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US Christians moving from liberal to conservative states (1)

The first in a five-part series about a Norwegian’s perspective on the changing dynamics of Christianity in America. The journey starts in Tennessee.

SECULARIZATION IN THE USA AUTOR 248/Tore_Hjalmar_Sævik Spring Hill (Tennessee) 23 DE DICIEMBRE DE 2022 11:41 h
Alyson Spon is glad that she and her family chose to move. / Photo: Tore Hjalmar Sævik.

Well-kept red-brick homes sit in a pretty arc in Spring Hill, just 30 minutes outside of Nashville. This neighborhood could be a scene from an American TV show about suburban life.



Polarization and the culture war are constantly used to describe the mood across the country. In Spring Hill, it appears as a foreign word. But appearances can be deceiving.



“There are people from Chicago, they’re from New York, they’re from Maryland,” explains Alyson Spon.



She lets her gaze slide between the houses in the neighborhood. It’s a warm, early autumn day with light clouds on the horizon.



 



Lures with conservative values



Alyson and her husband, Greg Spon, came from California with their two sons last year. Greg works as an architect and is busy when I visit the house. “To protect the kids was the most important for us,” Alyson says.



Alyson is not unique for her motivation to move.



“We move you to your values, progress and security.” This is the slogan of Conservative Move, a network of housing agents. It claims to have helped thousands of Americans move from liberal to conservative states in the United States.



The difference between conservative and liberal states has recently been expressed in a symbolic way. In June, the Supreme Court overturned the judgment that said that abortion is a constitutional right and that it had to be legal in all 50 states in the U.S.



Abortion is now almost completely banned in Tennessee. California, for its part, will be a “safe haven” for abortion-seeking women from other states.



 



Worse than ever



“When your community no longer reflects morals and values, it might be time to move,” says the Conservative Move website. Different states’ attitudes to abortion is one of the issues they highlight. Conservative Christian values are very important to Spon. “Our faith is very central in our life,” she says.



The pastor’s daughter and her husband both came from the Midwest. They moved to California when they were in their 20s. It was an adventure to get settled in the most populous, varied and mythical state in the United States. After some time they had to return to Ohio for a period because her father suffered from cancer. After his passing, they moved back. “It wasn’t as easy the second time around,” she says.





[photo_footer] Alyson Spon sometimes jokes that they are refugees and believes it’s not entirely misleading. / Photo: Tore Hjalmar Sævik. [/photo_footer] 


Taxes and crime



In California, her husband earned good money. They lived in an attractive neighborhood where some of their neighbors even had helicopters on their property. Surfing, snowboarding and Legoland were nearby. But after the couple became parents, they got the feeling that their life wasn’t really safe. “The homeless situation is out of control; there were gangs and high costs of housing. There was never a stop to new taxes on stupid things,” she says.



Unlike California, Tennessee does not have a state income tax, and this attracts residents for economic reasons. In the middle of Nashville, high buildings are reaching for the sky. Great job opportunities and lower housing prices contribute to more people moving to Tennessee. But many would say that the reason for increased migration is as much political as economic, according to an article in Forbes last year. The term “leftugees” was used: People fleeing left-wing politics.



The Democratically governed states of California, New York, New Jersey and Michigan lost a total of 4 million inhabitants in the period from 2010 to 2019, according to figures the magazine has obtained from the U.S. Census Bureau. The five states experiencing the most incoming domestic migration are governed by Republicans: Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Ohio and Arizona.



 



COVID was the last straw



The constant talk about liberal values in her children’s school made Alyson Spon worried and frustrated, she says. And they needed a new house when her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. With time, their family calculated more reasons for moving. One day they experienced a car stopping down the street from their house and a person shot six times. This was when Alyson understood that the time for moving had come. 



Her impression was that the authorities did not take crime seriously. At the same time, she felt that the degree of restrictions during the pandemic created a bad culture. “I always had a bad feeling, and you can’t really understand it before you experience it.”



 



Did not feel the calling



The family was part of a congregation where the pastor was very concerned that they should be a Christian counterculture. He said, “Don’t give in. God calls us to these things.” They hung on to it for a while, she says. But then she began to wonder why she should fight for California, a state where she didn’t really belong.



“I realize that God calls us to endure things,” she says. “But what each person has to endure is very individual.” She found California to be exciting because the state is full of opportunities and sets many trends in the world. “But I was not called to California as a mission field,” she says.



 



Left with tears



When they moved to Williamson County, their new home county in Tennessee, it had been five years since they had first been there. She says that they prayed a lot.



They kept coming across names of people who lived right here. There were Facebook groups for Christians who were engaged in this area.



“It reminded me of where my husband and I grew up, in Ohio and Pennsylvania — only that the winter is a little milder,” she says.



In 2021, they decided that the time had come. They saw it as a great answer to prayer that Greg, her husband, could take the job with him. He was given responsibility for building up a local branch of the architectural firm. But there were many tears, she says.





[photo_footer]   After Alison Spon arrived in Tennessee, she realized how tense she had been in California. / Photo: Tore Hjalmar Sævik. [/photo_footer] 


Congregation No. 8



California has many famous congregations. Saddleback Church, Bethel Redding and Grace Community Church are just three examples of very different options that some readers might know about. In Tennessee, however, the churches are much closer and have a stronger influence. “We are now in our eighth church, and I think we will stay here,” she says with a laugh. She is focused on the fact that the preaching should be solid and uncompromising. “Just because the culture is changing, doesn't mean our faith does,” she says. 



 



Expecting deterioration



The movements against Williamson County have also attracted interest in the general media. The county was called the new epicenter of evangelical Christianity in an extensive report in The Tennessean recently. A number of Christian organizations have established themselves there, including LifeWay Research, which conducts surveys of Christian environments and congregations. In the past, Colorado Springs, Wheaton outside Chicago, Orlando in Florida and Orange County in California have emerged as such Christian centers of gravity.



Still, Spon says it can be challenging to meet the cultural trends here, too.



“I didn't come here expecting anything else. I meet more and more Christians who are looking for a church that is inclusive,” Spon says.



She perceives it as a synonym for willing to compromise. And she is worried that Christians will shape God's word according to their own will.



“I don’t want to raise my children that way. I want to let them learn to know God's truth, and then they get to choose for themselves when they grow up.”



 



Tore Hjalmar Sævik works as a journalist at the Norwegian Christian newspaper Dagen. Some articles from a trip to the US this autumn were translated and republished by Religion Unplugged. The trip to the USA to write this series was supported by the Fritt Ord Foundation in Norway.

 

 


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