01 December 2022

Churches and "political homogeneity"

Half of U.S. Protestant churchgoers (50 percent) say they’d prefer to attend a church where people share their political views, and 55 percent believe that to be the case at their congregation already, according to a study from Lifeway Research.

“Studies have shown that voting patterns and political affiliation correlate with the type of church and amount of church involvement someone has,” said Scott McConnell, executive director of Lifeway Research.

“But when asked if churchgoers want political similarity to flow back into their church relationships, this is desirable for only half of churchgoers.”

— "Churchgoers prefer congregation that shares their politics" (Baptist Standard).

There's a fascinating contradiction between the second and third paragraphs of the quotation above. 

I'm especially interested in the fifty percent of the churchgoers in the study for whom "political similarity" flowing back into their church relationships is not necessarily desirable. The survey seems to indicate that "Churchgoers with evangelical beliefs (44 percent) are less likely than churchgoers who don’t strongly agree with core evangelical theology statements (54 percent) to say they prefer a church where people share their political opinions." However, those evangelicals are "...more likely to believe they belong to a congregation that predominantly agrees with them politically (59 percent)."

The difference between believing that most of your church agrees with you and wanting that to be the case is what I'm wondering about. The study doesn't unpack what "political homogeneity" looks like, but I'm sure we can make some good guesses. A congregation like ours, Camas Friends Church, with a pride flag mounted to the meetinghouse, is likely to reflect at least some different political values than a church that distributes Focus on the Family materials.

However, I'm afraid that it can be very easy to make assumptions and hard categories based on these clues. Back in 2007, I quoted Philip Jenkins on this topic:

In any society, ideas tend to become associated with particular traditions, so that ideologies represent packages of themes and beliefs. Tell me an American's stance on gun control, and I will make a plausible bet about his views on abortion, or on granting POW status to terrorist suspects. Western Christians, too, take their beliefs not singly but in packages, and we know what is implied by umbrella terms like "liberal" and "conservative." Or to take other ideological labels, Americans know that liberation theology advocates social justice activism, and opposes unjust or exploitative political structures. At the opposite end of the spectrum we would expect to find charismatic believers in deliverance, who espouse spiritual warfare and confront the demonic or supernatural forces holding humanity in thrall. Politically, such believers would be presumed to be on the Right just as assuredly as liberation is on the Left.

All of which prepares us poorly for the world of the emerging Christian churches, which have rediscovered the basic semantic truth that liberation and deliverance are actually the same thing. To be credible, any presentation of the Christian message must offer the prospect of freedom from the oppressive forces of this world and the other worlds. We should not be startled when global South evangelicals are "conservative" about abortion or homosexuality but also demand forceful state intervention to fight poverty, even if that means regulating the free market. And we should not expect that newer churches will respect the walls that separate styles of worship and belief among Europeans and North Americans, between churches that are evangelical and catholic, liturgical and charismatic.

"...Liberation and deliverance are exactly the same thing." In one version of my ideal church community, we would know this from experience, and it would be a deeper knowledge than any political slogan could cover. Just as one example from real life: Camas Friends Church hosts 22 recovery groups in the Alcoholics Anonymous tradition every week. Some churches very different from Camas have a similar commitment to hospitality for recovery groups.

Here's my dilemma:

Frank Chapman, source.
On the one hand, I love that segment of the church market that doesn't require everyone to have the same political orientation, because it's my fantasy that the church is one of the few institutions that is (or ought to be) totally independent of political allegiances—and therefore a place where people with dramatically different political views can worship together, while challenging each other lovingly.

My Facebook Friend Frank Chapman and I agreed on very little politically, as you might guess from the photo with his gun and his hat, but what we did agree on was far deeper. Somehow he put up with my constant arguing, Other MAGA people on social networks have simply cut me off, but Frank was just not like that. Sometime last fall I began to miss his provocative posts, and I checked his profile to see what he was up to, only to learn that he had died. It felt like an enormous loss. I want room in my church for people like Frank (and in his church for people like me). Frank was someone who motivated me to make a real case for my values across cultural and linguistic lines rather than staying safely with people who already agree with me.

