Most of us, I suspect, are not great students of "the small print." We
employ lawyers and accountants because we recognize that carefully
constructed small print may contain disclaimers, definitions, and
information that effectively drive a coach and horses through our
assumptions about the general argument and make utterly null and void
the common understanding that we thought we had. Allow me to introduce
you to a piece of very small print.
Not many will have whiled away the long winter evenings by reading "The
demographic characteristics of the linguistic and religious groups in
Switzerland" by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Federal
Statistical Office, Neuchatel. It appears in Volume 2 of Population
Studies No. 31, a book titled The Demographic Characteristics of
National Minorities in Certain European States, edited by Werner Haug
and others, published by the Council of Europe Directorate General III,
Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000. Phew!
All this information is readily obtainable because Switzerland always
asks a person’s religion, language, and nationality on its decennial
census. Now for the really interesting bit.
The Critical Factor
In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for
our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The
question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried
through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The
result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming,
and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the
family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence
from church of the children.
If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their
children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up
attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not
practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only
3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves,
while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent
will be lost.
If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of
children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend
irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely
to the church.
Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the
father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing?
Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up
from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44
percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment
grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.
Before mothers despair, there is some consolation for faithful moms.
Where the mother is less regular than the father but attends
occasionally, her presence ensures that only a quarter of her children
will never attend at all.
Even when the father is an irregular attender there are some
extraordinary effects. An irregular father and a non-practicing mother
will yield 25 percent of their children as regular attenders in their
future life and a further 23 percent as irregulars. This is twelve
times the yield where the roles are reversed.
Where neither parent practices, to nobody’s very great surprise, only 4
percent of children will become regular attenders and 15 percent
irregulars. Eighty percent will be lost to the faith.
While mother’s regularity, on its own, has scarcely any long-term
effect on children’s regularity (except the marginally negative one it
has in some circumstances), it does help prevent children from drifting
away entirely. Faithful mothers produce irregular attenders.
Non-practicing mothers change the irregulars into non-attenders. But
mothers have even their beneficial influence only in complementarity
with the practice of the father.
In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his
wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular
worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice
of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children
will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but
irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a
half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to
church regularly or occasionally.
A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of
two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a
non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his
children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly
negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!
The results are shocking, but they should not be surprising. They are
about as politically incorrect as it is possible to be; but they simply
confirm what psychologists, criminologists, educationalists, and
traditional Christians know. You cannot buck the biology of the created
order. Father’s influence, from the determination of a child’s sex by
the implantation of his seed to the funerary rites surrounding his
passing, is out of all proportion to his allotted, and severely
diminished role, in Western liberal society.
A mother’s role will always remain primary in terms of intimacy, care,
and nurture. (The toughest man may well sport a tattoo dedicated to the
love of his mother, without the slightest embarrassment or
sentimentality). No father can replace that relationship. But it is
equally true that when a child begins to move into that period of
differentiation from home and engagement with the world "out there," he
(and she) looks increasingly to the father for his role model. Where
the father is indifferent, inadequate, or just plain absent, that task
of differentiation and engagement is much harder. When children see
that church is a "women and children" thing, they will respond
accordingly—by not going to church, or going much less.
Curiously, both adult women as well as men will conclude subconsciously
that Dad’s absence indicates that going to church is not really a
"grown-up" activity. In terms of commitment, a mother’s role may be to
encourage and confirm, but it is not primary to her adult offspring’s
decision. Mothers’ choices have dramatically less effect upon children
than their fathers’, and without him she has little effect on the
primary lifestyle choices her offspring make in their religious
Her major influence is not on regular attendance at all but on keeping
her irregular children from lapsing altogether. This is, needless to
say, a vital work, but even then, without the input of the father
(regular or irregular), the proportion of regulars to lapsed goes from
60/40 to 40/60.
Of Huge Import
The findings may be for Switzerland, but from conversations with
English clergy and American friends, I doubt we would get very
different findings from similar surveys here or in the United States.
Indeed, I believe some English studies have found much the same thing.
The figures are of huge import to our evangelization and its underlying
First, we (English and Americans both) are ministering in a society
that is increasingly unfaithful in spiritual and physical
relationships. There is a huge number of single-parent families and a
complexity of step-relationships or, worse, itinerant male figures in
the household, whose primary interest can almost never be someone
The absentee father, whoever’s "fault" the divorce was and however
faithful he might be to his church, is unlikely to spend the brief
permitted weekend "quality" time with his child in church. A young lad
in my congregation had to choose between his loyalty to the faith and
spending Sunday with Dad, now 40 miles away, fishing or playing soccer.
Some choice for a lad of eleven: earthly father versus heavenly Father,
with all the crossed ties of love and loyalties that choice involves.
With that agonizing maturity forced on children by our "failures," he
reasoned that his heavenly Father would understand his absence better
than his dad.
Sociologically and demographically the current trends are severely
against the church’s mission if fatherhood is in decline. Those
children who do maintain attendance, in spite of their father’s
absence, albeit predominantly sporadically, may instinctively
understand the community of nurture that is the motherhood of the
Church. But they will inevitably look to fill that yawning gap in their
spiritual lives, the experience of fatherhood that is derived from the
true fatherhood of God. Here they will find little comfort in the
liberalizing churches that dominate the English scene and the mainline
scene in the United States.
Second, we are ministering in churches that accepted fatherlessness as
a norm, and even an ideal. Emasculated Liturgy, gender-free Bibles, and
a fatherless flock are increasingly on offer. In response, these
churches’ decline has, unsurprisingly, accelerated. To minister to a
fatherless society, these churches, in their unwisdom, have produced
their own single-parent family parish model in the woman priest.
