Where we come from, there are only two choices: blue collar or unemployed. Even those with white collar jobs are often blue collar men and women. My daddy was one of those. He was a blue collar man who just happened to have a white collar job.
My dad was an electrical engineer who was raised by a widowed coal miner. There was never a time where he transitioned out of a blue collar lifestyle. He may have worn a tie to work, but he wore humility and frugality at home. He was modest and down to earth, always. Despite his exceptional intelligence, mathematical, and practical knowledge, he was a down home guy in every sense of the term. He strummed his years-old guitar every evening. He gardened his daddy’s ground. He fixed his own very used cars. He went to Pechin’s and ate the cheapest burger in town unashamedly with frequency. A day never came in Daddy’s life that he forgot where he’d come from. His father had built the house he and his four brothers and sister grew up in with his own two hands. He worked hard for everything we had. He never took on an attitude of superiority or upper-class snobbery. Never mind that he earned twice what his closest peers did in that day and age. No one would have ever known it.
Daddy grew up here in Fayette County. He grew up three miles from where I’m raising my family. Blue collar people are a huge part of our community. You can find them in the grocery store and often find yourself standing and waiting for the husbands to stop shooting the breeze already, the milk is starting to spoil. You can find them playing backyard baseball and sled riding with their children outside year-round. You’ll see them supporting fundraisers for those in need and giving their well-deserved, hard-earned money and precious little time to friends they treat as family. You’ll find them in the bars and restaurants always with a hand outstretched and a story to tell. These are people who work hard, play harder, and love deeply.
There is one place where you won’t find many of them, though. It is hard to find their kind inside the walls of our churches. These days, their community is different.
Little wonder. These are fiercely independent people. They’ve had to be. They are non-conformists in every sense of the word. So, you’ll find them living in committed relationships with a gaggle of children to prove it. You’ll find them divorced and trying their best to love and raise their kids right despite it. These are the kind of people who would much rather talk face to face about what your problem is anyway than know you’re talking about them with your self-proclaimed elite and pretending to like them. Their the kind of people who can handle the hard truths about life, love, and self because the world has already schooled them severely on the fact that they are indeed sinners. They are those whose funerals are overflowing with people who love them sincerely. These are the unfavorited and undeserving because Mama told them so and they sure as shootin’ believe her. None of this means that they are unintelligent. Maybe they do not even make much less money than the white collar crowd any more. The divide we see within the church concerning these folks is based solely upon contrasting personalities, dispositions, preferences, and, perhaps, roots.
Now. We have a culture chock full of blue collar souls. We have a church all but empty of them. And I’m wondering why.
I believe the key to the “Why?” is found in the gospel of Matthew. Chapter 13 talks about what happened when Jesus sought to serve people within his own hometown. The text says that Jesus could not do many miracles in this place. It was not because he was not able. It was not because he was not gifted or not called or not willing. It was because he was not accepted by the people in this place. The very people he went to serve failed to believe in him. They failed to believe that he was for them. They failed to believe that he was acceptable, honorable, and genuine. Jesus’ own people within his own hometown simply did not trust him, and this, to their own disadvantages.
So what does that have to do with our dilemma? Let me explain.
The blue collar crowd often struggles with sins that are more overt and they tend to be more open about those struggles. The white collar crowd often struggles with sins that are more covert and they tend to be more closed about those struggles. The blue collar crowd often speaks truth loudly and errs on the side of being harsh and intimidating. The white collar crowd often avoids speaking truth if it means confrontation. The blue collar crowd often errs by saying too much. The white collar crowd often errs by not saying enough. When the blue collar crowd feels insecure or disrespected, they often simply reciprocate the attitudes displayed toward them. When the white collar crowd feels insecure or disrespected, they often simply avoid whomever is making them feel that way. The blue collar crowd glorifies God by working primarily with their hands. The white collar crowd glorifies God by working primarily with their intellect.
Until we, as the church, can acknowledge and agree that a person who speaks truth in a brash way and a person who avoids speaking truth are equally guilty of wrong communication and injurious to others to the very same degree, that the action resulting from being insecure and feeling disrespected can be either reciprocated disrespect or avoidance and that they are equally damaging, that subtle sins are just as bad as apparent ones, that a person who says too much and a person who doesn’t say enough are equally in need of confrontation, that we are willing to punish one and overlook the other depending on our disposition, that we are choosing friends, leaders, and confidants dependent upon who is more like us rather than who is more like God, that theological education does not equal more spiritual maturity, life experience, and practical wisdom over and above men who go to work everyday and serve God by simply being a Christian in the world and that often the very opposite is true, we will continue to have partiality and division among those who could and would best serve the church. We simply cannot move forward until we understand our part in these biases.
How many blue collar men do you see leading in your church? Could the reason there are so few be that the church is guilty of partiality and favoritism based on cultural preferences? Do you feel blue collar people are accepted in our churches in the same way white collar people are? Send me your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.