You may remember seeing this picture. It comes from a Business Insider post from 2013. The counties in blue contain roughly one half of the American population. You’ll notice as well that there are three clusters. Well, four if you separate Northern and Southern California. The other ones are first, the one connecting D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston. Then, there is the Florida cluster. We live in the county that is just inland from the east coast.
More technically, we live on the county line of Orange and Seminole Counties. Orange County is the 5th largest county in that Florida (34th nationally). Within the suburb we live (University), we are surrounded by the three most populated zip codes (32825, 32828, 32765), which have a total population of over 175,000. The first two are part of Alafaya, the largest suburb of Orlando (82,000). To add to that, we have the largest university in the country by undergrad enrollment literally next door (well, not literally, but within a mile). Because of the student population, roughly 1 out of every 3 people in our neck of the woods are college students.
Given all that, it is perhaps interesting that on the Cru at UCF website, there are only 7 churches listed that have connections to Cru. These are churches that Cru feels comfortable referring students to because they trust the teaching of the church and/or someone on staff goes there or has a relationships with someone in leadership at the church. Our church, One Hope, is one of these churches, and I have connections with a couple more. I know of several more than are listed on the website, but they are mostly smaller church plants in the area (or extension sites of other churches).
We often joke that Florida is the only place you have to go north to get to the South. Though it could see it being a reasonable assumption, Florida is not really part of the Bible belt. According to the most recent census data, “Nones” are the most predominant religious category at 57.9%. Evangelical protestants are less than half that at 18.9%. However, non-denoms and Southern Baptists combined have less adherents than the Catholic Church which is the largest single denomination in Orlando (but still only 12.7%). Couple this with the data from Barna’s most Bible-minded cities. I grew up in the epicenter, which is to say the agreed upon Bible belt. On the other hand, Orlando ranks #72 in the list of 100 (3 spots ahead of Seattle). We’re almost in the bottom fourth of the list that includes all those pagan Northeast cities.
What is also over-looked, or just unnoticed, is that Orlando is fairly progressive in terms of ideology. This is especially true of its relationship to the LGBT community. Gay pride was a thing in Orlando back in the 90’s when Disney and Universal still hosted Gay Days. Pride parades are a frequent activity in our downtown area. For the most part, Orlando is a fairly safe place to be openly gay and even celebrated.
Orlando is actually a fairly sexual city all things considered. A few years back, when Men’s Health crowned a city the porn capital (based on consumption), you’d assume Las Vegas would win. Instead, Vegas came in second to Orlando. Florida as a whole came out as the most pornified state based on number of DVD’s purchased, streamed, or rented, adult entertainment stores per city, rate of porn searches, and percentage of households subscribed to cable channels that show softcore porn.
Given all that, you can see how ridiculous it would be to suggest Christians are somehow complicit in the Orlando Pulse Shooting. When almost 2/3 of your population is religiously unaffiliated, it means you live in a fairly secular city. There is nothing about the Christian influence here that would create a culture conducive to hostility toward the LGBT community. It is for the most part, quite the opposite case. Outside commentators simultaneously underestimate how mainstream and accepted the LGBT movement is in Orlando, and overestimate how strong the Christian presence is (The Holy Land Experience notwithstanding).
As a result, we have quite the mission field here in central Florida. We live in a diverse and mostly un-Christian culture. There are thousands upon thousands of young people right in our backyard (not literally). There are questions and hurts in wake of the shooting a couple of weeks back. There are churches reaching out to care and to help. But in the city as a whole, and in our part of east Orlando, we are in the minority. We are striving to be a faithful presence as we hope to reach our city by reaching this generation. To do this, we need your help, and you can read my post from Monday for more about that.