We talked about it.
My wife and I regularly discuss ongoing issues in American and Church culture. As a couple ministering to college students at a public state university, which my wife also teaches at, we are often asked how we feel about certain issues. We debate. We playfully argue. We almost always come to agreement.
This week we found ourselves discussing the barrage of socially charged cultural issues that have faced our nation in recent months and one thing was pretty clear to us. There has been almost no response (or at least none that we’ve heard in our hectic lives) that represents how we feel. So we did what we do. We talked about it. I took notes in my journal. I’ve been doing that for almost 20 years, which is mostly what results on this blog. And the über popular “11 Reasons Why Christians Are Wasting Their Time With Culture War” blog was born.
Billy Graham once wrote that you should turn your critics into coaches. I have got a lot of feedback in the last two days. Some of it was challenging. Some made me chuckle a bit. All of it was helpful. I felt like I’ve gotten a lot of coaching.
I wanted to write a follow up that further clarified how we feel and what we believe so as not to leave any unanswered questions surrounding us. Admittedly this is a much more involved process than a list of 11 thoughts, and so I’m hoping that my shortcomings as a writer don’t confound the issue further.
What is culture war?
In my opinion culture war is the emotionally charged, and often ridiculous, squabbling, bickering, and arguing that surrounds touchy issues in our society. I use the word war because in these heated issues both sides always seem to be out to crush the opposing viewpoint. Respect rarely seems to enter the discussion. Intelligence generally gets left behind. It is the clashing of opposing world views that results in a nasty standoff. And yes, this is something that I believe Christians are wasting their time with when they willfully engage in that kind of activity.
How should Christians respond to cultural issues?
As Jesus would. I think that’s how we should respond to all issues. And I don’t believe that the answer to that can be found outside of the Bible. When you get right down to it I believe that the Bible shows us that Jesus responded to the cultural issues of his day in three ways.
1) He genuinely loved people. Especially those society had written off. He seemed to give everyone a fair shake.
2) He spoke the truth plainly. He saw sin for what it was, but rather than throw stones he offered mercy which led to repentance.
3) He wanted justice. Whether it was ridding the Jewish Temple of swindlers and corruption, or the prophetic Jesus of John’s apocalyptic Revelation, Jesus is shown as a lover of justice.
How do I respond to cultural issues?
Clearly I can’t dictate to you behavior. I shouldn’t. I won’t. I am full of my opinions, and sometimes I am overly fond of them. At the end of the day they are still my opinions. Many of them I try to adapt from my understanding of what I believe the Bible teaches. My point is that I can really only tell you how that I respond to these supercharged cultural issues. I try to live up to what I mentioned above about how it is that I believe Jesus responded but this is what that looks like on a practical level for me.
• I am a preacher. I frequently stand in front of large audiences and speak about matters of faith. Those are sacred opportunities to me. I don’t waste them railing about cultural or social issues like some insecure backwoods hick, even though I often find myself feeling like an insecure backwoods hick.
• When I engage on cultural issues with believers: I do this in one on one conversations. I do it in small group settings. I always try to do it in a setting that gives people opportunity for dialogue. I want to be able to discuss the issues in a healthy and friendly way. I never make cultural matters the main point of our get togethers.
• If I engage with unbelievers: It is per their request. I very rarely do it in a social media, or online, setting. Face to face conversation is the only way I have ever seen that actually brings a level of respect to the table.
• Without the assumption that I am right. This is a tough one. I am the kind of guy that really likes to think things through. So it’s way too easy for me to become emotionally invested in the fruit of that process.
• Imperfectly: Obviously for all of my efforts and desire to want to be like Jesus I am, and will always be, pretty far off the mark.
How should you respond to cultural issues?
That’s not my call. If you’re a fellow Christian, then like me you believe that we are to take our direction from Christ. I’ve stated above what I believe that entails, and how it plays out in the context of my life and ministry. Perhaps God is calling you to engage in a more public arena. I wouldn’t dispute that. I do think that within even that possibility, we as Christians must always promote truth with love. We must not put our political/cultural/social agendas above individual people. It’s sometimes easy to forget that such controversial issues have real people with real lives, real feelings, and real hurts attached to them. I also think we must keep in mind that our perceived devotion to America is always to be kept in check by first maintaining a higher devotion to Christ. Don’t confuse our nationalistic wants for Christian duty.
Breaking my own rule.
I do believe in the traditional Biblical view of marriage. I absolutely believe that abortion is appalling. I have guns, and I like to kill animals because they are tasty. I think immigration needs to be reformed really really badly. I hate seeing hard working people getting shafted by deadbeats. I think there are a lot of good government programs helping a lot of people that genuinely need the help. I also think our government is a toxic mess. I pay taxes because Jesus said to. I’m not a Republican because they annoy me, and I’m not a Democrat because they annoy me even more. I vote.
I have opinions. I’m not going to beat anyone up with them. I’m not going to use them as a launch pad for an attempt at hurtling my own insecurities. The person is always more valuable than their given opinion on any issue.