Sunday, 10 July 2016

Churches or Political Parties: Who has the Largest Membership?

I write much about the growth and decline of Christian churches, but given the political events in the UK following the EU referendum I thought I would compare church membership with political party membership to see who is the stronger. One result of the referendum has been a vote of no confidence in the Labour Party leader by most of his MPs, which was followed by a 60,000 increase in party membership in one week [1]. In church terms that would be a massive revival! But what does it mean in political party terms?

Membership of UK Political Parties

First, let me give a sense of the size of the main parties in the UK. Figure 1 shows changes in party membership since 2000 where such data exists [2,3]. The membership of both the Labour and Conservative Parties have declined through the period, though both are significantly bigger than the other parties.
 
Figure 1

Since the appointment of Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, the Labour Party has seen a significant membership rise to over 400,000, probably due to an imminent leadership election. Thus Labour easily has the largest membership in the UK, over 2.5 times that of the Conservatives, despite its relative lack of success in recent elections [4]. Both the Liberal Democrats (Lib Dem) and Green Party have seen recent rises in membership, taking them past the 60,000 mark, well above the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) on 47,000. There is little correlation between party size and electoral performance, or party size with the referendum result!

Declining Churches and Political Parties Compared

Figure 2 compares the memberships of the Church of England and the Conservative Party since the 1940s [5]. The Conservatives had a massive post-war recruitment campaign, but have since fallen from a peak of nearly 3 million to just 150,000 members. The Church of England by contrast has fallen far more slowly from 3 million to just under a million [6]. Despite the well-publicised decline of the established church, it almost looks healthy compared with the Conservative Party! The Church of England were once nicknamed the “Conservative Party at prayer”. I doubt if that is a true description these days. From figure 2 it looks as if the Conservative Party better start praying again!
 
Figure 2

A similar pattern of decline is seen by comparing the Methodist Church with the Labour Party, figure 3. In this case the two almost match each other, though there is no obvious reason why this should be so. Both had just under 800,000 members in 1960, and both had about 200,000 in 2012.
 
Figure 3

It is immediately obvious from figures 2 and 3 that changes in party membership are far more volatile than that of churches. There are a number of reasons for this:
  1. Unlike churches, most party members need to renew membership each year, thus they are more likely to disaffiliate if there are events that disturb them. Note the drop in Labour following its divisions and election loss in the late 1970s, a similar drop in the Conservatives in the early 1990s for similar reasons.
  2. Unlike churches, joining a political party does not require any participation at regular meetings. Churches meet every week and for some you have to make a public confession of faith before you join. That is a level of commitment I doubt many political parties would wish to introduce [7]! 

Thus political parties are much easier to join and leave and can be done so with little commitment. Note the rapid rise of both parties from 1945-1953. The recruitment campaigns behind this increase have similar dynamics to that of Christian revival. A research student of mine explained this rise with a similar model to the Limited Enthusiasm Model of church growth – word of mouth dynamics [3,8]. There is a similar revival in the Labour Party in the late 1990s (figure 3) when Tony Blair came to power. But the general trend of both mainstream parties is down. It is estimated that in these periods of political revival the majority of party members were completely inactive [3].

Growing Churches and Political Parties Compared

Yes there are growing churches! As the mainline denominations decline other denominations are growing and taking some of the vacant space in the Christian landscape. Figure 4 compares the decline of the Methodists with the growth of Pentecostalism, the Eastern Orthodox, and the “New” churches. The latter are independent charismatic churches, including New Frontiers and Vineyard, which came about as a result of the charismatic revival that started in the 1960-70s. Their growth has slowed of late, though not ceased, as many of these churches are in transition from the first generation of leadership.
 
Figure 4

Notice both Pentecostals and the Eastern Orthodox have now passed the Methodist Church. Both are enhanced by immigration, the Orthodox being largely Greek. However there is strong revival growth in Pentecostalism as well.

How does this growth compare with political parties? Figure 5 compares the sum of the revival churches, Pentecostals and “New”, with the Labour Party, and with the sum of the Lim Dems, UKIP, Greens and the Scottish National Party (SNP), all of whom boast of growth. The revival churches are far larger than both political groupings; even with the recent surge in Labour membership.
 
Figure 5

Just as important as the level of membership of the revival churches is the consistency of their growth, reflecting their long-term member commitment and regular meetings. We live in times where churches are scorned, secularism applauded, and political parties get much media attention for their growth. But from figure 5 it is clear that churches have a far healthier, and more sustainable, growth pattern. I could have added to their number all the independent evangelical churches, and all evangelical and charismatic churches in the mainstream denominations. Evangelical revival is dwarfing political party revival!

Membership in 2016

Indeed Christianity has far greater membership than political parties. Figure 6 shows the state of play at this point in time in 2016. Of course church attendance is lower than membership, but political party activism is also much lower than their membership [3]. Thus membership comparison between the two types of organisations is a fair measure of their relative strength.
 
Figure 6

Despite its decline the established Church of England is by far the largest grouping, figure 6. By contrast the Conservatives, the party of government, are dwarfed by Pentecostals and the Eastern Orthodox. Lib Dems, Green and UKIP look tiny by comparison. Though note the SNP is significantly larger than other “small” parties despite drawing from the smaller base of Scotland. Proportionally the SNP is the most successful UK political party in membership terms at present.

