Religious Political Culture wars in Portland Oregon


I have always liked more to live in an environment that is relatively liberal. Such as Portland, Oregon. But sometimes, Portland and me, see, we don’t always agree. There is a sort of tension I see/hear/read/experience living as a follower of Christ in the wildly liberal PacNW.

Recently I met a friend up at Mississippi Pizza and Pub and had the sort of experience that kind of illustrates this “culture war“. While I was reading Willamette Week, I sat next to a young lady who was telling a friend first about a college class she was disappointed with (the forestry service was sexist because they gave the ladies daintier, smaller patches to wear–the outrage!), but then about her wildly religious brother. They had disagreed I guess.

It sounded like he was talking to her about his faith and she was getting offended, saying things like “Just because I have a tattoo, doesn’t mean I am going to hell,”. It’s hard not to smirk at these types of comments, and if her brother was suggesting that she was going to hell for her tattoo, than I would be agreeing more with her.

Later she said something like she believes that she would be judged based on how she lived her life as to whether she would go to heaven. As a Christian, I am wondering, she rejects the faith, why would she want heaven?

Her tone was hard but pretty much common. At one point she mentioned how he might be going to hell because he was wearing socks that had mixed fibers in them. She seemed to feel she had bested him in this comment, said that he was confused. Probably because he was so ignorant about the bible? Apparently he did try to explain to her that Christians didn’t live under that law anymore, but this was more than she wanted to go into…

While I am trying to not hear this annoying conversation, I am reading WW which is panning a short film made by a Lake Oswego man called “Jesus save me from your followers” or something like this. The reviewer lambasted the film’s producer as a “milk toasty emergent church type.” How sad I thought, here this guy is trying to address the weird malice that exists between the world and the church here in the PacNW, and this fellow can do nothing but be critical. Sometimes it seems that Portland, like others I know, are so offended, annoyed and “evolved past” religion in their post modernism, that any acknowledgment of religion smells like caveman to them, and is thus retrograde.

Further, in the car listening to a podcast from Speaking of Faith, Shane Claiborne (a new Monastic and Christian activist) discusses with Chuck Colson (born again Christian indicted for scandal for Watergate crimes, now prominent Christian author) and Greg Boyd (mega church pastor who preached about the church not endorsing politics and lost a bunch of people from his church) are on a panel talking about the best way to represent Christ in the voting booth–basically a whole lot of conversation and fresh air on the subject of the religious citizen, not left right or otherwise. This wonderful podcast found here.

And it is played out in my life too. I was baptized and in alot of ways mentored by folks who were very Christian/Republican–and I never quite felt like I fit in with them. We don’t talk about politics because it gets too hot too fast. My husband as well comes from a conservative background, and we find ourself not allying with with either a left or right viewpoint.

My eternal questions are “When can we stop talking about political parties in religion? When can we just get to the point that we realize that if political parties are dividing a faith, they need to be eschewed as a bad thing? When can we stop singing patriotic songs in church and when can we quit mixing up religion and nationalism? Hasn’t Islam showed us how these things don’t mix?”

As for the girl I overheard, I know that there are alot of people out there who have been utterly turned off by the religion due to the sheer humanity that represents it. At one time I was among her ranks. No one told me to dislike Christians, I effectively absorbed it from the culture. Christians were weak, sad, brainwashed, suffered from mystery maladies, told strange stories, spoke in tongues, were doggedly right wing and incapable of thinking outside that—a whole slew of negative connotations that in my younger years I attributed to Christians.

So what happened? Well, I got changed around, and yes, it was the best thing that could have happened. And miraculously I didn’t also turn into a republican, stop thinking, become sad, weak or brainwashed or begin suffering mystery maladies.

In fact, I began thinking more about bigger questions…I struggled and wrestled with the stuff in the bible (and still do) to make sense of it and sometimes to put it on the shelf until it becomes clearer. I know that if I could understand every aspect of why God is how he is, he wouldn’t be worth pursuing. I wonder about how this faith will work out in my every day life, and that is where the excitement it, really. I learn more, in general, about many of the bigger questions– stuff I never thought of before I became a Christian 18 years ago. I have to reconcile things. All in all, being a Christian has been much more exciting, thought provoking, lead to interesting conversations, joyful and challenging than I ever thought it could be when I was on the outside looking in.

My brain didn’t switch off, actually, it was more like it switched on. I thought for myself rather than absorbing what my surrounding “culture” (my friends, my media, my education) told me about “religious types”.

And so Imago Dei prays for Portland. And I do too. I hope Portland will also start thinking, listening and the church will be there with something worth listening to.

Actually, that part worries me the most. To be continued.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s