On the other hand, what if a political bias is built into my discipleship? My whole concept of church is that we're people who are learning what it means to live with Christ at the center, including the ethical dimensions of such a life, and are helping each other in that work. Everything that is distinctive to me about being a Quaker—the values of peace, simplicity, community governance based on group prayer and discernment, radical hospitality, leadership based on spiritual gifts and not false social distinctions—it's what we've learned about living with Christ at the center. Why should I be surprised that some political positions might be more congenial than others, to those of us who share this vision of discipleship?

I have a friend at another Quaker meeting who once said that she was a theological evangelical, but not a cultural evangelical. (I think that's true of me as well, though I've been accused of stretching the evangelical label almost beyond recognition!). There's something there that might help me with my dilemma. If a church adopts a set of political values that become that church's culture, and attracts people on that basis, will people remember that their true priority is learning to live with Christ at the center, and everything else must flow from that? In fact, some of the reasons we get into political fights in the church is that we forget that some of those political differences are symptoms of living in unholy, untruthful, compromised systems, and we all need deliverance!

Part of the community's learning process is conversation, comparing notes, even outright conflict, and in my experience, some of the most fertile conflicts are between so-called progressives, and so-called conservatives, and between idealists and cynics. At our best, we keep each other honest! What does being "at our best" require of us? That we love Christ and each other before all else, that we cherish each other's well-being. Then, I hope, our conflicts will enrich us without embittering us.

What's been your experience of church and political uniformity, or church and political diversity?

Related posts: 

Labels, part two: conservative

Abortion and the cost of rhetoric

Golden age of evangelism

"Every knee shall bow..." In this post, I quoted Stephen Mattson's question: "What if instead of a post-Christian nation, we're actually a pre-Christian one?" Hieromonk Ioann (Guaita), in an interview I mentioned recently here (but now with 2.4 million views!) said something similar: "I remember when one Orthodox historian, speaking at a conference, said that we are living in a post-Christian society. What kind of 'post-Christian'? We live in a pre-Christian society." (This link is cued to that point of the interview. In Russian but with computerized translation.)

Gasan Gusejnov, Meduza: The subversive use of Russian to undermine the Putin regime.

On Russia's "perfect storm" of demographic decline.

Why Kristin Kobes Du Mez does not think she's illiberal or authoritarian....

The Quaker Theological Discussion Group 2022 panels start tomorrow!!

Staughton Lynd, 1929-2022. Obituaries in the Washington Post and at the Zinn Education Project. I first heard about Staughton Lynd from my mother, who did not approve of him! She was on the faculty at Roosevelt University at the time he taught there for one academic year. Turns out that the president of the university, Rolf Weil, also did not approve of him. But I do. As with most of my heroes, he's hard to put into convenient categories.

Carolyn Wonderland and Bonnie Raitt, "Nobody's Fault But Mine."

1 comment:

kfsaylor said...

The spirit of Jesus Christ in my conscience and consciousness is discovered to me a different way of human relations not established in the reflective nature and the agency of its political, religious, economic, and educational institutions and the agents of those institutions guided by thought-entities drawn from the world of concepts. The spirit of Christ "at the center," or established as the immediate and continuous foundation, of my conscience and consciousness,itself in itself, is drawn me out of the process of the reflective nature to guide and inform people through conflict and strife. The living presence of Christ in my life is sufficient in itself to guide and inform human relations outside the "conversation" based conflict and strife you promote and nurture, by your own acknowledgment.

The spirit of Christ is discovered to me that there is a different way of human relations through direct and immediate (not mediated through the reflective nature) engagement with, and in the living presence of, the Spirit itself in itself in all human interactions, relationships, and affairs. In the living and continuous presence of the Spirit, the cord of the reflective nature is severed and replaced with the continuous awareness of the increased or decreased motion of the Spirit itself at the very moment of human interaction. This living awareness the Spirit's intensity during a given interaction is the guide in itself. When awareness of the Spirit's intensity is diminished, in a given interaction, a change in the nature of the interaction or behavior may be needed. Likewise, an increase in the Spirit's intensity in a given interaction may suggest affirmation. In this different way, outside the reflective nature, this living and continuous awareness of the Spirit's motion is the sole and sufficient guide to inform human relations. The reflective nature, and the conflict and strife it nurtures and promotes, is overcome in the pure and immediate awareness of the Spirit itself in the conscience and consciousness. Human being is born into a different way; through the living power and presence of the spirit of Jesus Christ inshining upon and in the conscience and consciousness of people.