The largest political party is the Labour Party, figure 6, and it may well be even bigger by the time I post this blog as people are joining so fast! Nevertheless it is still only the same size as each of the Pentecostal and Eastern Orthodox churches. It is possible that once Labour has had its membership election it will decline again, perhaps forming two parties, due to disputes about leadership and direction.

The British National Party (BNP), estimated at 4,200, cannot be seen on this scale, figure 6. Even the Momentum group, currently influencing the Labour Party, barely registers, even though it doubled from 6,000 to 12,000 recently [1]. There is little correlation between party size and media coverage. If only churches could get the same positive media attention as Momentum and UKIP do! Well Jesus never went down well with the powers that be, so we Christians can’t really expect positive press!

Even when it comes to change over time churches fare better than political parties, Figure 7 shows the Anglican Church falling less than the Conservatives over the last 60 years, as already noted [9]. However the figure also shows the dramatic drop in participation of all organisations over this period.

Figure 7

Why such a drop of involvement in voluntary organisations? There are probably many reasons; rising wealth is one. Most people now have both the money, and the time, to spend it on pleasure pursuits. That is an external reason. Another may be organisational atrophy, an internal reason. Older churches and mainstream political parties have become institutionalised. That is, they have large bureaucracies to maintain, and they occupy prominent positions in society. Such organisations lose the ability, and perhaps the will, to recruit to their cause. I have been modelling this with system dynamics, showing that most organisations have a lifecycle and find it very hard to survive without a serious dismantling of their institutional structures [10].
 
Figure 8
 
Perhaps what we are seeing is the demise of the older political parties and churches, and the rise of new ones to replace them. Figure 8 compares the growth of the newer parties with churches, showing that it is the Christian Church that is making a better job of this growth than its political counterparts. Rather than secularism taking hold, it looks as if Christianity is having a revival.

Ideological Battle 

Of course organisational membership is not the whole story. As I have previously written Christianity is losing out in the public space to a new ideology, which I named Diversity [11]. It is humanist in belief and makes use of various single-issue movements, especially the diversity/inclusion/equality one, to pursue its cause. It has no party as such, but all political parties acknowledge it and promote it to some degree, as do some of the older church denominations. It is this battle where secularism is winning out over Christianity, driving churches to the margins of society, even though those churches are numerically healthier than political parties.

So although Christianity can take some comfort that is having more success than political parties, with some churches having a measure of revival, it comes at a cost – public hostility. Not from all the public, not even from most of it, but the hostility of activists and their various elites in government, media, campaign groups and employment. However we can take comfort as Biblically we know true revival is given so we can face persecution, and through it, win many to Christ.

John Hayward
Church Growth Modelling


References & Notes

[1] Labour leader issues defiant message as pro-Corbyn organisation doubles its membership in a week, The Independent, 4/7/16.
By the time I post the blog the Labour Party may have increased by over 100,000 members.

[2] Membership of UK Political Parties, Richard Keen, House of Commons Library Briefing Paper SN05125, 11/8/15. Also previous versions: Keen (2014), McGuiness (2012), Marshall (2009).

[3] Activist Model of Political Party Growth. Jeffs R.A., Hayward J., Roach P.A. & Wyburn J. Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and its Applications, 442, 359-372, (2016) . http://arxiv.org/abs/1509.07805

[4] Figures for Labour Party membership are for full members. In addition Labour has affiliated members from Trade Unions, and registered supporters who may vote in leadership elections, but not in branch meetings.

[5] Membership figures for the Conservatives are limited, partly due to its organisational structure. Like most parties they are reluctant to release membership figures when they do not tell a good story.

[6] Church membership figures are taken from:
  • Religious Trends, Volumes 1-7, Peter Brierley, Christian Research (1991-2008).
  • UK Church Statistics 2010-2020, Peter Brierley, Brierley Consultancy (2014).
  • Churches and Churchgoers: Patterns of Church Growth in the British Isles since 1700. Currie, R., Gilbert, A. D., & Horsley, L. S. Oxford University Press, USA, (1977).
  • Statistics For Mission.  Various volumes from 2007-2014, Research and Statistics Department Archbishops' Council.
  • Statistics for Mission. Various volumes. The Methodist Church.

[7] Churches are primarily about worship – thus are God-centred and have a sense of eternal destiny. Political parties are about events of this world and changing things in the near future. Those differences could make changes in party membership more volatile than that of churches.

[8] The Limited Enthusiasm model of church growth is explained in a number of publications, e.g.
A General Model of Church Growth and Decline. Hayward J. Journal of Mathematical Sociology, 29(3), 177-207, (2005).

Further information is on the website http://www.churchmodel.org.uk/
and explained in lay terms in Tipping the Church into Growth,

[9] The start figure of 1953 was chosen because it was a year where membership figures were known across all organisations.

[10] Institutionalism and Church Decline

Institutional model of church growth applied to the GB Methodist Church

[11] The New Ideology – Part1: Model Construction

Conversion to the Diversity Ideology – Part 2: Justification of Hypotheses



Saturday, 2 July 2016

Revival is Real

After all the blogs on church decline I felt I needed to write on something more positive. Not that I am negative about the future of the Christian church. The Lord Jesus promised that his gospel would cover the earth before his return, and he said the gates of hell would not stop him building his church. So atheism, humanism, and the like, have no chance ultimately, whatever passing problems they cause the church at present.

