‘If we are to lament the problems in our American society — and they are myriad — then we must also face the reality of our disobedience as Christians’
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — A new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed the number of “deaths of despair” — such as death by drugs, alcohol and suicide — rose dramatically among middle-aged white Americans due to lower participation in organized religion. The rise of these “deaths of despair” started right after the repeal of several blue laws, which previously banned commercial activities on Sundays.
“We know of no other cultural phenomenon involving such large, widespread changes in participation prior to the initial rise in U.S. mortality, nor do we know of any other phenomenon that matches the seemingly idiosyncratic patterns observed for mortality,” said one researcher.
Judge Phil Ginn, president of Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES, www.ses.edu), noted that these findings point not only to a trend in tragic deaths, but also the decline of the American church as it becomes less about the Gospel of Christ and more of a cultural norm.
“Unsurprisingly, deaths of despair seem to be on the rise in white middle-aged Americans,” said Ginn. “With such a morbid moniker, it is not surprising to discover that these deaths are those that are fueled by drugs, alcohol, and suicide.
“In addition to reporting the increase in these unfortunate end of life categories, the study by the National Bureau of Economic Research drew a distinct correlation between the rise in deaths of despair and the decrease in organized religious participation. Interestingly, both phenomena occurred mainly in white middle-aged Americans. The study also found that ‘states with high levels of religiosity have suffered less from mortality due to alcohol, suicides or drug poisonings.’
“At first glance these results would be an enticing argument for promoting religion in the masses, and I suppose that something can be said for most any aspect of cultural life that would be beneficial in reducing despair sufficient to lead to all of these untimely deaths. After all, the dismantling of the church as a social institution has had untold negative effects on American society. Unfortunately, that’s as far as these findings go because the researchers made it very clear that the benefits of attending church came from its value as a cultural practice rather than any personal devotion. While I do not wish upon any society or group an increase in these deaths of despair, I believe that there is something far more sinister in these numbers.”
Ginn explained, “Contrary to the opinions of the researchers, I would suggest that they have actually uncovered one of the greatest indictments of the American church that could be laid at the feet of those who claim kinship to Christ. If the American Church is nothing more than a cultural practice, then we have utterly failed as Christians in fulfilling the call of the Great Commission. For, if we had been true to our calling in America, then we would not now be seeing all of this despairing activity because we would not have ever allowed His Church to become only a cultural norm. By the same token, I believe this to be a clarion call to believers to become part of the true Church of Jesus Christ as He intended it to be and as He portrayed it to be in Scripture.
“It is high time that Christians in America become real about church again, but also our faith as well. Because, if we are to lament the problems in our American society — and they are myriad — then we must also face the reality of our disobedience as Christians. The call of Christ leads to a transformation into the likeness of Christ himself, and that transformation is what will save people from the despair of this life and for the fullness of eternity with our Lord.
“At Southern Evangelical Seminary, we are about the business of calling all people everywhere to a life changing relationship with Jesus Christ, not just to some affiliation with or membership in a cultural icon. Maybe, just maybe, it is time for the true church in America to become steadfast in the truth of the Gospel and to rise up with great fervor to become the catalyst for a great revolution of faith in our nation. After all, is that not what we have been ordained to do.”