The idea of this politically contrived iconic destruction and
biblically disobedient initiative was that it would make the Church
relevant to the society in which it ministered. Women priests would
make women feel empowered and thereby drawn in. (As more women signed
up as publicly opposed to the innovation than ever were in favor, this
argument was always a triumph of propaganda over reality.) Men would be
attracted by the feminine and motherly aspect of the new ministry. (As
the driving force of the movement, feminism, has little time for either
femininity or motherhood, this was what Sheridan called "the lie
And children—our children—would come flocking into the new feminized
Church, attracted by the safe, nurturing, non-judgmental environment a
church freed of its "masculine hegemony" would offer. (As the core
doctrines of feminism regarding infants are among the most hostile of
any philosophy—and even women who weren’t totally sold on its heresies
often had to put their primary motherhood responsibilities on the back
burner to answer the call—children were never likely to be major
The Churches Are Losing
Nor are these conclusions a matter of simple disagreement between
warring parties in a divided church. The figures are in and will
continue to come in. The churches are losing men and, if the Swiss
figures are correct, are therefore losing children. You cannot feminize
the church and keep the men, and you cannot keep the children if you do
not keep the men.
In the Church of England, the ratio of men to women in the pre-1990s
was 45 percent to 55 percent. In line with the Free Churches (which in
England include the Methodists and Presbyterians) and others that have
preceded us down the feminist route, we are now approaching the 37
percent/63 percent split. As these latter figures are percentages of a
now much smaller total, an even more alarming picture emerges. Of the
300,000 who left the Church of England during the "Decade of
Evangelism" some 200,000 must have been men.
It will come as no surprise to learn, in the light of the Swiss
evidence, that even on official figures, children’s attendance in the
Church of England dropped by 50 percent over the Decade of Evangelism.
According to reliable independent projections, it might actually have
dropped down by two-thirds by the year 2000. (Relevant statistics
abruptly ceased being announced in 1996, when the 50 percent drop was
And what have we seen in the societies to which the churches are
supposed to be witnessing? In the secular world, a fatherless society,
or significant rejection of traditional fatherhood, has produced rapid
and dreadful results. The disintegration of the family follows hard
upon the amorality and emotional anarchy that flow from the neutering,
devaluing, or exclusion of the loving and protective authority of the
Young men, whose basic biology does not lead them in the direction of
civilization, emerge into a society that, in less than 40 years, has
gone from certainty and encouragement about their maleness to a
scarcely disguised contempt for and confusion about their role and
vocation. This is exhibited in everything from the educational system,
which from the 1960s onward has been used as a tool of social
engineering, to the entertainment world, where the portrayal of decent
honorable men turns up about as often as snow in summer.
In the absence of fatherhood, it is scarcely surprising that there is
an alarming rise in the feral male. This is most noticeable in street
communities, where co-operatives of criminality seek to establish
brutally and directly that respect, ritual, and pack order so essential
to male identity. But it is not absent from the manicured lawns of
suburban England, where dysfunctional "families" produce equally
alarming casualty rates and children with an inability to make and
sustain deep or enduring relationships between male and female.
The Churches’ Collapse
One might have hoped, with such an abundance of evidence at hand, that
the churches would have been more confident in biblical teaching, which
has always stood against the destructive forces of materialistic
paganism which feminism represents. Alas, not. Their collapse in the
face of this well-organized and plausible heresy may be officially
dated from the moment they approved the ordination of women—1992 for
the Church of England—but the preparation for it began much earlier.
One does not need to go very far through the procedures by which the
Church of England selects its clergy or through its theological
training to realize that it offers little place for genuine
masculinity. The constant pressure for "flexibility," "sensitivity,"
"inclusivity," and "collaborative ministry" is telling. There is
nothing wrong with these concepts in themselves, but as they are taught
and insisted upon, they bear no relation to what a man (the un-neutered
man) understands them to mean.
Men are perfectly capable of being all these things without being wet,
spineless, feeble-minded, or compromised, which is how these terms
translate in the teaching. They will not produce men of faith or
fathers of the faith communities. They will certainly not produce icons
of Christ and charismatic apostles. They are very successful at
producing malleable creatures of the institution, unburdened by
authenticity or conviction and incapable of leading and challenging.
Men, in short, who would not stand up in a draft.
Curiously enough, this new feminized man does not seem to be quite as
attractive to the feminists as they had led us to believe. He does not
seem to hold the attention of children (much less boys who might want
to follow him into the priesthood). He is frankly repellent to ordinary
blokes. But a priest who is comfortable with his masculinity and
maturing in his fatherhood (domestic and/or pastoral) will be a natural
magnet in a confused and disordered society and Church.
Other faith communities, like Muslims and Orthodox Jews, have no doubt
about this and would not dream of emasculating their faith. Churches in
countries under persecution have no truck with the corrosive errors of
feminism. Why would they? These are expensive luxuries for comfortable
and decadent churches. The persecuted need to know urgently what works
and what will endure. They need their men.
A church that is conspiring against the blessings of patriarchy not
only disfigures the icon of the First Person of the Trinity, effects
disobedience to the example and teaching of the Second Person of the
Trinity, and rejects the Pentecostal action of the Third Person of the
Trinity but, more significantly for our society, flies in the face of
the sociological evidence!
No father—no family—no faith. Winning and keeping men is essential to
the community of faith and vital to the work of all mothers and the
future salvation of our children.
Robbie Low is vicar of St. Peter’s, Bushey Heath,
a parish in the Church of England, and a member of the editorial board
of the magazine New Directions, published by Forward in Faith, in which
a version of this article first appeared. For more on the subject of
men, women, and church attendance, see Leon Podles’s "Missing Fathers of the Church" in the
January/February 2001 issue.
This article is offered with the kind permission of Touchstone