The way Jesus builds his church is by pouring out his Spirit, often called revival. I live in Wales, a place that has had many revivals in the past. I am sure we would have them again if churches took the concept seriously, but sadly they don't.

One reason revivals may not be high on the agenda is that people don't believe they are real. They read the stories, perhaps getting excited by them for a short while, but rarely look at the hard numerical evidence to validate their effect. They remain just stories. I have recently shown how one Welsh denomination grew faster than the population for 130 years, through revival and conversion [1]. I will soon show the same for the Wesleyan Methodists [2]. In each case decline set in when revival ceased. But I wonder if the national scale of these revivals is too big and impersonal to bring them to life.

To help make revival more personal I will look at some congregational membership figures from the Rhondda Valleys around the time of the 1904/5 revival. I will focus on the Ystradyfodwg area, which includes the communities of Pentre, Ton Pentre, Gelli and Ystrad. The best membership data is for the three main Welsh non-conformist denominations at the time: the Calvinist Methodists, the Congregational and Baptist [3,4].

The three denominations had 18 congregations between them. This may seem a large number, but the area was very densely populated. Before the days of widespread public transport people expected to walk to church, and to one in the language of their choice, Welsh or English. Hence some duplication. Although there were a variety of denominations, providing a level of competition, the evidence from history books, newspapers, and the memories of older people was that the churches cooperated and were friendly to each other. Nothing like the stereotyped image of division and protectionism that is often portrayed in the popular media.

Calvinist Methodist

The Calvinist Methodists, also called the Presbyterian Church of Wales, had five congregations in the area [4], table 1.  Four were Welsh speaking with the one English-speaking church started between 1891 and 1901. Between these dates the five churches grew by 2.1% per annum, largely thanks to the new church in Gelli. Compare this with the period covering the 1904/5 revival and the same churches grew by an average 6.6% per annum. This shows the massive effect of the revival on membership, and is in line with the national denomination’s growth during the revival [1].

Table 1

The church with the largest increase was Duffryn in Ystrad, with a 9.5% annual increase. However all the churches saw significant membership growth due to the revival, the lowest being 4.7%. This compares with a typical annual increase of 0.3% before the revival. Revival is real – there were many converts.

The congregation with the largest numerical increase was Jerusalem in Ton Pentre with 139 added. It is worth noting that by 1911 there was little change in numbers. Membership in the Calvinist Methodists was still quite strict at this stage, and new members had discipleship classes. It took the First World War and the industrial decline of the twenties and thirties to undo the effects of the revival. Despite this decline the sum of the five congregations were still only at 1891 levels by 1937, a testament to genuine conversion.

Congregational

The Congregational church, also known as Welsh Independents, or Annibynwyr, had four Welsh-speaking congregations [4], table 2. Additionally there were two English congregations, one started in 1891. Sadly there is no data for 1891, but the six churches grew by an average annual 6% over the revival period. Only one congregation took a hit and declined. Perhaps they lost people to the new church in Ton Pentre that went from nothing to 246 during the revival period, the largest numerical increase of them all.

Table 2

Although Bryn Seion in Gelli had the largest percentage increase, they were unable to retain their numbers by 1911. One of the effects of the revival was the emergence of new churches; largely mission halls and Pentecostals. Often new converts who had “caught” the revival found the established churches hard to belong to. The worship lacked emotional expression. Such enthusiasts found a better home in the newer churches where worship allowed more freedom.

Baptists

The Baptists had seven churches in the area, three in English [4], table 3. There were two Baptist denominations, largely reflecting the language split. The data clearly indicate the biggest effect of the revival is with the Baptists, with the annual rate of 0.2% rising to 11% per annum over the revival period. One small church, Hope in Gelli, added 184 people, a 38% annual increase. I suspect that raised some interesting pastoral care issues, which perhaps accounts for some falling away afterwards. But again it shows the massive numerical impact of the revival.

Table 3

Personal Interest

One church here is of personal interest. The pastor of Hebron Baptist in Ton Pentre was my wife’s great grandfather, the Rev EW Davies, figure 1. Her grandfather, Griffith, was in the Sunday School at the time and also went on to be a Baptist minister himself.

Figure 1: Rev EW Davies (my wife’s great grandfather) pastor of Hebron Baptist, Ton Pentre. Her grandfather is the small boy top left. The photo is in the year the revival started, with a small selection of the 200 strong Sunday School.

Stories have been passed down in the family of services that EW Davies took in the mines during the revival; making converts at the coalface. There are also stories of members and deacons who had been bad boys in the village until EW Davies had persuaded them to follow Christ and join the church. These are people who kept the faith and worked in church to the end of their lives. They were ever grateful to him for being bold enough to confront them in their former lives. But that is what revival does; it gives Christians boldness.

Revival is definitely real! Real people, real conversions. God moved, and history shows the evidence.

Decline

I could show a similar pattern across all the regions of the Rhondda Valleys. One church I preach in, Noddfa Baptist in Blaenclydach had 304 in membership in 1901, with the revival adding another 160. These days, in a different building, numbers are more like 10 to 15, yet still a lively church.

