Going to Church Could Save Your Life by REBECCA MCLAUGHLIN for The Gospel Coalition
New Harvard Study Flags Public Health Cost of Cutting Church
For the first time in forever (at least, in my culture and lifetime), gathering the local church presents a threat to public health. If we were doing church right before—singing our guts out, hugging freely, crying on shoulders, sharing food, welcoming homeless friends, and carrying each other’s kids—God’s people gathered should’ve been the most infectious show in town. Not meeting now should hurt. Meeting with social distancing should hurt. We Christians should welcome suffering to safeguard others. But the pain of a dismembered body—even for a short time—should be real.
While we endure this short-term pain for the sake of public health and neighbor love, we should also be aware of the significant public health benefits of church gatherings in general. Indeed, this month, a team at the Harvard School of Public Health published yet another study pointing to the potentially lifesaving effect of church attendance.
‘Deaths of Despair’
The term “deaths of despair” was coined in 2015 to describe fatalities from suicide, drug use, and alcohol. Such deaths have increased dramatically in recent decades. Indeed, as Harvard School of Public Health professor Tyler VanderWeele notes in a recent article, the increase in such deaths has been “so severe that they have led to reduced life expectancies in the United States for three consecutive years, in 2015, 2016, and 2017—the longest consecutive decline since World War I.” So, what’s driving this destructive train?
Multiple social and economic factors have been cited. Declining job opportunities, declining social and family support, declining marriage rates, and increased access to opioids all fuel the engine of despair. But one important factor is often left out of the public analysis: the effect of secularization.