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The secular Seattle myth

Why Seattleites are more interested in God than they let on.

Recently, I was sitting with a notable Seattle business owner who grew up in a graceless, rule-based fundamentalist religious home. Eventually, he rejected the faith of his parents and became an agnostic. Highly critical of organized religion, this man has no intention of visiting a gathering of faith-minded God followers. But there we were, bellying up in a local watering hole for a few hours, discussing God, faith and spirituality. He was incredibly curious to hear that I saw the God of the Bible as a loving entity and not a cosmic tyrant in the sky, baiting us to mess up just for a little sadistic fun. 

“I love these conversations," he told me. "Let’s continue to have them. You respect me and what I say, you listen and ask questions.”

Yet, when I travel and tell people that I am from Seattle, a common refrain is, “What a hostile place to God and spirituality.” To anyone who's seen the headlinesread the blogs, reviewed the Census reports, it seems as if Seattle just isn’t that interested in God. 

But as a lifelong Pacific Northwesterner and longtime pastor, I have had the joy of talking with people across various world views, religions, faiths and beliefs who are interested in having spiritual conversations, who want to talk about God — just like my business owner friend. 

What’s clear is that there is a particular approach in Seattle — not only in politics, but also regarding God, religion and spirituality. Just as there is the “Seattle process” in politics, so there is a “Seattle process” in relation to faith.

Seattle is full of people eager to discuss and dialogue about issues of God, but it’s also a city looking to sniff out harsh and unloving rhetoric from the faith community. It's a city that will roundly reject a “faith” that demeans and dehumanizes people.

Each year at the Seattle Gay Pride Parade, religious folks hold signs saying "Turn or burn," "Repent or else" and other slogans that are dehumanizing and disrespectful. There have been threats by Christians to rally boycotts of local companies if they don't change their stance on social issues. These types of faith-based approaches present God as an entity driven by hate and anger, and disregard the side effects such approaches might have: People would get laid off, families would foreclose on their homes. 

But there is another way. In Portland, my friend Kevin Palau, President of the Luis Palau Association, was just featured in the New York Times for working hand-in-hand with Sam Adams, the first openly gay mayor of a large U.S. city, to rally more than 26,000 volunteers from Portland churches. The group has worked together to serve underprivileged schools, the homeless and other city needs, making Kevin and Sam's friendship a great example of how religious and political groups can work together for the betterment of a city. 

This is a large part of the reason I've been working with the Union Gospel Mission. Though clearly a Christian organization with Christian values, they will partner and serve anyone in our city, whatever their beliefs, positions, background or faith. Currently, Union Gospel Mission is working to develop an app to assess needs and service providers across King County in homelessness, hunger, human trafficking and other areas. 

The Stranger's Cienna Madrid hit the nail on the head on this topic back in June. “You know who basically wrote the book on being Christian?" she wrote. "Jesus Christ. His followers were society's marginalized populations — the sick, homeless and outcast. In 33 short years, Jesus cleansed countless lepers, healed passels of paralytics, restored the senses of the blind and the deaf-mute, cured headaches and miscellaneous boils, and did other great stuff. Sure, most of his feats can be attributed to his magical Son o' God status, but that's not the point. Every noble gesture simply underscored his greatest triumph: not being a judgmental dick."


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Aug 19, 8:33 a.m. Inappropriate

"Seattle is full of people eager to discuss and dialogue about issues of God, . . ."

When that happens, alarm bells go off. With the exception of priests, etc., I find most of those people are trying to setup a fraud on the person they are talking to. They want to convince them they are honest by convincing them they are religious.

If you are truly religious, you don't need to flaunt it and little reason to bring the topic up. I know some very religious people who almost never discuss religious issues.

