What is this? Earlier this month, I was having coffee with a friend in Seattle. He was sharing with me his plans to bike across America this summer. Beyond the obvious physical challenge, he also plans to spend time in local diners, shops, and taverns in hopes of gaining a clearer understanding from people who live in “red states”. He summed it up this way, “I live in this blue bubble of Seattle. I just don’t grasp how people in red states see the world. So I want to find out for myself”. America is at the height of partisanship, at least in my lifetime. The Big Blue/Red Divide in America partitions churches, neighbors, friends, families, and Christians, too. It’s Trump vs. Hillary, Fox News vs. MSNBS, conservatives vs. progressives, and urban vs. rural. Sadly, we are more than happy to go to our respective corners with our fellow Reds or brother blues. There we can retell, rehearse, and reinforce our side’s narrative sequestered in our side’s echo chamber. Having political conversations in the church can be problematic yet something of a prerequisite to grow community. It’s time to get around the Big Blue/Red Divide.
What does this mean? The April issue of the “The Atlantic” had an article “Breaking Faith” with some surprising revelations about American politics and faith. The so-called voters’ revolt away from traditional party choices, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Bernie Sanders, signal deep discontent, anger, even mourning among Americans. “The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives. (True for Red and Blue) The worse Americans fare in their own lives, the darker the view of the country.” That is pretty straightforward, but here’s the thing. Among white working-class, culturally conservative Americans who are disengaged from the church experience less economic success, more family breakdown, more resentment and pessimism, than those who remain engaged in faith life. Now what I found most shocking, a huge number of those voters who identify as evangelical that voted for Donald Trump, seldom or never go to church anymore. So we shouldn’t make much of the statistics that say that Christians voted for Trump. On the other side, “Black Lives Matter”, unlike the Civil Rights Movement under Dr. Martin Luther King, has not sprouted out of the African-American Church. Such social and political movements are becoming increasingly secular-based than faith-based. Our Blue/Red rift is more economic and political than religious and faith-related. Time to be more personal.
What is the takeaway? I saw a book review for “Strangers in Their Own Land” by Arlie Russell Hotchschild that intrigued me. The author is a Berkeley progressive who chose to travel to the oil and gas country of Louisiana to meet Tea Party supporters over the dinner table. And this book, with the tagline “Anger and Mourning on the American Right” is the product of her months-long research. It’s not just about the facts, it’s about feelings. Hochschild writes out of personal interactions with middle-class folks, “They feel confused and betrayed, because the rules of how the world is supposed to operate have changed. The narrative through which they’ve made sense of life no longer seems to apply. Worse, their narrative, their experience, and their very lives is discounted. The narrative they believe is about patience, hard work, putting up with pain and difficulty, being optimistic, and being faithful to family and faith. This will lead to realizing the American Dream of prosperity and security”. We can all relate to those hopes and dreams as Americans and empathize with the feel of betrayal and grief that the world is leaving you behind. I applaud my friend for his biking expedition to see and hear for himself. This is something that should move us all to reach out across the aisle whether it is Congress or the congregation. Our church has “Dialogue on Draft” where we meet at a public house and tackle polarizing topics from faith to politics to family to the apocalypse. Perhaps, a very real way to witness to the reality of Christ in the world is to be willing to listen and learn versus hiding in our partisan echo chambers. Recently, I attended a gathering of meeting your Muslim neighbors. At one point, I stood up turned around and greeted a man, “Hey, you are a real live Muslim”. We both chuckled. In Christ, listen to our neighbors; Republican and Muslim!