We live in Cleveland Park, DC, an affluent, liberal, urban neighborhood of mostly single-family homes (median family income= $124,000; average family size=2.57; 84% white). I don’t think the US Census collects data on religion, but I would not be surprised if the biggest single group in our area consists of secular Jews. There is an impressive conservative synagogue on the main drag, while the (high-church) Episcopalian National Cathedral marks the western border. Both of those congregations draw from well outside the neighborhood.
photo by KCIvey, creative commons license.
One of the main secular landmarks is the Uptown Theater, an art-deco building that shows premieres and popular movies. Recently, the McLean Bible Church, an evangelical congregation in Northern Virginia, announced plans to hold Sunday services in the Uptown, carrying a video feed from its large suburban church. This is part of “City Impact,” “a movement within McLean Bible Church designed to empower leaders and new ministries to carry out the vision of the church–to impact secular Washington with the message of Jesus Christ. The mission of City Impact is to inspire individuals and teams to share their passion for Christ with specific, targeted groups outside of the church.” Another part of City Impact is a “Jews for Jesus campaign” that was evident in our neighborhood earlier this month.
Cleveland Park has a very active email list with 5,498 members as of yesterday. The arrival of the McLean Bible Church has sparked a lively exchange, which I follow through the f2f intermediary of my wife Laura. Although there have been calls for tolerance, a lot of the comments have been angry.
Just to get an obvious point out of the way, the McLean Bible Church has the legal right to say anything they want about secular Washington on public streets or in any building they choose to rent. The only question is whether people should be angry about their arrival. This is my thought: It’s very uncomfortable when someone declares an intention to change your values and core commitments. Many people receive such declarations as attacks on their own identities.
The McLean Bible Church is “targeting” (their verb) secular Washington, along with “Russian Jews, Orthodox Jews, secular Jews, and Jews who are totally unaffiliated.” But before we get too upset, we should reflect that a desire to convert us represents a form of care and concern, from the perspective of the evangelicals themselves. Besides, by putting their bodies in our neighborhood, the missionaries risk encounters that could change them more than us. Such encounters are disturbingly rare in modern America, where we sort ourselves into neighborhoods by partisanship, religion, education, race, income, and aesthetic taste. I see the weekly arrival of evangelicals as a dose of welcome diversity, and I look forward to “us” rubbing off on “them.”