Patchwork Nation: Evangelical Epicenters & Tractor Country

I was perusing a book I’ve had for a while, Our Patchwork Nation by Dante Chinni and James Gimpel.

I don’t think I’ve written about it before, but it is an interesting book that fits in with much I have written about. The following passage comes from the last chapter on culture, and in reading about it I was reminded of some previous thoughts about Midwestern culture. It took me well into my adulthood before I could grasp this Midwestern sense of community-mindedness.

Unfortunately, the authors don’t go as deeply into the origins of this cultural difference. They don’t consider, for example, the larger history of ethnic immigrations (in this context, the Scots-Irish culture of Appalachia and the Northern European culture of the Midlands). Nonetheless, the data and analysis they offer is compelling.


“In the Evangelical Epicenters it’s not just that there are many adherents; it’s that they come mostly from one particular faith tradition. Nearly half of the people who live in these places are members of some kind of Evangelical Protestant church, all of which share the key belief that faith and salvation are highly personal experiences.

“That affects the local culture. Congregations here tend to be communities unto themselves, concerned foremost with the care of their own members. One pastor in our representative Epicenter of Nixa told us that his church doesn’t have as much to give the greater community because there is so much need within his own congregation. That attitude is clearly shared by others: Nixa is full of churches and congregations, but they don’t tend to organize into larger interfaith groups. That more personal understanding of God and religion may also have something to do with those places’ attitude toward governing, which tends to put individual rights first.

“Tractor Country, which looks a lot like the Evangelical Epicenters in terms of its vote, has a very different religious makeup. These small communities are a mix of different Christian sects. The percentage of evangelicals here is a fraction of what it is in the Epicenters, even though Tractor Country has roughly the same number of religious adherents. These communities are mostly mainline Protestant, with a significant population of Catholics, as well. In general, these mainline churches are more open to ecumenical dialogue. They also tend have greater top-down organization than the evangelical denominations that predominate the Epicenters. It’s easier to coordinate churches that have built-in power structures: It involves talking to fewer people.

“Working together is an important part of life in agricultural Tractor Country. In our representative community of Sioux Center, people take an active interest in their neighbors’ lives, helping out when they need to. In Sioux Center, a town of 6,500 people, many of whom are members of one or another offshoot of the Dutch Reformed Church, money is raised with relative ease and bond issues are passed to build things for the larger community. Here the community comes before the congregation.”