Goodspike

Posted Mon, Aug 19, 8:58 a.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, well, growing up Christian in Seattle, these are the Ten Commandments that seem to have been taught to me, and I came to internalize as an adult:

1. I am the Lord thy God. I can lick any other Gods.
2. Thou shalt give me money.
3. Thou shalt change your most basic, innate instincts about your own life.
4. Thou shalt feel bad about sex.
5. Honor those who claim to be better than you.
6. Thou shalt give me more money.
7. Thou shalt kill anyone who disagrees with me.
8. Thou shalt give me still more money, so my chosen can decide whether to give some of it to the poor and needy.
9. Your life is hopeless without me.
10. Heed me, or your life will be f***** for all eternity.
7.

gabowker

Posted Mon, Aug 19, 9:26 a.m. Inappropriate

The idea that Christianity is not welcome in Seattle falls flat every Christmas when this otherwise 'secular' city practically shuts down to celebrate the holiday. For anyone unwilling to join in the celebrations, but who wants to go out and do something in public, the options are surprisingly narrow. I would expect a city with the kind of reputation described above to be far less observant of Christmas traditions.

Posted Thu, Aug 22, 3:21 p.m. Inappropriate

You are confusing a secular Christmas celebration with a religious one. I'll be 10% of the families going to see Santa Claus actually go to church.

Treker

Posted Mon, Aug 19, 12:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Actually Tim's comments struck a chord. I don't mind discussing different (even conservative) religious views as long as it's not shoved down my throat. Seattle seems spiritual although not particularly religious. I am of course only a sample size of one.

Posted Mon, Aug 19, 4:04 p.m. Inappropriate

What, another piece from a preacher? Isn't Robinson enough? How about, for balance, a regular column from a skeptic discussing the absurdity of believing in the supernatural?

busterg

Posted Mon, Aug 19, 6:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Ever since I was 10 I always thought of God as a philosophical construct and religion as a political construct. Every human tribe in existence that we know anything about had a relationship with a supreme being, a creator. But religion is a book and a building, interested in exerting its power for whatever purposes in the here and now which is what politics are all about. there is nothing wrong with that except when the state aligns itself with one idea of God and outlaws the rest, that is what the founders were concerned about. They may have been predominately Christian but they were well aware of the dangers inherent in a single idea of our creator being allowed to dominate all others.
God predates Christianity by a very long time, I think we often forget that. America needs to imagine a God much larger than Jesus and his followers.

stevelego

Posted Mon, Aug 19, 10:43 p.m. Inappropriate

From what I've experienced in Seattle, there are far more Christians supporting the Pride parade by marching in it than there are protesting it. As a native of the Bible belt, that is wonderfully refreshing and, if we believe all those stories of radical love, a far better representation of what Jesus would do.

estrever

Posted Fri, Aug 23, 9:57 a.m. Inappropriate

As an atheist I don't look for or seek out religious people and if people wish to discuss their faith, I ask them to move on. That means I've not see the religious side of Seattle at all and the only spiritual people I met were stoners looking for a tree to hug who mistakenly thought I might care about their views.

Djinn

Posted Sat, Aug 24, 3:52 p.m. Inappropriate

Tim, you are one of the good guys and I appreciate this article. Too often, people affiliate with a religion for the wrong reasons: to fit in with the "right people", to avoid being an outcast, or to have a platform from which they can safely persecute others. If we have fewer such people in Seattle, I think that is a great thing. The religious and spiritual people I've met here are sincere, humble, and generous, true followers of Jesus in a sense even if they aren't Christian.

Posted Mon, Aug 26, 8:51 a.m. Inappropriate

I must respectfully disagree with Pastor Goydos. As can be read in many of the comments in this thread, there is an active generic dislike bordering on hatred toward Christianity in Seattle. In a city that pats itself on the back for its alleged "diversity," there's no tolerance shown for Christians here. It might as well be Cairo.

Posted Mon, Aug 26, 12:17 p.m. Inappropriate

"hatred" and "no tolerance" towards Christians in Seattle?
Just like Cairo?

In Cairo, in the last year or two we have seen REAL hatred- 44 churches destroyed or damaged beyond repair, stores looted, Coptic Christians beaten and even killed.

There is NO comparison to Seattle.
Not a single church here has been burned, churches are not daily tagged with anti-christian graffiti, nobody is beaten or killed for the crime of being christian, christian owned businesses are not looted because of ownership, christians are not fired from jobs due to their religion, christians are not excluded from schools, denied police protection, and on and on and on.

In fact, aside from hurt feelings due to me and mine not converting, there is little or no actual action against christians of any kind in Washington.

I have lots of christian friends- and they all can worship, work, and live freely...

Ries

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