Purple Church

Our society is painfully divided into “blue states” and “red states.” And even within a generally “blue” state like Oregon there are municipalities, neighborhoods and entire regions that are predominately “red.”

Christian churches often mirror this divide. Many “evangelical” churches and many “liberal/progressive” churches exist almost entirely in their own cultural and theological milieus, with their own institutions, associations, information sources, publishing ventures and missionary initiatives, rarely interacting with confessed Christ followers who might hold alternative opinions.

But following Jesus is not a partisan pursuit. To paraphrase the Apostle Paul, “in Christ there is no male or female, slave or free, Democrat or Republican.” First Baptist Church is well positioned both by its history and its present reality to be what I would call a purple church.

Our history is deeply evangelical, with an emphasis on biblical preaching, the new birth and personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and a deep commitment to missions. As senior pastor I personally ground my faith in the biblical declaration that “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself … and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
(2 Corinthians 5:19).

At the same time, our location in the heart of the city, where luxury, commerce, poverty and homelessness exist cheek by jowl, has confronted us with the biblical mandate to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger and care for the sick and the naked (Matthew 25:31ff). And as Portland has become more diverse, and neighborhood churches have captured much of our former “market,” so our church has become more diverse — a mixture of affluent and lean living folk, suburban families and downtown singles, white folk and people of color.

We have members and regular participants in our congregational life who are quite conservative in their theology and politics and others who are quite liberal. Some participate in our congregation out of a deep loyalty born of long tenure here; others have arrived only recently looking for a welcome and a spiritual home.

Do we differ? Yes, sometimes dramatically. But I dare to believe that we all have this in common: we love Jesus and we desire to serve him here in this challenging setting. The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is one of human flourishing and wholeness that is beginning now and anticipates the age to come. That’s why we invite children and adults to follow Jesus in faith and obedience; that’s why we feed our hungry neighbors and make common cause with both evangelical and mainline neighbors to offer free medical, dental and visual care; that’s why we share our space with Bridgetown, Dinner & A Movie, FOCUS and cultural organizations like Oregon Music Festival. That’s why we welcomed the refugees from the “killing fields” of Cambodia in 1977 and continue to be enriched by their presence today in every area of our congregational life. That’s why we maintain connections of prayer and sharing with fellow believers in Cambodia, China, Congo, Mexico and Thailand.

In an era of red and blue, dividing and blaming, I pray for First Baptist Church to be purple: united in service to Christ and neighbor across our differences, respecting one another as beloved children of God. In today’s world it is a great privilege to exit the echo chamber and bring our differing perspectives to the feet of Jesus.

— Dr. David L. Wheeler