Signs are popping up all over Wilmore, Kentucky. This past Saturday morning, Lisa Weaver Swartz, who is a photographer and visual sociologist of religion, and I spent an hour driving around our small Kentucky town taking photographs of them. We want the images to speak for themselves, but just a few prefatory comments:
- Wilmore is by far the most religious place I have lived. It nurtured a strong Presbyterian identity in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it became the home of Wesleyan holiness institutions Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary. To my Anabaptist horror, a glowing cross now sits on top of the town’s water tower.
- A passer-by, who wondered why we were taking photographs in the neighborhood, told us that political advertising seemed relatively new in town. “Back in the 1980s it was just assumed that everybody voted Republican,” she said. There was no need to put up signs.
- Even compared to just four years ago, there are exponentially more signs. There is a much clearer integration of Trumpism and holiness culture in 2020 than in 2016. Simultaneously, Black Lives Matters has captured the imagination of a different—and growing—segment of evangelical Christians here. The political intensity has ratcheted up on both sides.
- Perhaps this argument of accelerating polarization can be taken too far. Far more houses had no political signs compared to those that did. And if a fall decoration design that reads “THANKFUL” could be a candidate, it would certainly defeat both Trump and Biden in an election. There appears to be a much bigger middle (whether truly moderate or apolitical or apathetic) than what makes the news.
- We tried to publish the images below in rough proportion to the political orientations we observed on Saturday morning.