Over at his Gospel Coalition blog, Jared Wilson has followed my lead by sticking his thumb in the eye of the Metro-Evangelical consensus with a post titled “Rural Ministry: Too Cool for Hipsters?” In his post he quotes my friend and Hillsdale College compatriot Darryl Hart on the inconsistencies within the younger set’s worldview. Hart wishes

… that Christians, who have discovered the value of wholesome food and the farming practices that produce it, would translate their choices about diet and carbon footprints into congregations and pastors more circumspect about cities and more respectful of the fly-over sectors of the greatest nation on God’s green earth[.]

It isn’t just Evangelicals who suffer with such inconsistency. At the core of the hipster aesthetic is a simultaneous championing of slowed-down, artisan craftsmanship along with a preference to reside in densely-populated urban cores. These tastes are not naturally compatible as there are sure to be times where their rejection of mass production will conflict with their preference for massed population.

English: Rural Church. The sign to the left of...

English: Rural Church. The sign to the left of the door reads “Welcome to our Church”. I don’t know any more than that. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wilson also quotes Hart’s theory as to what explains these competing preferences, a desire “to elevate one’s own status by hobnobbing with the influential.”  This may be right. After all, what is the common factor that bridges folks who buy limited-run items and yet live in large cities? Disposable income, and a lot of it. I understand that this imputation of a less than grand motivation is sure to raise some ire, but I believe that it is a conversation worth having.

However, I’m not sure that Hart and the folks at Front Porch Republic get all the way there. Despite living in a small town myself and enjoying the occasional arugula-based salad (made with produce harvested from my own backyard garden, of course), I don’t want to put my lifestyle on a pedestal. I think that the best, most sacrificially Christian activities I undertake are when I get outside of my cultural box and take time to talk with my blue-collar neighbors. Doing so is much more difficult for me than speaking with a big firm attorney, sure, but I can’t really share a common love of Mumford and Sons with them either. They are neither urban nor urbane and thus provide me with an actual opportunity for self-giving love. These are the folks who present me with Matthew 25-type opportunities:

I was shopping at Walmart, and you did not sneer at me;
I was eating at McDonald’s, and you did not condemn my palate.

More than joining the call for Christian hipsters to be more consistent in their embrace of a quasi-Luddite way of life, I want to see greater love for folks who are less educated, less influential, and less wealthy. We may do better to reflect on the virtues of eating at Burger King and KFC instead of exulting in our grass-fed beef and free-range poultry.

Posted by Keith Miller

Keith Miller is an Assistant Solicitor General in the Federalism Unit of the Arizona Attorney General's Office. He is married and has four children. You can follow him on Twitter.

  • Ermintrude

    Whatever the church in the picture is, it isn’t ‘English’. British might be best – or even Irish!

  • A few thoughts from an urban hipster who loves Wendell Berry and eats arugula out of his urban garden but who lives in what most people would describe as a ghetto:

    1) A lot of this is a reaction against suburbs– and so as young Christians embrace the city, rural areas are getting shafted by default, not by malice (the malice is directed against the suburbs!) There are also still a lot of people (a silent majority, you might say) who are very resistant to moving into the city.

    2) If you read more of what Tim Keller has to say, you find that (A) he is very supportive of rural ministry and strongly encourages people to pursue it (http://redeemercitytocity.com/blog/view.jsp?Blog_param=78) albeit sometimes as a stepping stone, and that (B) his vision for center city-type ministry specifically views the city as a place from which you can influence the surrounding suburbs and rural places and send people as missionaries/church planters.

    3) There is a difference between churches that move into hip, artsy gentrified neighborhoods with some ministry to the poor on the side and churches that specifically move into unattractive and poor neighborhoods to serve the community. There’s obviously overlap (sometimes these sorts of neighborhoods are right next to each other!), but the mindset is often very, very different. This lets you get up close and personal with lots of folks who eat at McDonald’s.

  • “At the core of the hipster aesthetic is a simultaneous championing of slowed-down, artisan craftsmanship along with a preference to reside in densely-populated urban cores.”

    Man, I wish I could say this was true of most “hipsters” that I know. But from my observation, they’re more aligned with a nostalgic pining for connection in a world that is full of the appearance of connection but with no substance. That may manifest in things like locally-based, artisan craftsmanship but only as a symptom of a deeper issue.

    As to appreciating prevailing culture of mass-produced goods and over-processed foods, why? Can’t we love our neighbor without affirming lifestyle? We ask this much with “sin” issues, don’t we?

    The truth is that many of us, hipsters or not, have shied away from places like Walmart, which are a poison to small businesses that are traditionally the life-blood of a local community and whose overly aggressive market strategies squeeze producers to the point of bankruptcy, whose business policies don’t allow their employees to unionize, and whose goal is to reap huge profits by these practices, because we believe there is something better and perhaps even more morally acceptable to participate in.

    In terms of food, it’s no secret that fast-food and overly processed options available at supermarkets are in some measure poisoning our bodies and are in part responsible for the obesity epidemic in the US, and all the corresponding diseases that occur as a result, taxing the healthcare system and creating very real unfunded liability issues for the US in terms of future Medicare and Medicaid funding. Also, arguably, a moral issue.

    I’d love to spend less at Walmart. And I think McDonald’s tastes pretty damn good. But I don’t frequent those places for other reasons, reasons that have less to do with being a “hipster,” and more to do with at least semi-informed convictions, and my rejection of them certainly doesn’t equal condemnation of those who do embrace them. That said, I don’t think it’s the best way to spend your resources no matter who you are. And honestly, it feels like a bit of straw man to broad stroke like this post does.

