The following are excerpts from a talk given at Plymouth United Church of Christ today– Sunday, September 23rd, 2012.
‘We the Purple’: Becoming Both-And Communities of Faith
in an Either-Or, Red and Blue Society
“Are Americans really as intractably divided into red and blue political positions as the pundits would have us believe? According to Bill Bishop’s, The Big Sort, the nation is, indeed, fractured deeply. The journalist Bishop tracks the ten-year relocation of 100 million Americans, and notes that many of them settled in neighborhoods, counties and states that are more likely populated by like-minded people. From the segregated, freely-chosen “hives” in which we live, says Bishop, we have our most passionate ideas about politics, truth, justice and culture reinforced and rarely challenged.
As religious sociologist David Kinnaman has noted in his book, You Lost Me, young people 16-29 are leaving the church and re-thinking their understanding of faith, while those in the same age group looking at churches from the outside see faith communities as empty moral and spiritual shells, filled with congregants engaged in behavior that is either unchristian, or a mere pawn of the political divisions of the society. The upshot: many historic traditions of faith are losing the next generation, in large part because red-blue polarities seem as rabid inside as outside communities of faith.
If red and blue is truly descriptive of a major part of our political reality, it is not the only force in society. Over the past 20 years, the Independent movement has attempted to find a pathway between the polarities of red and blue politics. Independents now comprise a significant number of the electorate (although the media often misunderstand who they are and what they believe). While this movement has not yielded a third-party alternative as some had hoped originally, it has offered a new perspective on the handling of differences of principle and opinion among Americans, and a different kind of strategy for building a common life in the United States. Can “we the people,” find a new way in our politics by striving to become ‘we the purple?’
I would assert that we can discover this space between the anger and broken hearts generated by our red-blue world, and that faith communities may offer the best hope for achieving sustainable oases of purple. But, this will require us to trade in the “machine brains” of the 19th and 20th century, an inheritance of the Enlightenment that took the dynamics of democratic republicanism for granted, and adopt “garden brains,” which see democracy as something we have to weed, feed, and water. This talk will ’till’ the terrain of creating purple garden space in congregational life.”