We should understand why conservative Christians feel threatened by our culture. As we spend a year “Living Locally” remember that
some of our neighbors feel this disconnection in their lives.
Interested in this topic? Register for our November 22nd God Squad program here.
One of our early insights about building bridges across the partisan divide is that people of faith felt disconnected from the civic conversation in the public square. From that realization came “The God Squad,” a politically diverse group of clergy from across faith perspectives engaged in ongoing conversations about the topics your mother told you to never discuss in polite company — faith and politics.
Our most heartfelt intention for The Village Square was to create a rich public square, embracing the diversity of background and opinion that fully reflects America. That’s why the decision to go to some length to welcome people of faith to our conversation was an easy one. But as someone who came from a more liberal secular background I’d have to admit I couldn’t have explained the reasons believers might feel unwelcome at the time.
A 2017 book by Rod Dreher called “The Benedict Option” is a recent expression of our observation so many years ago of the distance many Christians feel from our current culture — advocating for a retreat by orthodox Christians from institutions of our society many feel are becoming openly hostile to their beliefs.
After having participated in over a decade of God Squad conversations, I have a much better understanding of the subjective experience of conservative Christians to the culture around them. Too often there’s an implied expectation they somehow leave their faith out of the matter at hand. Those who gingerly step out into the public square are sometimes punished with condemnation and accusations of bigotry and hatred.
Conservative Christians are also facing regulations that potentially make it illegal for them to live by their core beliefs, say as a family-owned company like Hobby Lobby forced to offer birth control to their employees, or Little Sisters of the Poor fighting against a government mandate to provide morning after pills, or Masterpiece Cakeshop fighting to the Supreme Court to decline to make a cake for a gay couple’s wedding.
As someone who believes that the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage was cause for celebration and the advancement of civil rights and freedom for all Americans, why should I care that people who don’t share my beliefs feel compelled to circle the wagons? Why shouldn’t liberals celebrate a conservative Christianity in retreat?
Because the fact that conservatives feel this way is at least half of a politics that is eating this country alive. And because it is exactly this sense of being under siege that elects a president who I heard one evangelical Christian I respect compare to hiring a “bodyguard” — someone who need not measure up to standards other than that a bodyguard is really good at protecting you.
Long on hair-trigger judgement and short on empathy and patience, our political culture seems to preclude the option of simply listening to understand someone with different views from our own. If we listen there is no need to agree — engagement in ongoing disagreement across differences is the fuel of healthy self-governance bequeathed us by our framers. Shouldn’t we care that people from all backgrounds feel safe and secure to follow the dictates of their conscience in a country that has sought life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for all citizens?
Trapped in this escalating culture war, I fear we’re losing an opportunity to learn the deepest, most transcendent wisdom of a common humanity. If liberals can listen compassionately, might conservatives not do the same for liberals? Ultimately, it’s this very act of coming in contact to listen that moves our hearts towards each other. People — black and white, left and right, religious and secular, gay and straight — are hard to hate close up.
So as our five clergy from across the ideological spectrum dive into the topic of “The Benedict Option” on Friday at noon on November 22nd, it’s my deepest hope there will be many liberals in the audience listening — not necessarily to agree, but to understand.