    Perhaps a more reasonable approach would be to lovingly explain the rationale behind our lifestyle decisions and to love our neighbor while not affirming their lifestyle choices. If some feel called to do this in a rural context, more power to them.

    I’m rambling now, but hopefully my point isn’t too lost in the ramblings.

    • Jake,

      Thanks for the thoughtful engagement.

      You tentatively own the position that patronizing Walmart and McDonalds is morally deficient. But how confident are you that you are not retrofitting moral justifications on top of your class-based biases? Trader Joe’s matches every charge you made against Walmart, yet there aren’t any tumblrs dedicated to the People of Trader Joe’s. And how do you explain the differing reputations owned by Starbucks and McDonald’s despite similar caloric profiles?

      Mine is a call for caution–a reminder that it is easier to like things that are more elite and condemn things that are more banal. But that ought not color our questions of sin (1 Corinthians 12 seems an important text on this point).

      • Hi Keith,

        Thanks for your response. Points taken.

        To clarify, I’m not owning a position that patronizing WalMart and McDonald’s is morally deficient but that the resulting implications do lead to real moral issues that should be at the least considered.

        Of course, in this broken world, nothing is perfect. Attacking the people who frequent those places is not OK, but neither are the practices of Walmart nor the health issues processed, fast food have created.

        Healthy eating, especially, is not a class issue in the sense of elite versus banal. It’s a real issue that unfortunately affects the poor the worst but that is a problem across all classes. This is why places like Growing Power (http://www.growingpower.org/) in Milwaukee exist, and that program is run by the urban community in which it resides, not by white hipsters.

        I think I most take issue with the false dichotomy the post and your response creates. If you don’t shop at Walmart or eat at McDonald’s you’re an elitist hipster (and let’s face it, hipster is a derogatory term for some reason in elite evangelical circles). The reality is that there is tremendous diversity in the local commerce and slow/whole food movements.

        In short, the issues are much more complicated than I think they were represented here.

  • Nice critique of the ethos of Christian hipsters. I doubt that your blue-collar neighbors would appreciate the condescension but they can probably sense it in your patronizing interactions with them.

  • rstarke

    As a Christian pursuing a graduate degree in nutrition, I think I have to echo the thoughts of others who are gently objecting to the assumption you’ve made that Christians objecting to McDonalds or Walmart is about cultural snobbery, and not real love and compassion, particularly for the poor. I don’t condemn people who eat there – I feel compassion for the many who perhaps can’t afford to eat better, or don’t know how to. I genuinely believe places like McDonalds actively exploit the poor, by telling them that a a Happy Meal is a way to love your child affordably. Why is it romantic and and noble to teach someone in a third world country to fish, but the reverse to teach someone here how to eat well? As for the rural ministry issue, I think we’ll see that we’re on the cusp of that happening precisely because of the vision Keller et al had for cities. To Keller’s point, cities are where ideas are birthed and disseminated. As more people become more connected to where their food comes from and who makes it, there will be more concern for the souls of those people, and you’ll see more rural community churches begin, perhaps, as someone suggest elsewhere, partially funded by city communities.

    • My husband pastors a small, rural church in Appalachia, and I’ll be the first to testify that nutritional issues come up regularly– from the potluck dinners to the snacks that we offer at VBS to the eight-year-old neighbor boy who stayed for dinner and didn’t know what whole grain bread was. And yet it’s a very fine line to walk especially as we try to prioritize where to spend our influence. Left to ourselves, my husband and I are more whole foods, Mother Earth News types; but we accept that our first calling is to minister the gospel to folks who have no context for even understanding why their nutritional choices might be significant. Consequently, there have been plenty of times that I’ve had to simply close my eyes or look the other way as my children drank kool-aid and ate sugar cookies given to them by a well-meaning granny at the church. I’m not disagreeing with you–just offering our experience.

  • James M.

    rstarke, if I may I would raise a mild objection to your point regarding the need for rural churches being funded by city churches. If by that you mean people who have a burden to plant churches in rural areas, then no disagreement exists here. However, for those of us who work and minister in rural America, the perspective seems maybe a bit backward. My experience has been that the followers of Christ from our fly-over expanse have impacted more centers of population than I can count. I was just now reading an update from one of my former students who works with a ministry at one of the largest universities in America in downtown metro USA, a young 20 something lady who loves it out here but loves the college students she ministers to even more. I am not trumpeting some quaint notion of the virtues of rural vs. the decadence of the city. But one seems to detect a mind-set that without what the city provides, the rural cannot function properly. While there is a degree to which I think this is true in a practical sense (EG, on does not find too many professional theologians out here), this does not seem to take into account the thrust that occurs in the other direction. I’m reminded that Abraham, a man of the open spaces, was given a promise that had him pursuing a city whose designer and builder was God. But, if there is anyone out there who feels created to minister out here, opportunities abound, and depravity is prevalent here as everywhere else on the planet.

  • FWIW, This Is Our City (Christianity Today’s spinoff site for… metro-evangelicals?) does about every sixth or seventh article about something rural, so you know we haven’t all completely lost our minds: http://www.christianitytoday.com/thisisourcity/7thcity/ministering-on-margins-in-rural-america.html?paging=off

  • ETS

    Keith … brother …. do you actually KNOW any hipsters? Like I mean intimately do life with them? More than 5?

    I’m very surprised, mainly saddened, by your generalizations and refusal to acknowledge the nuance of subcultures. This is just another example of what happens when people who are not a part of a subgroup and do life with few in that subgroup pontificate about said group from the outside.

    Dude, like seriously. Please stop. Not helpful. Harmful more than anything else.

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