November 28, 2016

It's Sunday morning ... pt. 2

Last week, I offered my assessment of church attendance in Texas through a little thought experiment I do on Sundays before church. The more I think about this, I wonder if there is a connection between this and our presidential election.

Let me try to explain.

"Those evangelicals ..." says Greg Popovich, the San Antonio Spur's head coach. As if the election of Donald Trump was the result of one, monolithic group. I am equally troubled by Donald Trump's words and actions. But I increasingly have trouble with the labels being attributed by the media. As I've tried to point out in some of the podcasts I've shared recently, evangelicals are far from uniform. But what evangelicals have traditionally held in common (and have therefore thrived when mainline churches haven't) is their value in participation in a local faith community.

A distinct difference between evangelical and mainline Christians in the modern era is their primary conveyance for discipleship (or formation). Whether implicit or explicit, for evangelicals (and any "low church" tradition) discipleship has been hinged to participation in the gathered community. In other words, you learn how to be a Christian by becoming a regular participant in the community. This is what makes Thom Rainer's thoughts and my anecdotal observations on Sunday mornings so surprising to me!

Maybe it's just me, but I tend to associate "red states" with higher evangelical church participation. That is where I think I may have been wrong (along with the media). Evangelicals didn't ensure Donald Trump's election. Rather, those that primarily associate with more conservative political views and secondarily associate such views with being Christian did ensure his election.  I understand David Brooks, that it's natural that each of our individual identities be made of various aspects. But it seems clear that one aspect of identity takes precedents and informs the other. Political identity took precedent to faith community identification during this election. In fact, I wonder if politics far more informs faith identity than the other way around. And I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that.

I am not doubting the conviction of individuals. I have no intentions of casting blame, complicity or responsibility with just a different spin.  I am saying that I think the ground game for Christians of all traditions has changed. I do think our efforts to distinguish between ourselves ("Here's why we're right and that Christian tradition is wrong...") has missed something more important. I wonder if asking why our people, no matter their tradition, directly associate political identity to faith tradition is a bigger problem than we have paid attention to.

Does it matter whether or not I am a part of Christian community?

As long as I vote Republican? Doesn't that make me a good evangelical Christian?

If I vote Democrat, doesn't that make me a good mainline Christian?

Long before voting for Trump, this supposed block of Christians voted on something else: Church. They opted out. They voted with their feet. But they held on to the label and that may be where part of the problem lies.

More to come.