One explanation for the resiliency of religious traditionalism in an age of secularization is demographic. As Jonathan Last shows in his recent book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, if enough people over time decide not to be fruitful and multiply, eventually their churches will disappear. That’s because secular people have far fewer children than do believers. The flip side of that observation is equally suggestive. In the future, it is the believers of all faiths whose children will appear disproportionately in an otherwise increasingly childless world, as political scientist Eric Kaufmann showed in his 2011 book, Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?
Small wonder, given the harrowing times recently, that news about a long-running property fight over a picturesque church in northern Virginia escaped most people’s notice. But the story of the struggle over the historic Falls Church is nonetheless worth a closer look. It’s one more telling example of a little-acknowledged truth: though religious traditionalism may be losing today’s political and legal battles, it remains poised to win the wider war over what Christianity will look like tomorrow.
On April 18, the Virginia Supreme Court upheld an earlier court decision that a breakaway Episcopalian congregation (now called the Falls Church Anglicans) did not have rights to the historic church there. Instead, the court ruled, the property belongs to the same mainline denomination — the Episcopal Church — that the Falls Church Anglicans had voted to leave in 2006. What’s striking here is not so much the legal outcome, for earlier cases involving…
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