Noddfa is one of the survivors. Look at the last column of each of tables 1-3 and you can see that of the 18 churches in the Ystradyfodwg area of the Rhondda only 3 are still open in 2016. The Calvinist Methodists, the drivers of the revival, are wiped out completely. A small number of other churches have opened since that time, I can think of two in this region. But in the hundred or so years since the revival Christianity has been decimated here, and across Wales. Why?

The 1904/5 revival was the last one to occur in Wales. Indeed as I have shown elsewhere, it was a revival out of time [1]. The long period of revivals really ended in the 1860s and the churches had been losing ground since the 1870s. The absence of revival has been the cause. That is the absence of the widespread outpouring of the Spirit. This led to reduced conversions, giving a slow decline through death and demographics, the two forces revival had made the church robust against. But the church got too clever, preferring the things of this world to the eternal hope that God gives, and worldly churches have insufficient recruiting power to build a church [5].

The one comfort we can take is that God has not gone away; neither has his desire to pour out his Spirit. The revival period that started in Wales in the 1700s did so from a much lower base than we are in at present. If his people humble themselves, pray, seek his face, and turn from their wicked ways then, in his time, he will bring revival [6]. And as I have shown, revival is real, people will be converted, churches will be built up, and the valleys will again sing the praises of Jesus Christ.

John Hayward, Church Growth Modelling

References & Notes

[1]  Blog: Church Decline Caused by Lack of Conversions

Blog: Church Decline Caused by Lack of Revival

Blog: Why Revivals Stopped in the UK


[2] Forthcoming blog on the rise and fall of the GB Methodists using the institutional model of church growth.

[3] The Wesleyan Methodists only have data for one year, and the Anglicans provided no breakdown of data for different congregations. Thus they are excluded.

[4] Kidger, Margaret E, (2012). Colliers and Christianity: Religion in the coalmining communities of South Wales and the East Midlands c1860 to 1930s with a particular focus on the Rhondda Valleys in South Wales and the Hucknall and Shirebrook areas in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. PhD Thesis, University of Nottingham.

[5] This is discussed using the traits of leniency and weakness of liberal churches in:
Kelly, Dean. (1986). Why Conservative Churches are Growing: A Study in the Sociology of Religion. Mercer University Press.

[6] From 2 Chronicles 7:14.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Conversion to the Diversity Ideology

Part 2 - Justification of Hypotheses


In a previous blog [1] I outlined a system dynamics model of how Christianity is losing ground to a new movement in society, which I nicknamed the “Diversity Ideology”. I chose this name because people in the movement affirm a wide diversity of individual practices and lifestyles, especially in the area of sexual behaviour, where its most public manifestation is felt.

Christianity and the Diversity ideology are competing for the public space – the media, public bodies, private organisations and companies etc. As church declines, it has less influence in this public space, thus leaving areas open to new ideas, the neutral space, figure 1. Thus a new ideology has more opportunity to influence these public bodies. Diversity is doing this through activists that champion the notions of equality, diversity, tolerance and inclusion; through the various LGBT+ agencies and through humanist and atheistic groups. Though not necessarily anti-Christian, it is opposed to the “Christianity of the past”. Thus the more liberal Christian groups can be found in its midst, as well as atheists looking to discredit all religion, especially the “established” one in the West.
Figure 1: Competition Between Christianity & Diversity Ideology for Public Space

The model is only at the dynamical hypothesis stage, and still needs further assumptions for a full implementation. Before doing this I would like to provide evidence to support the hypotheses. Specifically I will provide examples where public bodies, or individuals in the public space, display their conversion to the Diversity ideology.

Ideological Change

When people change their ideology they do at least four things:

A. Rewrite history to fit the new ideology. I dealt with this in a previous blog [2]

B. Public confession of past failures. Either themselves, or those they no longer identify with.

C. Adoption of badges of new identity. It may be just for a moment, like baptism, or permanent, like a dress code.

D. Demonisation of those who have not changed. They split the population in to the enlightened (the new ideology) and the unenlightened (the ones they used to belong to).

I am not saying any of these are wrong. Christianity has all four in varying degrees, just read Paul the apostle’s account of his conversion! My point is that these are true of conversion to all ideologies, including humanist ones. Also they are true of organisational conversion, not just individual.


Ideological Change of Public Bodies

Many countries have already indicated their conversion to the Diversity ideology either by passing legislation on same-sex marriage, or in President Obama’s case lighting up the White House in rainbow colours. However the state government of Victoria in Australia went much further when premier Daniel Andrews issued a long public apology for the past laws that criminalised homosexual behaviour [3].

He apologised for specific events in 1937, 1967 and 1976, indicating the State’s conversion (B) from the morals of the past to those of Diversity. He further re-wrote history (A) by saying: “It is easy for us to condemn their bigotry. But the law required them to be bigoted.” I suspect the people of the past were just as opposed to bigotry as people are now, what has changed is the ideological and moral framework by which bigotry is measured.

There was less evidence of a badge of identity (C) in this speech but the statement: “Here in Victoria equality is not negotiable” comes close. The identifier “equality” is used, but in the restricted sense of the Diversity ideology as, presumably equality of things such as income and housing is not included. Finally the demonization of the unenlightened (D) is seen such phrases as: “Tomorrow, a trans woman will be turned away from a job interview”, and him indicating: “there is still much to do”.

