Christians and Blue Counties

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Jollyblogger has an excellent post looking at the electoral maps (including a good comparison of the county maps from 2000 and 2004 and a purple-shade map for measuring the percentage of red and blue in each state). It's not the political analysis that interested me, though. He points out that most of the country is red when you look at counties, with almost 50% of the electorate concentrated in the 25% of the counties that are blue and just over 50% of the electorate in the 75% of the counties that are red. The fact of the matter is that most evangelical Christians are in those red counties, which means most of the people in the blue counties don't actually know any evangelical Christians. This explains why so many people don't even come close to understanding evangelical Christians (which doesn't stop some of them from talking about us as if we're demonic). What struck me was Jollyblogger's remark about what Christians should do. He says Christians need to migrate in large numbers to those blue counties if they ever hope to influence the culture around them. He's right, but perhaps I can elaborate on the point more specifically.

Update: Jollyblogger has more, more, and more.

Christians have a biblical mandate to share the good news about Jesus Christ with those who are not believers. I happen to think the best way to do that is two-pronged. Genuine friendships with people over a long time, particularly if they can interact with a diverse group of Christians to see God's work in their lives, seem to me to be the most effective way to help someone understand what's so good about the Christian good news. At the same time, a larger level of interaction with a wider group of nonbelievers is important, even if it means it's a lesser degree of contact but still with words of grace here and there, small moments of interaction that removes intellectual and experiential obstacles of faith through seeing glimpses of the lives of real Christians, coming to understand pieces of what Christians believe that they never understood, taking part in reasoning that might help overcome intellectual obstacles to faith, moments of genuine Christian love, and so on. Given that so many people don't have those real friendships with Christians, there's always the need for the larger contacts that might lead to greater discussion, relationships, or demonstrations of love.

If evangelical Christians are largely clustered around those who are culturally and socially conservative, who are steeped in the church in some form, and not those who are at the forefront of the liberalization and secularization of America, then how are we to fulfill this mandate? Christians who live in their small towns and do have relationships with nonbelievers might play a role in fulfilling the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, but there are whole people-groups within the United States that are in some ways nearly unreached, and the majority of blue voters in blue states are among them. Most Christian conferences I've been to emphasize unreached people groups around the world, and I think that's necessary if we're to take Jesus' command seriously, but I'm not convinced we understand how close the unreached people groups are.

I've been to two countries whose main population has not, as far as I'm concerned, ever really heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. One of these countries was Muslim-controlled in Central Asia. The other was Germany, the land of the Reformation. The major cities of the United States are headed in the exact direction Germany and France have gone, just a little behind. Most major cultural trends that end up here were there six months earlier. Red states and counties aren't experiencing that to anywhere near the same degree. It's a tremendous cultural gap, and people in that cultural framework do not at all understand the gospel preached by Christianity, as evidenced by their not understanding the evangelical Christians who preach that gospel. If we as evangelicals want to have a real impact on the direction of this country (and I don't mean in merely political ways but where it really counts, with people's hearts and minds), it won't be with a strategy like Karl Rove's, who focused on the places that were red in each state with a chance of going for Bush. He succeeded, but his goal was to get a majority of the popular vote in the swing states, which allowed him almost to ignore the blue areas of all states and any area in states that were strongly red or blue. Christians should not do that. We need to be everywhere, so that everyone is rubbing shoulders with Christians. As Paul said in Romans 10, how shall they hear unless someone tells them?

There's no reason to focus most of our energies on red areas, though we should also be there, since red areas are not exclusively (or probably even largely, in my controversial opinion) genuinely Christian. Most evangelicals do live in those areas, though, and there's much greater need in the blue counties, particularly cities and college and university areas. Jollyblogger calls for Christians to move toward those areas. He's not the first to say this, but he's made it much clearer than some have how important this is. It may be true that the majority of people who made it to the polls were red-valued (not that that equates to being Christian), but almost half the voters who turned out are not, and a much greater percentage of them have never even met an evangelical Christian or heard a clear presentation of the gospel message. This call to move to blue areas is not for political dilution of those counties (this election shows Republicans don't need that to win elections) but so that Christians might actually be involved in the lives of those whose value system is in many places starkly opposed to Christianity. It would be bad if everyone followed this advice, for then there'd be no Christians in red areas, but I think we as Christians need to rethink where we live and why in light of this.

I made a choice when I went to college that I wanted to be whatever influence God would enable me to be wherever he places me. I had a strong sense that the environment I'd be in for the rest of my life would be one largely opposite in values to what I would prefer if I wanted to surround myself with those like me. I've never lived in a red county or a red state, but I still have a tendency to surround myself with Christians and those who more closely resemble Christians in their value system, and I have to work hard to be the influence I chose to seek to be twelve years ago. I've failed miserably in many ways since then, though I've also had a few glimpses of an effect I've had on a few people over the years. I'm incredibly grateful for what I have seen of that effect, and I wonder how much further effect I won't know about in this life, but regardless of the effect this is something we're all commanded to do. As I said before, it can be done and needs to be done in red states, in red counties. It's just that there's a much greater need and a much lesser Christian presence in the blue states, in the blue counties. The main group of evangelical Christians in large numbers in blue territory is black evangelicals, and since racial groupings unfortunately have not reached a point where the average blue-valued secularist is close with many black evangelicals, white evangelicals should take Jollyblogger's advice very seriously.

