Thursday, November 03, 2011

Salt Lake: A Divided City

Salt Lake City

Missio Dei Community

Article by Missio Dei Community member, Levi Rogers
Salt Lake City, Utah. Depending on one’s particular background or personal history, the place could have a variety of meanings. One might think of mountains, skiing, the Olympics, or conservative politics. But if you are like the majority of people, you think of Mormons, the LDS church, and perhaps not much else.
As any church planter knows, or should, context is key. The contextualization of the Gospel mixed with an understanding of a particular city’s socio-economic-political-religious environment is invaluable to the planting of any church. Nowhere could this be truer than in Salt Lake.
We are a church plant called Missio Dei Community stemming out of Imago Dei Community in Portland, Oregon and the Orchard Group in New York City. Our lead pastor is Kyle Costello who grew up in the Mormon Church splitting time living in both Utah and a small town in eastern Nevada. Kyle made his way to Las Vegas (where he became a Christian, funny enough) and then eventually Portland before feeling the call back to LDS culture and Salt Lake City.
We started Missio Dei with the intention of being a community of Christ followers in the urban core of Salt Lake. We have a heart for the marginalized, the counter culture, and yes, Mormons. It’s not our posture to “do battle” with the Mormon culture or “take back” the city from them, rather its about seeking and serving all cultures that comprise our city. We believe God has been here working long before we showed up so our hope is that we can join Him in His work.
So our intention from the very beginning was to be a gospel-centered church seeking humbly and simply to do life together as we lived out the gospel amongst the religious and the irreligious.
Salt Lake City is interesting because as much as it’s popular for being the headquarters of Mormonism it is definitely a divided city. It is divided between the religious and the irreligious. The irreligious will by any means necessary let you know how “unreligious” they are. It is a harsh and unyielding subculture in opposition to the hegemonic. And the religious will never relent from confronting you with their message of piety and their reliance upon being in the majority. It is a stark divide that plays itself out in every societal stream of influence.
While still predominantly LDS, Salt Lake City contains a nearly equal split between Mormons and non-Mormons. Utah is often said to be 75% Mormon. However, recent analyses by the Salt Lake Tribune and The Pew Research group estimate that number is between 58-65% and slipping. As maybe is obvious, the state of Utah is predominantly Conservative and Republican, however Salt Lake City itself is far more liberal. In fact a majority of the LDS population (generally conservative) has moved from downtown Salt Lake and into the suburbs of Sandy and South Jordan. Salt Lake itself tips currently in the favor of non-Mormons at around 55%.
At Missio Dei we believe the Gospel speaks to any culture. Whether religious or irreligious, God’s Good News provides what any culture looks to idols to provide. For the religious in our city (both Mormons and Christians) worship the idols of morality, family, and the American Dream while the irreligious worship the idols of self-expression, freedom, and career. It can be easy to demonize the Mormon religion and write them off as weirdos, but this is not what we are called to do. We are in the peculiar place of having to appeal to both the religious and the non. The non-religious are shocked and giddy when we sit down and have a beer with them and the religious like us because at least we’re “Christians” like them.
The dominant way we live out our heart for our city is simply by doing our best to live out the Gospel in whatever particular context we inhabit. We go to BBQ’s and birthday parties, bars and restaurants. We invite friends, neighbors, and coworkers along the way, some of whom are particularly confused at a “religious” group containing members who will have a drink with them and at the same time discuss God’s grace and forgiveness in their life. We meet the city where it is at, rather than inviting it into our doors. We have house churches that are on an equal plane with our Sunday service to emphasize community and the idea that church is not a building. We teach through scripture exegetically, keep Christ at the center, worship together, and have monthly prayer nights. We err on the side of the un-programmatic but are still figuring this out. Missional for us is less about missional programs and activities, and is more about missional living through whatever vocation we are in currently.
I would like to close with our purpose statement, which in many ways sums up in a more theological sense what we are about:
As Missio Dei Community we exist to see the Triune God transform us into a worshipping community that practices resurrection.
What does this mean? For us, this means that it all starts with God. When we enter into this community with one another, we leave behind the idols and agendas of our past. We recognize that we are all created and gifted uniquely but it is by relinquishing stewardship of those gifts and talents to God that we begin to tell His story, rather than our own.
We believe it is only through the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that we will become the worshippers we see the Bible calling us to. It is only through God’s grace and the Spirit’s transformation that we will become a community that serves one another and loves our city. It is only through the powerful work of Christ that we can join Him in counter-cultural acts of resurrection that proclaim a new reality.

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