The rights and wrongs of what he said are not relevant here. This is an example of an advocate of the Diversity ideology using his position to influence the public space with the conversion experience of a government. This in turn influences the number of people who align themselves with the new ideology, loop Rd2 in figure 2, and increases the amount of public space with the new ideological sympathies, loop Bd3, figure2 (and 1).
Figure 2: Causal Loop Diagram of the Diversity Ideology Sector

Ideological Change of Influential Individuals

There have been two recent cases in the UK where individual politicians have had to publically express their conversion experience to Diversity. From 2014 onwards education secretary, Nicky Morgan has been confessing (B) her mistake in voting against same-sex marriage in 2013 [4]. She has spoken at the Pink News awards in the House of Commons and at Stonewall as her “badge” of identification (C) [5]. She sort of rewrote history when she claimed she voted against the legislation because of the pressure from constituents (A). When she indicated some people (like her) were slow to take up these things she (gently) put down the unenlightened (D).

Likewise Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron had to undergo something of a public climb-down when he became leader of a party closely identified with Diversity [6]. Both Farron and Morgan are committed Christians [7] and their public identification with Diversity, over their Christian beliefs, weakens Christianity in the public space, loop Bc3, figure 1, while strengthening Diversity’s public profile loop Bd3.

Of course anyone with the slightest bit of compassion would feel really sorry for them for what they had to go through to stay in public life. Public confessions are humiliating, and in the past churches have also been responsible for inflicting these on others, usually on Christians who differ from them. Sadly compassion is not a strong feature of an ideology at the zealot stage.
  

Ideological Change within Churches

The ideological competition between Christianity and Diversity occurs within the Christian church itself. At first glance this seems confusing as it is all called “Christian”. For the purposes of the model the word “Christian” means that part of the church that believes what it has received from the past is fixed and cannot be changed. This is usually divine revelation – the Bible – as in the Evangelical case. But for some it may mean traditions set centuries ago which are not to be changed, e.g. the Anglo-Catholic view of male-only priesthood.

On the other hand the part of the church aligned to the Diversity ideology is the more liberal part, though that includes some Evangelicals who are liberalising.  The key difference is that like in humanism, beliefs are determined by people, not by a fixed cannon.

The Church in Wales is an Anglican church, and like many UK denominations, is indicating decline to extinction [8].  Last year the attempts by its leadership to introduced same-sex marriage were stalled by significant opposition from diocesan representatives. Since then the bishops of the church have issued a pastoral statement that indicates the Church’s conversion to Diversity in the public sphere [9].

Notably there was the display of the rainbow flag as the identification badge (C).  The unenlightened laggards within the church are subtly discredited with statements like  “the Church is not yet ready to accept same-sex marriage” (D). There is a general confession of, and apology for, past damage the church has done to gay people (B). Though the actual offences, and the people involved, are not identified, leaving the reader to re-write history for themselves in order to make sense of the statement (A).

Though the Bishops said they could not proceed with same-sex blessings, they nevertheless produced prayers to be used at same-sex celebrations that omitted the word “bless”. They could take this decision on their own authority without need for corporate ratification. This shows how the influence of the public space by the Diversity ideology is top down, not bottom-up. That is, it is activists working within the controlling elite, or the leaders themselves, shifting the public space away from Christianity towards Diversity, loop Rd2, figure 2.

By contrast religions like Christianity, renewal movements and revivals are bottom up. That is enthusiasts within the church convert individuals through person-to-person contact, loop Rc1, figure 1. These movements have less patronage by their elites, and thus less growth through activism in the public space, loop Rc2. The influence on the public space is more long-term, which of course has been the position of Christianity in the West for some time.
 
Figure 3: Causal Loop Diagram of Church & Christianity

A similar top-down conversion in the public space occurred yesterday when the Scottish Episcopal Church voted to adopt same-sex marriage, with the final decision to be made in 2017 [10]. This strategy has been ongoing for some years, and it shows how with a long drawn-out conversion, an organisation can increase its ideological influence on the public.

The numerical future of the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal church is bleak [8], with or without same-sex marriage. But the public conversions of both bodies as organisations (not individuals!) to the Diversity ideology shows how even small organisations can have a big influence on the public space, provided they back the growing side. Had either church issued negative statements with regard to LGBT+ issues it is doubtful they would have been reported. Diversity has easier access to the public space than conservative Christianity; loop Rd2 is stronger than Rc2, figures 2 and 3.

Conclusion

Hopefully these examples are enough to show how the feedback loops in the causal loop diagrams relate to ideological conversion in the public space. It does mean for conservative Christians the public space is now a very uncomfortable place. A Christian who publically speaks what they believe will feel a bit like the North Korean who stops clapping first in a party meeting with Kim Jong-un! All eyes are on them – they are an embarrassment as they are not politically correct. If not repentant they can quickly face the wrath of the Diversity champions, who will exclude anyone that challenges their inclusive ideology.

But as I said before these situations often display the Christian church at its best. It forces believers to seek conversions within their network, under the radar of the public space, loop Rc1, figure 3, relying on the Holy Spirit rather than popularity. Indeed however unpleasant public ridicule, it can help weaken the internal institutionalism that has stifled Christianity for so long (loop Bc2), as true believers seek like-minded Christians for comfort, rather than their institutionalised and often compromised denominations.

