About a month ago, I came across this Tweet from Andrew Walker, Senior Fellow at The Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and Professor of Ethics at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:
In just a few months, I’ve met three Christian families who said they’ve fled California for Middle Tennessee because of how hostile and parasitic the culture was to their faith and values. It’s hard to overstate just how serious the values gap is widening and impacting America.— Andrew T. Walker (@andrewtwalk) June 24, 2019
I cannot stop thinking about the idea that Christian families would move from California to Middle Tennessee in order to “flee” the “values gap.” I can’t fathom someone leaving California simply because of the culture there. The very notion of this is offensive, frustrating, and disheartening.
I’ll admit my initial response was to be offended. Not so much for myself, but for thousands of my IMB colleagues who willingly leave the comforts of home to move their families to faraway places often to be the only Christian witness among entire cities and people groups. In obedience to Christ’s commission, these people live in places that are truly difficult; they face actual persecution and routinely live with:
Hostile governments that make it illegal for Christians to share their faith
Local laws the limit freedom of assembly in order to persecute churches
Officials listening to their phone calls (and arrest any nationals who talk to them)
Severe weather, high temperatures with no A/C
No medicine or healthcare within a day’s reach
Random arrest and detention, often deportation
These are the daily realities for so many overseas workers. Why do they put up with these things? Because Jesus is worthy of the worship of all people, and so many still do not know him. They endure these things in order to make disciples because that’s the mission of God’s Church. How dare we offer our support for them to suffer hardships over there when we’re not willing to endure discomfort here?
I also take offense on behalf of my Christian friends and family in California (I was born and raised there) who have faithful, fruitful ministries there. Sure the traffic is terrible, the cost of living is high, and politics are liberal. Sin is celebrated, idolatry is rampant, and tolerance is selective. But many of “the nations” we read about in Scripture live in California! Lots of the crazy agendas found there are people struggling to make sense of the world; if we enter that struggle with them, we can offer Jesus as a viable alternative to human philosophies and schemes. The opportunity to make disciples is tremendous! Surely someone might brave the delicious fresh food, freedom of expression, and year-round sunny, 75º weather to be salt and light in a place that desperately needs it!
My offense soon gave way to frustration. I wanted to find these “California Refugees” and figure out what in the world they were thinking. How could you adopt such a consumeristic approach to life–literally shopping for a place that makes you more comfortable? Why would you expect (or even desire) to live in a place where the majority shares your values?
And, by the way, what values are we talking about here? Comfort? Safety? Christianized subculture? These are not Kingdom values! We’ve been sent like lambs among wolves! Jesus literally warned us that the world will hate us if we follow Him. Of course the nonbelievers around us don’t value the things we value– they are hopelessly dead in their sin. And how will they know that God has made a way unless someone tells them? Who will tell them if we all move to Nashville?
My frustration is not with the fact that Christians would move, but with the criteria they’re using to make these decisions. There a lots of good and valid reasons to leave California–financial challenges, changes to employment, family emergencies, etc. But leaving because the “culture is hostile and parasitic” an adventure in missing the point of why we’re left on this earth rather than being whisked away to heaven upon our salvation.
And where can we go to flee the “values gap?” Middle Tennessee (the beautiful part of the country that gave us the Grand Ole Opry and hot chicken) may have the veneer of “Christianity,” but by moving there, you’re really just exchanging California’s immoral sexual ethics and support of abortion for Nashville’s materialism, racism, and greed. No place is “safe”–and that’s sort of the point.
This Tweet left me disheartened. I’m saddened that Christianity in America could look like this. The desire to isolate ourselves from the world is probably natural. But for God’s people, this sort of dereliction of duty is a discipleship and discipline issue.
Can you imagine what we’d say about a missionary to South Asia who wanted to leave because the people in his community didn’t share his faith and values? What if he wanted to relocate because of the culture gap? We’d say he was being ridiculous and a bad missionary. We’d ask him what he thought he was getting himself into in the first place. So it is with God’s people who are dismayed by the challenges of being the minority in society–in Christ we are necessarily outsiders in this world.
Thankfully, more and more men, women, and children are taking seriously their role in God’s mission. They’re looking for opportunities to deliberately interject themselves into communities who need to know that God loves them. I continue to be encouraged by stories of regular Christians who are holding loosely to their preferences in order to follow Jesus into the “values gap” and plant their lives there for God’s glory.