The seemingly manufactured debate between the Mars Hill Church and Sound Transit on who should own some property in Bellevue seems out of place. When you dig into the debate, it leaves you scratching your head. Why would any organization (a church or whatever) seem to have any case when the rightful owner of a property doesn't want to sell it to them.
But, once you take a step back and see the debate from the point of view of the religious landscape of Cascadia, it makes a bit more sense. Not much, but it helps to understand how churches like Mars Hill fit into the religious world and the broader social landscape in Cascadia.
While Catholics make up the largest single religion, there are almost actually a footnote when you see the larger religious picture here. There are two things to keep in mind when thinking about religion in Cascadia:
1. There is no more universally diverse region in the United States. That means there are more different sorts of active churches or other houses of worship in our region that any other place.
2. The most dominant sort of religious is actually the non-religious. There are more non-adherents in Cascadia than any other part of the country. And, this isn't a new phenomena. It has been noted for at least a century that fewer people attend or are active in churches here.
You can see these trends in my first post on Cascadian religion here.
But, how does that help explain the situation with the Mars Hill Church?
Well, because Cascadia is so unchurched and so religiously diverse at the same time, it is possible for active and growing segments of religion up here (like so called entrepreneurial Christians) to become self sufficient enclaves inside the broader culture. To the point that places like Mars Hill are even more conservative than similar churches in more churches areas (like the South).
In "The None Zone" Patricia Killen explains that instead of bending towards the center left that is Cascadian social life, entrepreneurial Christians around here bend ride. In almost all political scales (aside from gay rights) they are far more conservative than there counterparts outside the unchurched Cascadia.
Because Cascadia is so religiously diverse, it doesn't force small communities of faith to adapt to a larger religious culture. They are allowed to live and let live in their own communities. So, Mars Hill church is left alone among a sea of left leaning, non church going Cascadians, they separate themselves, and become more conservative against against the sea of let-live liberalism.
So, when it comes to a simple debate about a church wanting to buy a piece of land after a public agency buys it a few months before, there is plenty of room for each side talking past each other. Communities like Mars Hill probably and simply don't see eye to eye with the local civic culture. So they're way of trying to buy a piece of property for seem pretty tone deaf.