Of course as Christians we are in good company as it was in the public space that the political and religious elite tried to catch Jesus out. They never did, and I really wish I could come up with the responses He did! But He did promise the Holy Spirit would help us speak. And of course we know what they did to Him! And He never said we would not suffer for our faith.

I will return to this model in due course and attempt to turn it into a simulation.


References

[1] The New Ideology


[2] Rewriting History


[3] 'Unimaginably wrong': Victoria's gay conviction apology speech in full. The Guardian, 24/5/16.


[4] Nicky Morgan changes her mind on gay marriage. The Guardian, 29/10/14.


[5] Nicky Morgan heckled at PinkNews Awards as she explains why she now backs same-sex marriage. Pink News, 30/10/14.

Equalities Minister Nicky Morgan, who voted against same-sex marriage, hits out at gay rights campaigners for their 'vitriol'.  The Independent, 10/7/15.


[6] For three different views Tim Farron’s public ideological “trial” see:
Tim Farron labelled ‘illiberal democrat’ over gay rights history. Pink News, 17/7/15.

Tim Farron: falling foul of the New Inquisition. Spiked, 22/7/15.

Lib Dem leader Tim Farron refuses to say if gay acts are a sin. Premier, 3/2/16.


[7] New education secretary Nicky Morgan on her Christian faith. Christian Today, 15/7/14.


[8] Anglican Church Decline in the West – The Data

Anglican Church Decline – Possible Reasons


[9] Same-sex marriage statement. Church in Wales, 6/4/16.


[10] Scottish Episcopal Church votes in favour of same-sex marriage, Christian Today, 10/6/16.


Friday, 3 June 2016

The New Ideology

Part 1 - Model Construction


In the last two blogs I have referred to the “New Ideology”, an ideology which is gradually taking the place of Christianity in Western societies [1], and causing division in the Christian church [2]. So what is this ideology, and can its spread be modelled?

First some clarification of terminology. By “ideology” I mean the set of beliefs, rules and behavioural norms held by a group of people [3]. They may subscribe to them by choice, inherit them from birth, or be compelled to follow them by some authority. For example communism is a political ideology; vegetarianism is a lifestyle ideology. A religion like Christianity can be an ideology if people follow its norms, without necessarily having a religious belief. Thus a country can be Christian even if most of the population neither attend church nor believe in God. For most of history most people did not attend church in the UK, let alone have saving faith, but enough held to a Christian ideology to make it the accepted standard of British society.

Different ideologies can sit side-by-side if they embrace different spheres of life. But when they overlap and contradict each other there can be competition and conflict. History can be viewed as a series of coexisting and competing ideologies – sometimes one supplanting another. So communism supplanted imperialism, Christianity replaced paganism, and the anti-smoking lifestyle has almost, but not quite, squeezed out the smokers [4]!

New Ideology Defined

Until recently Christianity was the accepted ideology in the West, some countries, such as the UK, more than others, e.g. France. However as Christian practice has declined it has left a void that is now being filled by a new ideology, atheistic in origin, and humanist in practice. The new ideology is humanist because its ethical truth is determined by people, rather than revealed by God. We get to choose what is right and wrong behaviour, both collectively, and in the current outworking of this ideology, individually [5].

As with any new ideology naming it is a problem. Politicians often use the label “liberal progressive”, but as both these words have other connotations I will avoid both [6]. Instead I will plump for “Diversity Ideology”, as its chief manifestation is that a whole range of beliefs, behaviours and lifestyle expressions are acceptable. If it is right for you, it is right and must be tolerated; and the people who practice it treated as equals and fully included in all areas of society, however diverse the people are. Hence the ideology’s four defining words: equality, tolerance, inclusion and diversity.

These defining words can be found just about everywhere in the public space, such as government, education, the voluntary sector and media [7]. Of course the ideology has an inbuilt contradiction as advocates often say they will not tolerate anyone who does not adhere to these principles; the danger of basing an ideology on words whose meanings are not clarified. But that is the stuff of ideology. Just think how many problems occur in Christianity over the meaning and use of words [8]!

The Diversity Ideology often manifests itself in the promotion of sexual diversity, the lifestyle ideologies of the LGBT+ families. Specifically the ideology promotes the gay lifestyle with the continuing adoption of same-sex marriage, and transgender issues with the current “bathroom wars” in the USA [9]. But I think the ideology is much larger than these sexual behaviours and existed before they became current. It has been competing with Christianity in the public space for some generations and has perhaps latched on to LGBT+ issues because this is a clear battlefield between truth revealed by God and truth determined by people.

Anyway the name “Diversity” will serve the purpose of model construction for now. It is not a pejorative name. It fits in with the rainbow flag, a common symbol of the ideology. It also describes a similar movement within the first century Corinthian church, influenced by the culture of its day, whose slogan was “all things are lawful for me”. Paul, the apostle, has to correct this, urging them to flee sexual immorality (1 Cor 6:12).   

Model of Ideological Competition

What I would like to do is model the competition between the Diversity Ideology and Christianity. Part of this competition occurs in the public space, by which I mean the government, business world, voluntary organisations and media, some of which I have already referred to [7].  The public space may well be within a church itself, where the liberal wing of the church competes with the evangelical and/or traditional wings. 

