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On Not Being Weird About Where You Live

June 29th, 2023 | 4 min read

By Jake Meador

Here in Nebraska, we have recently passed a new state-level law that creates a de facto ten week abortion ban as well as a ban on gender-transition surgeries for minors and gives the state's chief medical officer power to determine if hormonal treatments intended to help someone transition will be allowed for minors. That's the state-level.

On the other hand, here in Lincoln six of seven city council seats are held by Democrats, all but one of our seats in the state legislature are Democrat held, the mayor is a Democrat, and so is virtually every other elected official in the city. That's why we ended up with one of the most extreme fairness ordinances in America. So I live in a deep red state but a deep blue city. And in this respect I'm not that unusual.

One of the easiest ways to tell that someone is being analytically lazy is if they seem to imagine that the lines of the culture war just happen to fall perfectly along the boundaries of our nation's states, such that one can easily signal that one is on the right side of the culture war simply by choosing to live in one state rather than another. The reality, of course, is that this is not remotely how the cultural divides in American life actually work.

Incidentally, this is also the fatal flaw in the imagined Texit or Calexit scenarios that French has written about—imagine explaining to all the Republican districts in California that they are now part of the People's Republic of the Pacific along with San Francisco, LA, Portland, and Seattle. Or, conversely, try breaking it to Austinites that they're now part of the Free State of Texas.

The better way of understanding the divide is to follow Michael Lind's lead in The New Class War and think less in terms of "red state / blue state" and more in terms of "heartland v hub." Heartland regions are typically outer suburbs, exurbs, and rural areas that tend to skew more populist conservative while hubs are highly concentrated urban centers (and their closer suburbs) which tend to be dominated by knowledge workers and the managerial class, all of whom generally skew more Democratic. (One point that follows from this is that fusionist Republicanism of the sort that dominated from Reagan to Bush Two is basically dead on arrival today because it has no constituency of note.)

What this means is that the divide between red geographic regions (red in terms of culture war more than partisan politics necessarily) and blue regions is blurry and doesn't map especially well onto our state politics, let alone federal.

None of this is to say that people who decide to move from one state to another due to cultural or political disagreements are sinning. Where a person or family lives is a complicated question over which we do not have absolute control. If you live in a state whose laws could threaten your family's life together in the future by subverting parental authority to allow minors to transition, I very much understand the desire to move elsewhere.

That being said, the functional reality of American life right now is that many of the jobs that still pay a family wage are in cities, many cities are fairly deep blue, and this holds true even in strongly red states, such as Nebraska. Minnesota is another somewhat similar example: Much of the state is actually quite red, but the Twin Cities dominate the state's politics and economics and are even more progressive than Lincoln.

So what this means is that while there may be some extreme cases, such as laws being discussed now in California, where it really does become genuinely difficult for many Christians to continue in a place, most of us are simply not going to be able to preserve cultural Christianity as a social reality. Mass dechurching has simply made that project impossible in most places, or at least impossible apart from a dramatic ecclesial and evangelistic renewal of the sort that fundamentalists of the sort generally fleeing blue states for red sates have never really shown an aptitude for.

Simply leaving your blue state for a red state won't solve the problem because state-level politics are complicated, jobs are often in deep blue cities, and this is just the world we've been given. I live in the 12th reddest state in the country if we're looking at 2020 presidential election results. We are redder than Utah, Mississippi, Indiana, and Montana. But the reality of life in Nebraska is that our major cities are quite blue, my city in particular is extremely blue, and while state-level legislation means things like the California bill will never materialize here, things like our fairness ordinance already have been attempted and will continue to be attempted in the future.

The best move for most of us will be the move that Redeemerites have modeled so beautifully in New York for 30 years—one of living peaceably so much as possible in our place, seeking to bless it as we can, and erecting necessary boundaries between the people of God and people of the world as challenges and questions arise. For most of us, this will be the best we can do. Given that, self-righteous preening or behaving as if people in one sort of states are categorically compromised serves no purpose save to create unnecessary division amongst the people of God.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).