Urban Exile: Suburban vs. Urban Church Politics, by David Swanson

October 10, 2008 at 11:53 am Leave a comment

urban-exile.jpgAs on any other Tuesday, my wife and I hosted our weekly small group on
Election Day of 2004. A quick scan of the TV stations after the Bible
study showed that we’d have to wait until the next day to learn the

“Just pray that John Kerry doesn’t win,” said one of the members on his
way out that November night. Over early morning coffee a few weeks
later another church friend expressed his relief that George Bush would
serve a second term as president.

More recently, after a pizza dinner with some volunteers from
church, someone asked where Barak Obama’s home was. Soon a small
caravan was driving through Chicago’s Hyde Park neighborhood to see the
house of what many of these volunteers hoped would be the next
president. A few weeks later I watched one of our worship leaders
tactfully cover her Obama t-shirt with a jacket before our Sunday
service began.

What happened between 2004 and the current election season to
account for this shift in the political sensibilities of our community?
Maybe the political priorities of some folks have changed. Maybe
churchgoers feel taken for granted by the “Grand Old Party.” Or perhaps
Americans, including those within the Evangelical tradition, are just
ready for change.

Or maybe not. What changed was that between these two elections we
moved from an established suburban church to a 6-year old-church plant
in Chicago. And that, as they say, has made all the difference.

Allow me to
generalize for a moment. The mostly-White suburban church I came from
is filled with people who think government ought to reflect the “small
town values” we’ve heard so much about from the McCain/Palin ticket.
These folks avidly defend the rights of the unborn along with a
traditional view of marriage, and generally believe the Iraq war was a
necessary evil. In contrast, my ethnically diverse urban congregation
is made up of those who believe the government should seek justice for
the poor and marginalized in our city. Healthcare for the uninsured,
increased spending for public schools, and environmental equity are the
issues that lead people to wear their Obama t-shirts to church.

There are also important similarities. Salvation by grace through
faith and regular Gospel proclamation are clear theological priorities
for both churches. Corporate worship in both is a contemporary mix of
new praise songs and old hymns. Both care admirably for the practical
needs of the homeless men and women in their neighborhoods.

Despite their theological compatibility, more than just the 25 miles
between their sanctuaries separate these two churches. While employed
by the suburban church, a member told me she was nervous to admit her
liberal leanings to her friends. “I’m afraid they’ll question my
Christianity,” she said, only partly kidding. In my urban church it’s
more likely a church member will privately confess he’s a closet
Republican. These two congregations seem to prove congressman Tip
O’Neill’s point that that “all politics is local.” The unique issues
and values attached to America’s small towns, suburbs, and cities
significantly influence a local congregation’s political undercurrents.
The addition of race and class differences only enlarges these
divergent ideologies.

Given the political plurality among theologically similar churches,
I have to wonder why some Christian leaders talk as if there is only
one way to engage politically. When a candidate is endorsed as the
right person for the job, are not entire groups of Christians ignored?
When it is said that one of the candidates will uphold and protect
“Christian values,” should we not ask whose Christian values are being
protected? When claims are made that a presidential candidate is “God’s
man” for the job, does it not follow that Christians who vote
differently are at best misguided and at worst outside of God’s plan?
Do some of us actually have enough confidence in our knowledge of God’s
will to risk alienating our politically diverse Christian family with
these types of claims? Not me; I lack that type of confidence.

Scot McKnight recently wrote on this blog that our hope is not in
the political process but “in the gospel of God that creates a kind of
people that extends God’s gospel to the world.” Alongside this bold
hope must stand a chastened humility. Our political assertions ought to
be made in concert with our diverse Christian family, which is full of
brothers and sisters who often sees the world very differently than we
do. In the weeks before November 4, I will be asking myself the
following questions in an attempt to reflect God’s love for the entire

• Would a person of any political persuasion feel welcome in our church?
• Does our teaching and community life reflect both the local values of our neighborhood and the global ethics of the Church?
• Is our church regularly reminded that our hope is in Christ and that
our solidarity is with the diverse people of God’s Kingdom?

As the election punditry reaches a fever pitch, we have the
opportunity to demonstrate hope and humility to a nation that has
lately known too little of either.

There are plenty of Christian leaders speaking loudly on God’s behalf
this election season. I hope others of us will listen carefully to
those whose politics may seem odd but whose devotion to Jesus should be
very familiar.

Source: Out of Ur


Entry filed under: Christian, National. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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