Christianity

Firstly, a model of the rise and fall of the Christian church. This is given as a causal loop diagram (CLD) which expresses hypotheses without taking it as far as a simulation, figure 1. The primary growth mechanism of the church is through the actions of its people, reinforcing loop Rc1. The more people in church, the more conversions, thus more people in church [10]. Christianity has often grown as a mass movement, as in its first few centuries and the 18th-19th century revivals.

Figure 1: Causal Loop Diagram of Church & Christianity

Growth is limited by institutionalism, loop Bc2, which reduces the conversion rate through the rising organisational and spiritual lethargy of a growing church. Likewise people leave the church, loop Bc1. Growth changes to decline when the dwindling conversions fall below the leaving rate. A full explanation of this institutional model of church growth is given elsewhere [11].

To examine the rise of Christianity as an ideology then the impact of church adherence on the public space needs to be considered. As the church increases, more of the public space becomes aligned with Christianity, part of loop Rc2.  The rise of Christian things in the public space could be taken as a measure of the rise of Christianity as an ideology [12]. A past example of this is Christianity in the Roman Empire, where Christians eventually forced their way into a pagan public space by sheer weight of numbers. This is a bottom-up form of cultural change, i.e. one due mainly to grass-roots movements of ordinary people.

There is potential for feedback here as an increasingly Christian public space may well make conversions easier, no longer does the new convert need to renounce their society. However as a means of conversion it is now much weaker than it was as the public space that was Christian by conviction has become Christian by tradition only.

The final piece of the model is the neutral public space, that is the organisations etc. that were not strongly attached to either the Christian ideology or to its competitor. When Christianity was replacing Paganism much of the Pagan public space had become nominal, the neutral space in those days – it was here that Christians were able to gain public influence. Now as Christianity declines, its presence in the public space is declining leaving it neutral, i.e. Christian by tradition only. This is a balancing loop, Bc3, as increasing Christianity decreases the neutral, but as neutral declines there is less of it to be influenced. More on this in a minute.

Diversity

The model of the rise of the Diversity Ideology is a parallel model to the Christian one, other than the grass roots reinforcing loop, the conversion by individuals on the ground, is missing, figure 2. Instead all its recruitment is through its influence in the public space, loop Rd2. The reasoning behind this assumption is that religions like Christianity have massive grass-roots participation. Christians meet weekly for worship and teaching and thus reinforce each other and engage in recruitment from the local base.

Figure 2: Causal Loop Diagram of the Diversity Ideology Sector

By contrast a lifestyle ideology such as the Diversity one has no such regular local meeting places. There are pressure groups such as the British Humanist Society and a variety of LBGT+ organisations, but active participation in these is only a small minority of those who hold or practice the beliefs. Thus the Diversity Ideology, like humanism and atheism, is top-down in its influence, not bottom-up. Rather than individuals attempting to convert other individuals to the cause, there is instead a core of committed activists seeking to change society. Individuals may then be changed, through the changes in society. But societal shift, as measured by the public space, is more important to them than grass-roots recruitment. A good rally or march is always encouraging to them, but these are occasional, not weekly and relational.


Public Space

The interaction between Christianity and the Diversity Ideology is in the public space, the arena of ideological change. Public spaces tend to be neutral unless there is some effort by an ideology to influence it. This is the natural tendency to apathy, and the loops connected with this are omitted. Connecting loops Bc3 and Bd3 from figures 1 and 2 respectively, gives a systems archetype called success to the successful, figure 3.
Figure 3: Competition Between Christianity & Diversity Ideology for Public Space

Although this subsystem consists of two balancing loops its overall effect is reinforcing, seen by tracing the figure of eight in the diagram. For example Diversity increases, thus the neutral reduces, thus Christianity reduces (+ means same way), thus releasing more public space from which Diversity, currently the stronger influence of the two, can fill.

A Test of the Model

The subsystem in figure 3 can be implemented and run to test its hypotheses. The numbers advocating the Diversity Ideology is allowed to rise from the late 1950s. The Christian church is assumed to be declining throughout. Initially the Christian public space is declining, with the neutral space increasing, figure 4. Once the influence of the Diversity Ideology starts, the neutral space falls, causing the Christian place in the public space to decline faster. Diversity has exploited the weakness of Christianity in society, and because Church numbers are declining, there is little chance for Christianity to recover. By this century Diversity is occupying more of the public space than the Christian [13].

Figure 4: Results of Ideological Competition


The levels and the dates are up for debate, but the subsystem is behaving as intended.

How Can the Christian Church Compete?

The key for the church is the person-to-person conversion loop Rc1, figure 1; the word of mouth mechanism that is natural to Church, but absent in non-religious ideologies with its relative lack of regular grass-roots participation [14].  Church has declined because this loop has become weak through institutionalism, lack of belief, and lack of seeking the Holy Spirit. But the model in figure 1 represents only the average for the whole church. Although most of the pre-1900 denominations are heading for extinction, there are smaller denominations, such as Pentecostal, and individual denominational congregations, for which this loop is stronger. These are the parts of the church that convert people. The alive part!

Thus as long as the alive part of the church persists in conversion and discipleship it will currently take the place of the older denominations, and the church as a whole will start growing again. Thus the church will again be able to have a growing influence in the public space, when opportunity returns.

