Saturday, January 30, 2010


Snowy Saturdays need a bit of wholesome charm. This comes from one of my favorite gruntled sites, It Made My Day:

All the Mom’s were forcing their kids around the big puddle in front of the playground. One mom led her son right into the middle and they both started jumping up and down and splashing each other. IMMD

Friday, January 29, 2010

Tories Are Right: Marriage is What Makes for Stability

The British Conservative Party has proposed pro-marriage tax breaks, like those used in other European countries. The Labour Party says it is not marriage that makes for family stability, so no such breaks are needed.

New research on British families, though, shows clearly that marriage itself is the key factor in family stability. One new headline number: of cohabiting couples with children, only 3% are still together when the child is 15.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Educated and Uneducated Women Want the Same Number of Children, But Uneducated Have More Unintended Kids

Less educated women have more kids than more educated women do. A standard explanation is that less educated women want more kids, or that they would have a lower cost in lost opportunities to do other things if they did have kids.

Kelly Musick and colleagues report in the current Social Forces that both groups of women want the same number of children. However, educated women are better at sticking to their plans. The less education a woman has, the more likely she is to have unintended pregnancies.

The sociologists distinguish among intended, mistimed, and unwanted pregnancies. Mistimed means "I wanted to get pregnant in the future, but not when I did get pregnant"; unwanted means "I did not want to get pregnant at all, but I did." Both of the latter are "unintended."

The core finding is this:

What education mainly deters is unintended births. ... The least educated white women are predicted to have .86 times as many intended, 3.02 times as many mistimed, and 6.68 times as many unwanted births as their counterparts who have graduated from college. [The comparable numbers for black women are 1.36, 1.69, and 7.33]

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Dating By Contrasting DNA

A new dating service uses your DNA to find potential mates with contrasting immune systems. People with contrasting immune systems find themselves mysteriously attracted to one another.

The contrast is useful for your potential children.

The obvious next test: to see if contrasting immune system matches and eHarmony, etc., personality matches coincide.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Leaders Choose Themselves

I have written about how leaders for the Presbyterian Church can form an establishment, which can be a great resource for the whole denomination. This has led some critics to say that when nominating committees choose leaders, they should not choose powerful people, but a representative group. Which led me to clarify a thought: leaders are not chosen; leaders choose themselves.

Max Weber devotes much fruitful thought to how a charismatic leader draws a following. The followers see a special quality in the leader. Weber says science cannot tell whether the special quality is really in the person, or is in the followers. In either case, leaders are not chosen because they are already powerful, influential, or authoritative. Leaders acquire power, influence, and authority because others follow them.

The crucial issue, then, is what potential leaders actually do that makes them worthy of following - or not. Leaders lead. If others follow, then that is what makes them leaders. If no one follows, then in the great market of authority, they failed to find their market.

Which leads to a further thought. The idea that leaders are chosen because they have been good members of the group - that they are leaders because a nominating committee elevated them for past service to the group - strikes me as a feminine way of thinking about what leadership is. The leader is the servant who is lifted up for doing what the group already does. My idea of leadership, therefore, seems to me more masculine: the leader is the one who has a vision of what new thing the group needs to do.

When I think of it that way, every organization needs both kinds of leaders.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Beyond Rebuilding 2

Reply to "What Can the Presbyterian Church Do to Turn Around Its Long Decline?" by Rev. Carol Howard Merritt

This is the second in a series of responses to the five articles in Beyond Rebuilding, which were written in answer to my Rebuilding the Presbyterian Establishment.

My primary focus is rebuilding a structure of authority within the church so that we can actually solve some of the denomination’s endemic conflicts. The main job of an establishment is to articulate a coherent vision for the whole organization and stick relentlessly to the practical steps needed to realize it. After more than a generation of drift and decline, the Presbyterian Church (USA) has forgotten that problems actually can be solved, and that healthy organizations grow.

Carol Merritt approaches the problem of decline in the PC (USA) as a pastor, which is appropriate; that is her job. She wants to evangelize young people and build new churches, with which I entirely agree. She wants to focus on choosing leaders in her congregation who are an ethnically diverse group of young men and women interested in spiritual traditions and social justice ministries. This is the niche of Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC, of which she is the pastor. I think her approach is a sensible strategy for her congregation.

I do not think it is a sensible strategy for the entire denomination.

Merritt takes it for granted that the niche of the entire Presbyterian Church is to draw people like her - “writing as a woman who grew up a conservative Baptist and converted to Presbyterianism.” Her strategy for contextual evangelism is “in this particular time we can especially minister to those who are leaving politically conservative evangelical megachurches.”

Yet when we look at the entire denomination, the politically conservative evangelical churches, mega- or wishing to be mega-, have been the main sources of growth in the whole denomination. We have been driving out evangelicals – that is, people who actually evangelize – faster than we have been growing them. In the past decade, we have been driving out entire congregations of evangelicals and conservative proponents of Reformed spiritual traditions.

The core of Generation X, who count as “young” in the PC (USA) though some are now in their 40s, are famously concerned with rebuilding basic institutions, most especially strong marriages and strong families. Churches that have approached social justice by promoting strong marriages and clear standards of childrearing have been the most successful at evangelizing the younger generations. This includes churches that encourage people to have more children, a strategy Merritt dismisses as unrealistic.

The way we find leaders for the whole denomination is not simply like finding committee members in a local church. The establishment is not a bureaucratic structure that a nominating committee chooses. An establishment is not made by choosing “those with the most authority, influence, and power in our society.” An establishment is not chosen at all. An establishment, if there is to be one, comes from the people of the denomination recognizing the influence, granting the power, and accepting the authority of those in the church who have made themselves its best leaders and most effective guides. The problem for the church is finding such leaders and not hampering them with counter-productive bureaucratic structures.