Thursday, March 23, 2017
America's great divide. . .
The once familiar TV shows of Andy Griffith, Mayberry RFD, Petticoat Junction, Green Acres, and the like both focused on the difference between the village and the city and celebrated the triumph of rural common sense, friendship, values over the urban counterpart. The Westerns also dominated the TV screens (The Big Valley, Virginian, Bonanza, and Gunsmoke). At some point things changed. The humor and story of the urban and rural conflict gave way to disdain. In 1970 CBS ditched its whole lineup of country based shows in favor of an edgier and more biting social commentary (think All in the Family). As far off as those days were, many of us long for the days when it was a friendly rivalry and when the values and perspectives were more similar than dissimilar.
Whether the media orchestrated this shift or merely followed the lead of opinion is less significant than how it has all played out. If you look at maps of the 2016 election results, the great divide between rural and urban has turned into voting blocks as one group has the countryside locked up and another a hold on urban areas. Working class people and working class values are pitted against the educated and cultural elite -- in evidence so profoundly in the Golden Globe speech of Meryl Streep.
This great gulf between rural and urban America has taken on deep religious significance. Christians and their values are very deeply aligned with the rural and small towns of America and the secular and skeptical urban America is not only opposed to this but finds it harder and harder to understand this part of America. The end result is that we have more than a war of words but real battle for supremacy and even survival.
Let me speak personally. When I grew up in small town, rural Nebraska, my parents paid attention to the weather in New York City and watched the news from the saltwater coasts as intently as they news from the town next door. They knew the geography and something of the culture of areas far removed from the local towns and farmlands. When I moved to Long Island, most folks had no clue where Nebraska even was and some asked me about the Native Americans as if the frontier battles of old were still be played out in the West. But they did not necessarily disdain what they did not know. Now I am not so sure. There are embittered folks in the heartlands as well as the coast lands but there is more than bitterness in the coasts -- even downright fear and disdain of country ideas, ideals, values, and faith.
My own denomination moved from a largely rural church body prior to World War II to a more suburban and urban church from the 1950s on. That transformation has also left us with somewhat the same kind of urban and rural divide -- parishes from the saltwater coasts seem distinctly different from the parishes in the Midwest. This has created some issues for us as a church and we still deal with the differences and the distinctions. I wonder what the future will hold -- both for the national divide and its effect on our church body. I fear that this will not only not be reconciled but that the gulf is being encouraged by an activitist media and the educated and cultural elites. And for their part, the country folks seem more than happy to see the salt water cities wash away into the sea. In any case, it is not good.