White in-flight hipster vs. white flight suburban evangelicals


Young evangelicals have made their initial descent into urban areas all over America, bringing their hipster culture and paternalism toward minorities along with them. Brett McCraken's upcoming book Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide (to be released in August) presents an overview of these baby-boomer hipster children and their vision for Christianity (see Susan Olasky's short review here). Writers like McCracken and Soong-Chan Rah remind us that the hipster Christian movement may not be as cutting-edge and progressive as it sounds. Instead of avoiding minorities---as suburbanites are often charged with doing---hipster Christians are simply colonizing them.

There seems to be much celebration about new church plants in "the city," but it doesn't really seem like much is actually changing in terms of how these new churches look demographically. For example, suburban church parishioners are said to have fled the city to get away from minorities, i.e., "white flight." Hipster Christians talk about wanting to live among minorities but are gentrifying the neighborhoods in the process and really don't care. Both groups mainly worship with other whites just like them. White "in-flight" is purging the city of minorities and driving the underclass to the suburbs. These white in-flight Christians often have paternalistic visions bringing redemption to the poor little brown natives who currently inhabit neighborhoods with houses needing renovation. And their inflated hipster egos portray the city as a place that needs them desperately.

White flight church pastors may be clean-cut white males wearing khakis pants and sweater vests. White in-flight hipster pastors are also white males who might have piercings (or at least had them at some point) and maybe even a tattoo. They drink high-end alcoholic beverages and occasionally smoke cloves or imported cigars. They still may be surfers or skateboarders and at one time played in an indie band before a growing appreciation for folk and international music developed.

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White-flight suburban churches may sing hymns exclusively or appreciate Nashville's contemporary Christian music scene. The suburban worship leader is a soft-spoken white guy playing music that seems to be nothing more than love ballads to Jesus, asking Him to "hold us close" or confessing Jesus' beauty. White in-flight worship leaders are also soft-spoken white guys (or gals) with slightly unkempt hair and tight jeans of various colors, and are all about "liturgy." Horned-rimmed glasses, scruffy beards, and plaid shirts abound, while they lead the congregation in Christian songs to an indie-rock cadence.

White flight churches served as a refuge for the middle class. White in-flight churches are destinations for formerly suburban young evangelicals fleeing Wal-Mart and Target country only to bring Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, organic coffee shops, and organic grocery stores to "da hood." They are also middle class. White in-flight Christians move into black and Latino neighbors, and instead of joining churches that are already there, hipsters plant churches---for "theological" reasons---for people who are just as cool as they are. Suburban churches are built around the family. Hipsters are too into birth-control for family, so children are traded-off for "justice," "the arts," and "serving the poor."

I could go on, but suffice it to say that suburban Christians should not accept the finger-pointing by the cool, hipster Christians who are, in fact, living out the same sociology but just in a different ZIP code. Hipster churches are just as culturally homogenous as their parents' churches but with a twist of "cool." Protestants are skillful fad chasers. We need a vision of remaining in neighborhoods regardless of who moves in or out. Jesus come quickly.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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