Pastoring a church that has connected with a majority population of 20s and 30s has me uniquely positioned to see people experience major transitions. I do way more weddings than funerals. We have baby dedications multiple times a year. Most of my hospital visits are beginning of life things not end of life things.
And there is another transition I see a lot.
It's people moving.
I don't just mean people who relocate to other areas of the state or country because of job or education, though there is certainly a transient nature involved in 20 and 30 somethings.
I also mean people who have gotten married and moved into an apartment...who then maybe move into a home, often in a hip part of the city...who then have a baby or two and then move out of the hip part of the city and into the secure part of the city...the good school district part of the city...the bigger house part of the city...often its the suburbs.
People are seemingly always on the move.
And it is always for seemingly wise motives.
But I don't often hear people saying, "we feel like God is calling us here...to this neighborhood...to this people...to embody Good News here."
Usually I hear wise explanations rather than the God explanations. God apparently rarely (if ever) calls people of means to parts of the city inhabited with people of none. God apparently doesn't like poor people.
I'm becoming convicted that God likely isn't calling all the more educated, more influential, more white, more wealthy people all to the same suburban oases of comfort.
I think while racism is certainly alive and well, it seems as if an equally (or even more?) poisonous thing in my city is economic segregation that exists because of classism.
I can tolerate a black man who is educated and holds a steady job in the same income bracket as me and can afford to live on the same street as me.
But the poor black man? Uneducated? That's a different story.
He should work harder. He should keep a job. He should have graduated high school. He should dress better.
I'm reminded a bit of what happened to the Southern Kingdom of Judah in the Hebrew Bible. The Babylonians invaded and their strategy of eliminating their enemies was very effective. Those they didn't kill, they sorted. They took the educated, wealthy and influential in the conquered place and relocated them to their capital city in Babylon to influence and build and develop and innovate. And they left the less educated, blue collar, "non-threats" in the conquered land. They knew that this recipe would prevent uprisings and revolts.
What if the suburbs are a type of Babylon? What if those embracing the comforts and frills of the empire are in reality living in exile away from the place that God ultimately wants to work and redeem and restore and reconcile?
Not only does this type of classism leave gaping holes and leave groups of people overlooked and undervalued but we perpetuate the cycle. By going to the best school districts (where the more expensive cost of living is often found), my kids get the leg up on education. Then they get the better opportunities. They get the better jobs. They get the better chance of not starting out with massive amounts of debt. Then they get married and live in the hip part of town until "God Almighty" calls them to join the rest of their privileged fellow class members in Babylon. City schools are often deemed second class, causing people with means to avoid sending their kids there and causing great teachers to look elsewhere for jobs.
We run to Babylon and then ask why Judah is having such a difficult time. We ask why Judah is falling in disrepair.
We contribute to Judah's demise and then get ticked when our government has to come in to try and subsidize our neglect.
Classism isn't a government issue. It's a church issue.
If redemption and reconciliation and restoration are really central biblical themes and if God actually cares about poor people, then the Church more than any other institution is culpable for the pain and poverty of Judah. We have not only NOT sought to bring healing but in many instances we have helped perpetuate the cycles and systems of pain.
Don't hear what I'm not saying. Not everyone is called to this. Some people are called to be good news in Babylon. And God certainly still worked in and through the people who were in exile.
But, can we be honest though and admit that God isn't calling all the wealthy and educated people to the wealthy and educated places of our city? And that sometimes...maybe lots of times...our rationalizations of why we want to live in a place are far more about our comfort and preferences than they are about God calling us there?
Columbus is the second most economically segregated city in the country. And I confess that I have been part of the problem. I live in a mostly white, mostly middle class spot. There are streets and neighborhoods I don't go to because of the stigma there. There are train tracks we don't cross much.
If you are moving and your reasoning is schools, financial investments, safety and comparable cost of living, it may just cost you your life, making your heart numb and your compassion calloused.
If you are moving because you have had revelation from God of who you are called to, you might just get your heart back. It's not easy. But nothing that is God sized ever is.
Nehemiah led a group out of Babylon and back to Judah to participate with God in restoring her and rebuilding her.
And God is calling His Church to do the same.