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Parableman has an interesting discussion about how part of the reason that people in blue areas don't understand Christians is because people in those areas are much less likely to come in to contact with genuine Christians during the course... Read More

Exiles in Babylon from Back of the Envelope on November 15, 2004 9:28 AM

Jeremy Pierce has some advice for Christians who are concerned about the increasing separation between Red and Blue America:

Jollyblogger has an excellent post look...
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10 Comments

Jeremy - thanks for elaborating so well on what I was trying to say. This reminds me of a story I heard sometime in the past year. I forget who it was but I was in a seminar with someone who was talking about Hollywood and their attitude toward Christians. Someone in the audience asked why it is that Hollywood hates Christians so much and portrays them so badly? Isn't that evidence of their bias against Christians? The speaker was wise. He said the reason that Hollywood doesn't understand Christians is that most people in Hollywood have never met a real Christian. The only Christians that Hollywood knows are the ones who show up to protest what they are doing. So, since the only Christians that folks in Hollywood have ever met are reactionaries and critics, Hollywood assumes that all Christians are reactionaries and critics. They've never seen the humble, servant side of Christianity.

Good post Jeremy.

I definitely agree that we don't need to cloister ourselves away from those who need the good news of the Gospel. However, I think there are plenty of people in my red county who still need that good news - or at least an expanded view of it. And I'm not talking about the professors at the local university.

My observation is that many people in the South(where I'm at) are "cultural" Christians. By that I mean that their values are formed simply because of the culture they grew up in, rather than from an outworking of their faith.

There are many who are church-goers who see as their main goal to "reclaim" America from the liberals and the homosexuals. They forget that the enemy is not flesh and blood and so their focus is misdirected.

In any case, there's plenty of work to be done in red and blue areas alike.

I'm not saying the people in blue areas need the good news more than the people in red counties. I'm saying the segment in blue counties is far more likely never to have heard the gospel or to have known any genuine Christians, and that means that collectively Christians are more responsible to go to that unreached group than to stay where evangelicals predominantly are, particularly if the reason for staying is because it's nice to be around those who think the way you do or because the cultural values of that location makes for a more comfortable experience raising children. Reasons of that sort are anti-gospel.

I have a great story. When I was in graduate school in education, I noticed after the first semester that the bias against Christians was intense. So in my second semester, I performed an experiment. I simply did well and hid my fundamentalism. Many times I had my essays read out loud by the professor before the class. Actually, she only read my essays. She even said once that she was reading my paper and had to call her collegues because she was so excited about the content. I was easily her favorite student. BUT...
She was Angela Davis-type, leftist, feminista radical. I mean she was a Christian hating, wealth distributing, pro-abotion-in-all-cases radical.
So, after the last class session, I approached her. I said to her, "What do you think is my stance as a writer." She said, "Well, I know you graduated from Stanford and are well versed in science, but I am not sure. I have been thinking about that." To this I said, "Who are the most ignorant and uneducated people in our 20th century American society."
To this she said and I do not lie, "Your not a Christian are you."
"The only one you have ever met. I am a fundamentalist Christian", I said. She admitted that she had never met a born again Christian before.
I explained to her that I had sat in this class listening to her stereotypes, and I decided I am going to help this woman understand the depth of her bigotry. I told her you see Christian like clansmen see little black sambo. I explain to her that most of my friends have advanced degrees from prestegious schools and still believe in the bible.
She was floored. She confessed she had stereotypes and that I had helped her to see that she was wrong.
The bigotry is very real out there, but we can win folks over one relationship at a time.
brad

And I'm not saying that we don't have more responsibility to reach those who haven't heard the gospel. Just that some of those in the red areas, although they have heard the gospel, have been no more changed by it than those in the blue areas. What informs their view of life is more culturally driven than faith driven.

The problem is that many of those in the red areas lead a "good" lifestyle and are even harder to reach than those in other places.

Sozo, I'm not disagreeing with you on any of that. I'm not sure why you think I am. That was part of the assumption I began with.

I remember the first time I visited the Midwest (I am from Southern California), it was very different than LA. I said to my wife, "Oh, now I get why the Revivalists had to revive their congregations." In Los Angelos, people are not often Christian for cultural reasons but as a result of some conversion experience. When I visited churches in the midwest, it was very evident that conversion did not preceed church membership to the same degre as in California.
brad

Hmmmm, I never though we were disagreeing at all. Clarifying at best... Maybe I need to work on my communication skills :-)

Onward, christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of jesus,
Going on before!

Christ the royal master,
Leads against the foe;
Forward into battle,
See his banners go!

Onward, christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of jesus,
Going on before!

Like a might army
Moves the church of god!
Brothers, we are treading
Where the saints have trod!

We are not divided,
All one body we,
One in hope and doctrine,
One in charity!

Onward, christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of jesus,
Going on before!

Onward. then, ye people!
Join our happy throng!
Blend with ours your voices,
In the triumph song!
Glory laud and honour,
Unto christ the king,
This through countless ages,
Men and angels sing.

Onward, christian soldiers,
Marching as to war,
With the cross of jesus,
Going on before!
Amen

I'm assuming you're being sarcastic, judging by the profanity in your first fake email address out of the three times you submitted this comment. My guess is that you're either seeing this classic hymn as a battle song against non-Christians or that you're trying to "remind" me that Christians should be at battle rather than seeking to reach out to those who don't agree with them. The second is a false statement given what the Bible says, and the first is a complete failure to understand anything of the biblical motivation behind the hymn. The battle is not against flesh and blood, which means there is no human enemy for any Christian, ever. Ultimately speaking, any nonbeliever, however harshly persecuting of Christians, is a victim of the enemy and not an enemy herself or himself.

So I fail to see the point. Nice try, though.

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