By contrast the time will come when the Diversity Ideology will have been hit by the same institutionalism and complacency that now affects most of the Christian church. This is same mechanism that led to the decline of communism, Paganism, and just about every other ideology of the past. A church that holds on, though small, will in the future be able displace Diversity, or whatever form Humanism takes then, from the public space.

Some final points to note:
  1.  Church may have to survive a generation or more as a vilified minority in a hostile society. This has been the case in the past, and is currently the case in many places in the world. Periods like this often display Christianity at its best.
  2.  Church will get much smaller, and many denominations will go under, before growth returns.
  3. Any Christian influence in the public space in the future may look very different to that of the past, which was connected with European empires and national religions. Church is trying to bring Christ to people, not reconstruct the countries we had in the past.
  4.  Conversion, discipleship and revival are non-negotiable. Without these the church cannot recover, public space or not.
In the next blog I will look at a number of contemporary situations that help support the model. This is a model in development so expect it to change as it goes along.

References and Notes

[1] Rewriting History


[2] Where to Plant a Church? Big City, Small Town, or Rural?


[3] For a simple definition see:
For a more comprehensive view see Wikipedia and references therein:


[4] Is “smoking” a lifestyle ideology?  Perhaps it has become one because the anti-smoking lobby has pursued its aims with such puritanical zeal that smokers have become an almost persecuted minority in the West. I am not defending smoking, which has been conclusively proved to be unhealthy.  But I suspect the ideological approach of anti-smoking campaigns, demonising smokers in the public space, has created an opposite reaction in the smoking community, raising its ideological status.


[5] I would rather not call it the “Humanist Ideology”. There are potentially a number of humanist ideologies, and I know some older humanists who do not subscribe to the current Diversity Ideology. Neither would I call it a secular ideology as both humanism and the diversity beliefs are held by many in the Christian church who have liberal views on the authority of the Bible. Humanism is not contrary to belief in a God, despite the stance of the British Humanist Association. Humanism is about the human source of authority with regard to truth. The liberal/conservative battle within the Christian church is ultimately based on whether the source of authority is determined by people now, or fixed in either divine revelation, or handed-down tradition, depending on the brand of conservatism.  It is a Christian version of the humanism versus revelation conflict.


[6] I prefer not to use the description “liberal progressive”. The word liberal is capable of a number of meanings: open to new ideas; broadness of viewpoint; a political party; advocate of freedom. I suspect liberal progressive people are much narrower in scope than these other definitions suggest. Progressive implies there is always a sense of change. But the new ideology has specific targets, which if achieved it may well stay at, thus becoming conservative!  I prefer to name the ideology by what it is trying to achieve, not its sense of motion.


[7] Examples:
Government: Department of Work and Pensions: Equality and Diversity
Adherence to their equality and diversity principles is built in to their performance monitoring and management.

Education: Sussex Students’ Union
They state: “Any groups or individuals contravening this equality and diversity policy will be subject to disciplinary procedures and patronage and support will be reviewed.” That is, it is possible to be excluded and not tolerated even under an inclusion and tolerance policy. This happens because the words have meanings more limited than they first appear.

Charities: Action for Children
They have diversity and inclusion champions. I guess you could call these a type of activist, or guardians, within the Diversity Ideology.

Media: Huffington Post: Equality, Diversity, Inclusion: The Social Values of Shakespeare
An example of an ideology rewriting history to justify their beliefs, see [1].

International Affairs: Creating an Inclusive Society: Practical Strategies to Promote Social Integration. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs
An example of elements of the Diversity Ideology, in the context of combating world poverty, but without reference to sexual diversity. In this form it is far less controversial. But its roots are humanist, and as it thus has no religious text to justify its stance, it develops its own ideological position as a substitute.


[8] Words are often used to fight battles of beliefs and ideology within Christianity, leading to more and more refined definitions of those words. Consider trinity, real presence, justification, inerrancy, and baptism with the Spirit. I could go on! Sometimes the battle is about subtly changing the meaning of the word so that they can end up meaning something different to the original.  Sometimes the word represents a real divide in beliefs, sometimes they are an excuse for division over other issues.


[9] It is almost impossible to track down a neutral and clear account of the wars being waged in the USA over the use of bathrooms (aka public toilets) by transgender people. This one at least gives the extent to which the clash of ideologies has entered the public space:


[10] The reinforcing loop linking people to conversions is used in the institutional model of church growth being used here [11]. It is also used in the limited enthusiasm model of church growth, where only a limited number of people, the enthusiasts, are responsible for conversion, thus in the loop [13]. Dividing the church up into active and inactive members is more realistic, but unnecessarily complicated when outlining a bigger model as here. Such fine detail is left to the implementation or calibrations stages of a model.


[11] Institutionalism model is described in a blog:
and on the website:


[12] Other measures such public opinion or personal cultural alignment with Christianity will be deferred to a refined model.


[13] More people in the UK now identify as no religion than Christian. A possible cnsequence of the shift in balance in the public space. See Britain really is ceasing to be a Christian country, The Spectator, 28/5/16.

  
[14] The Limited Enthusiasm Model describes the growth of the church through person-to-person contact. It appears on the website:
and it described at a more popular level in: