Day 101: Un-Common Ground
That’s the number of sunrises and sunsets every one of us will experience between now and Tuesday, November 8—Election Day in these United States. This election season seems to represent a remarkable clash of titanic values—or huge values, depending on which way you lean—that have culminated in one wacky period in U.S. History. We might think of it in terms of the voices we hear speaking out on these kinds of issues:
- ISIS and the threat of distributed, homegrown terrorism.
- The rise of nationalism and isolationism—not just in America, but also in the UK (think Brexit) and beyond.
- The mainstreaming of LGBTQ rights.
- The “glass ceiling” of the equal pay movement coupled with a new sensitivity and woman-centered understanding of sexual harassment and assault (that has, for example, recently toppled Fox News’ Roger Ailes).
- The focus on Planned Parenthood and the battle between the self-described pro-choice and pro-life camps.
- War, torture, the military and the new peace movement represented most vociferously by followers of Bernie Sanders.
- Those competing hashtags in social media: #BlackLivesMatter, #BlueLivesMatter and #AllLivesMatter that point to the demographic shift in our nation and an increasingly diverse population.
- The ascent of global corporations and the focus on trade deals in American politics.
And I must add a particular interest of mine—both personally and academically—the reshaping of the evangelical church.
Rise of the “Nones”
American evangelical churches in particular are hemorrhaging followers, and millennials are especially prone to check the box that says “none of the above” when asked about their religious preference. While the “none of the above” certainly include a growing number of atheists and agnostics, it also includes Americans who have left organized religion in droves and now describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious.”
All of these things—evangelical losses and those competing voices listed above—are surely related, awash in the zeitgeist of this era in the U.S. And over the next 100 days that follow, I will post daily articles (between 300–500 words on average) that pick up several of these themes in the spirit of what I consider a key element of my own life’s work: “to create a safe place for dangerous conversations.”
Dangerous Conversations Indeed. These are perilous times to be a moderate anything, and I am one. We used to celebrate moderates—people who could reach across the aisle and find common ground, but this is an era that celebrates polarization. Politically speaking, each of us tends to find the media that supports our tribal notion of how life ought to be, and so we find ourselves drawn ever deeper into a dangerous echo chamber that only serves to reinforce our particular worldview.
I see the same thing happening to the evangelical church, both politically and theologically. We draw ever tighter circles around our group and have grown quick to vote one another “off the island.” What used to be called common ground is increasingly and decidely un-common. Please join me as we explore this Un-Common Ground over the next 100 days.