- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 1, 2009

SEATTLE

Every Christmas, I traverse the country to Seattle, another world in terms of state of mind and how things are done.

My Northwestern Christmas is especially memorable because of how the unionized workers in this world-class city — which was deluged with snow before the holiday — were unable to get snowplows onto the steep streets. And for reasons that no one here can figure out, the garbage has remained uncollected for weeks.

Otherwise, Seattle is a stunning array of night lights against an azure Puget Sound, a green zone of fresh fish and stores full of gorgeous produce next to dozens of chic, glassed-in coffee bistros that line the downtown streets.

The people wear jeans, woolen scarves and Windbreakers — and only that — everywhere. In church, I was the only woman in a skirt.

Over the years, I’ve tried to explain “the other Washington” in various articles in this newspaper. I went to high school in pre-Microsoft Redmond, then attended college and worked my first job in Portland — in all, 11 years in the region.

The region has changed in my absence. This is blue state country. For instance, during a performance of “Black Nativity: A Gospel Song Play” by Langston Hughes at the Intiman Theater downtown, the emcee broke into the script to thank God for the election of Barack Obama. Everyone was expected to applaud wildly.

I was in the midst of a radio interview about my book “Quitting Church” when the host asked me about gay rights. This is not the typical question one gets, but it did show me something about certain assumptions here. As someone explained to me later, restrictions in conservative churches against homosexual clergy or elders are seen as spiteful and discriminatory by the general populace.

This is the zeitgeist of King County, the mega-region that encompasses greater Seattle and pretty much rules the state.

According to the Association of Religion Data Archives Web site, the county had about 1.7 million residents in 2000. About 650,400 listed a religious affiliation, meaning more than 1 million — or two-thirds — had no affiliation. Nationally, the unaffiliated rate is about 15 percent.

Of those who do attend a house of worship, one-third are Roman Catholic and about half are Protestant, with Lutherans, Presbyterians and Assemblies of God leading the pack. One interesting statistic was the growth of independent non-charismatic churches in the area, which were up 168 percent from 1990. That number is going to shoot up even further by 2010, considering the largest congregation in the city is the 7,000-member Mars Hill Church, which has had most of its growth since 2000.

Religion is not dead in the Pacific Northwest at all, but one must be creative about offering it. Rabbi Daniel Lapin, who lives just east of Seattle on Mercer Island, does just this with his “ask the rabbi” feature on his Web site and his “thought tools” mailings that market “ancient Jewish wisdom” to Jew and gentile alike.

But some things remain the same no matter where you are. I was at a discussion group at an evangelical bookstore in northern Seattle where the big conversation topic was the dearth of men in church.

If there’s ever a New Year’s resolution that church leaders could make, it’s to seek innovative ways to reverse the 60-40 ratio in female-male attendance. Because at current ratios, one out of every three women cannot marry a fellow believer - which is a tragedy no matter what part of the country you’re in.

Contact Julia Duin at jduin@washingtontimes.com.