When is it time to get out of California? I just paid over four dollars a gallon for gas. Taxes keep getting higher. The roadways are falling apart and overcrowded. Homelessness is endemic in California’s major cities. If you think I’m exaggerating, Victor David Hanson is now asking if California has become Premodern.
Recently, the LA Times released an article stating that half of California’s population is considering leaving. Anyone can leave the state and pay well under half of what their California home costs. When is it time to get out of California? There is something in me that wants to run to a spacious farm in South Dakota and enjoy life away from the struggle. As a pastor, I have wrestled with my own desire to depart California.
Seven years ago, I received a pastoral call back to California from Washington State. This was a very hard decision for me. Did I want to take my family back into this place, for all the typical reasons? I wrestled long and hard with why God sends us to live anywhere in this world. I had a thorough reflection on the purpose of Christian witness. But this is not how Christians are thinking today. My concern is that many Christians are adopting the thinking that accompanies our political divide in how they are assessing their time here on earth.
The other day, a popular Christian apologist stated in a public forum that he has no desire to ever go to California due to its corrupt politics. Other leading Christian figures have decried believers who are remaining in California, suggesting it is sin to stay in support of such corruption. Further, many Christians who move here from the outside simply cannot handle it. I know of some believers who moved here from the outside and are on the brink of despair due to culture shock. They are desperately seeking to return to spacious farm life. I don’t blame any of them for these sentiments. It’s far easier to make fires in Idaho than in California. Christians who live here face a unique set of challenges and dangers.
There are certainly legitimate reasons for leaving the Golden State, but that is not what this article is about. The larger question is why the Lord leaves us in this world to begin with. It was Jesus himself who prayed, ‘I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one (Jn. 17:1).” No one would argue with this until we insert the word “California”, but say it out loud for a moment: “Father, I pray that you do not take them out of ‘California.’” Wait a minute, why would I stay in a state with high taxes and so many problems? That’s a great question. Why are Christians in this world?
Truth be told, much of the exit out of California by Christians has nothing to do with religious freedom. I am a Christian today living in California and I still have the right to homeschool or Christian school my children, I still have the right to gather for worship and preach Jesus. But within me lurks this desire to leave—why?
Most leave today not for religious reasons, but for utopian ones. If someone wants a better way of life, who has a right to question one’s conscience, but when the flight is tied to a rejection of progressive policies for better freedoms, and all that is accomplished is a bigger house, more space, less people, more money, and the ease of being with people who look and act most like me—well, that sounds a lot more like the reasoning Lot went to Sodom, doesn’t it? “And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the LORD,” like the land of California—oops, I meant Egypt.
It is one thing to move somewhere prayerfully and according to one’s conscience, but it is quite another to do it under the guise of freedom when the goal is more material happiness. This is how the world thinks. This is how conservative policy non-believers think. The question is how the Christian is to think in these times.
James Boice argued numerous times that Christians need to stop the flight from the cities and consider their calling in the major population centers to love their neighbor. The truth be told, many Christians have forgotten their calling in this world. God determines our times and boundaries of the believer for a very specific purpose. That purpose has everything to do with the calling he gave to his church and his people to be salt and light in this world.
Jonah tried to test this calling: “Arise, Jonah and go to Nineveh, that ‘wicked city’”—preach the gospel to them! That wicked city was full of abortion policies, in fact, they actually sacrificed their infants to the gods. That wicked city persecuted the Israelites for years. That wicked city had the worst sort of tax collectors and sinners. California’s governor pales in comparison to the king of Nineveh. Jonah wanted a better way of life, an easier route and, ironically, his route ended him up at the bottom of the ocean.
Obviously not everyone is called to be a pastor, but Christians are called to be witnesses to Jesus in the places and vocations God has assigned to them. We need less yelling at all the wicked Ninevites from our internet screens. We need bold Christians who are willing to remember why we are here, witness with confidence, and refuse to cower before the enemy. We win them with our message of hope and love, of the gospel of our own salvation. We are left here for the tax collectors and sinners that many Christians want to run from. We don’t make progress by holding tightly to our AR15s, but with confidence in the message that actually has the power to save people. If they silence us, then let them do so. If they run us out, let them do so. Then we may have to flee to the mountains, when there is an actual threat to our lives and more than a mere loss of tax exempt status.
When a Christian apologist writes today, “I have no desire to go to California because it is so corrupt”, I try to imagine Jesus saying such a thing. Imagine it: “I have no desire to go down to that politically corrupt world, I’m staying away.” All would be lost. Aren’t we to look and sound like Jesus who said “I came to seek and save that which is lost?” This is why we are left here.
Don’t get me wrong I am not suggesting Christians should flee to the worst of places. I am saying Christians should reevaluate how they are content and fulfilling their callings right where God has them. Then they will show to the world a love that genuinely cares for them instead of sending a message that we hate them and desire to flee from them.
Maybe we need to look at Gavin Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Donald Trump or Joe Biden a bit differently, precisely as Jesus did to the tax collector Zacchaeus. Then maybe one of us will go down to their house today, and through that loving witness, “they” will begin to restore fourfold—beginning by closing the abortion clinic. Maybe the true issue here is that, like Jonah, we struggle to believe that God can actually do what we secretly don’t want him to do–show these wicked Ninevite-Californians…mercy!
Christopher J Gordon, Escondido, CA