Sunday, November 23, 2008

culture wars

We’ve been known for boycotting Disney, decrying the Teletubbies and rallying behind pet legislation. Christianity and the culture wars have been synonymous now for a long time. When it comes to media attention, Christians most often seem to get it for something we’re against. The last few decades of the Church seem to be ones in which we’ve taken an adversarial relationship to the culture around us. We’ve spearheaded protests, boycotts and letter-writing campaigns. If Christians are against it, we’ve done a decidedly good job of making the public aware of it. It seems we have made it our mission to loudly denounce those things in society that don’t match our worldview, and find ways to pressure the culture into rejecting them. As such, evangelical Christianity has developed a reputation in society for being angry, boorish and self-righteous.

Yet, should Christianity be engaged in these culture wars? Is it our lot to remake the world in God’s image? The answer is, of course, a resounding yes. It is absolutely our role to stand against the tide of culture and to be a clarion voice for God in the midst of darkness. The problem is, we often go about it all wrong.

Without a doubt, we are called to stand apart from culture. Paul admonishes us, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2). The life Christ calls us to is one of being countercultural, and of spreading the Kingdom of God throughout the culture around us.

What does it mean, though, to be countercultural? Does it mean that we organize protests or pen invective letters to the FCC for some sitcom’s latest grievous offense? If we follow the standard Christ set, it is a much deeper calling than that. When Christ speaks of being countercultural, it looks so much more revolutionary and bizarre than merely fighting for legalistic ideals. The picture Christ paints is of a peculiar people who confuse the culture around them by being so utterly different. Whereas our society worships status, we are to be servants to all. When the culture tells us we have to seek fortune, we hold material goods lightly and give all we have to the poor. If prevailing public opinion says that we should lie to get ahead, we cherish honesty and keep any oath we take. Where cynicism and pessimism pervade those around us, we are agents of constant hope and tireless faith.

Ultimately, though, the absolute most countercultural role a Christian can take is that of truly loving our enemies rather than treating them to our usual show of angry saber-rattling. This is hard for a people who have spent so much time viewing those who would tear down God’s Kingdom with such vitriol. But Jesus did not suggest this—He commanded it. He told us: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matthew 5:38-42).

This is a revolution born not of anger or discord, but of unmitigated love. It is one that confounds culture by showing resilient mercy and charity at times when it makes the least sense to do so. How would society be impacted if, instead of staging counter-protests when we disagree with a group of pro-abortion demonstrators, we showed up and served them in humility and love? What kind of reputation would we gain if we quietly showed love to our homosexual neighbors instead of putting signs in our yard touting our political views on their relationship?

Are we at war with the culture? Yes. But we’ve been fighting the wrong battle. Ours is not a war of taking shots at things we deem offensive to the public sensibility. It is one of standing against the tide of selfishness, wrath, vainglory and cynicism that surrounds us. It is a battle of refusing to be swept up in the idea of consumerism. Of fighting the concept that we should avenge every wrong done to us. Of taking up arms against our culture’s mindset that the rich, famous and powerful are to be admired and the poor despised. This is a war of loving our enemies, praying for those who persecute us and speaking God’s abiding truth with genuine compassion for those whose ears it falls upon. Now is not the time to back away from a fight. It’s time to actually engage the true enemy.

- "A Treaty To End Culture Wars", 850 Words of RELEVANT, email dated Nov 17, 2008

Live free! Live in Daddy's affection!