David French has a similar journey to mine in his geography. I find this the more I read him. He lived for decades in the Northeast as a conservative Republican. I lived in Minnesota in a very liberal metro area as a conservative white pastor. He moved to TN. I moved to Alabama. He found he was still “homeless” in a way. I have discovered that as well.

Over my decades in Minnesota, I befriended so many people not like me. (It was that or move.) Then… when I moved, I was again around people not like me. Different hasn’t bothered me. It sure has bothered culturalized Christians who thought I was like them (because I was white and served in conservative Christian denominations).

It is demonstrable that, in this nation, Democrats tend to live and work and socialize with Democrats, Progressives with Progressives, Republicans with Republicans. Don’t just look at the red/blue U.S. map of this presidential election. Look at a state map like Georgia.

We’re Balkanized. What is deeply disturbing to me is this: we like it that way. We don’t want to “understand” the “thinking” of those not like us any more. We want to have “them” understand “us” and if “they” don’t… too bad!

This is deeply disturbing not only because it is America, but because it is the American church. We worship with those like us politically more and more. This is my heartbreak.

David French breaks it down more in THIS ARTICLE.

One thing he points out from a researcher named Ryan Burge is that one factor for huge evangelical support for Trump may not be abortion (at least as a top reason). It may be immigration. I have certainly had Trump supporters spout “abortion” as their thing. It’s an easy answer.

I have also found that when I stay in a conversation long enough, the uneasiness of immigration and people of color rises up pretty quickly… and it gets ugly. Attitudes. Names used. False statistics. All of it.

But… “abortion” is a better thing to fall back to… so culturalized Christians use it first.

French points out to deeper issues as well. It’s not “abortion” or “immigration.” It’s that we are around people like us all the time and if a pastor or church is raising an issue about “repentance”… we think in terms of those not worshiping with us. (“YEAH! American needs to repent!” Like… all those progressives and socialists and Democrats!)

Why do we leave a church these days? Over doctrine? According to Ryan Burge, it’s more often politics:

“people leave houses of worship when they disagree with other members. Liberals leave churches that are too conservative and conservatives leave churches that are too liberal.” Put another way, “The Christian Right did not cause people across the religious and political spectrum to leave their churches. Instead, their politics was inspiration to leave for evangelicals who disagreed with the Christian Right.”

French’s personal experience is very similar to mine:

In 2015 and 2016, my faith didn’t change, my commitment to life and liberty didn’t shift, but I left the GOP because of its embrace of Donald Trump. And suddenly the garment wasn’t seamless. Outside of my relationship with my closest friends, I suddenly went from the in-group to the out-group.

What is happening in the Balkanizing of the American electorate is hard for me to take. Worse, though, is the deep culturalized Christianity that has been there and has been exposed mercilessly over these last 5 years… and how blind I was to it. It’s not that I’ve become a “progressive Christian.” It’s that I’ve been extracting myself from the comfortable clothing of culturalized Christianity and it’s assumed I’ve left the orthodox Christian faith.

French’s concluding words:

It thus shouldn’t surprise anyone that Evangelicals bond easily with other Republicans. Nor should it surprise anyone that political dissenters can feel isolated and alone. When party identification merges with church identification, political cohesion fosters religious intolerance.

This is what has been exposed. It is not letting up. There is a long road to travel for Christians in this context and I am committed to the long haul of that journey.

I am grateful to find those who are walking this road as well. It makes it a bit less lonely.

Photo by Sébastien Marchand on Unsplash

2 thoughts on “Culturalized Christianity and public witness

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