education and lower incomes. While this gap has narrowed today, these denominations still often represent money, tradition, and influence. These are interesting qualities that are attractive to journalists and others.