By Alan Bean
I stole the term “messy middle” from my daughter, Dr. Lydia Bean, who coined the phrase for a recent study of evangelicals and same sex marriage. Since I am briefly quoted in the article below, I thought I should elaborate a bit. The messy middle churches I describe aren’t moderate in the sense of being poised midway between liberals and conservatives. Unlike homogeneous congregations in which the majority of congregants hold similar views on theological, political and economic issues, messy middle churches minister to people who are all over the ideological map.
Some are economic conservatives but quite liberal theologically and progressive on social issues. Others are theological and social conservatives but skew to the left on economic issues (you see this a lot in African American and Latino churches).
Because the culture war fault line runs right down the middle of messy middle congregations, pastors and other opinion leaders within the church are reluctant to tackle issues that highlight the lack of message unity within the congregation or, worse yet, spark controversy within the body.
This explains the strange silence in most messy middle congregations on issues that affect poor people: employment policy, mass incarceration, immigration and homelessness. Generally, we just don’t talk about this stuff.
That makes sense if the goal is maintaining institutional stability.
But if we’re trying to follow a Christ who preached good news to the poor, we’ve got a problem.
And recent studies suggest that millennials (roughly folks between 18 and 32 as of this writing) are looking for a faith that makes sense of the real world while transcending the weary divisions promoted by the culture war. Millennials tend to be much more socially progressive than their parents, particularly on the issue of same sex marriage.
Below, a number of Christian leaders, including author Brian McLaren, Suziee Paynter of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and Curtis Freeman of Duke Divinity School, share their views.
By Jeff Brumley
Many are convinced that beyond addressing material and spiritual needs, moderate Baptist churches must become more vocal advocates for “the least of these” in society.
Some are forming congregational programs, while institutions like the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship are studying initiatives to help churches find their prophetic voices as Millennials moving into leadership voice dissatisfaction with congregations that remain silent on the burning social issues of the day.