Kevin’s Conversations: Navigating the Culture Wars
There appears to be a great desire for many to find out where each and every church and pastor and Christian stands on these issues.
For some progressives, there is the aggressive desire to find out who the loving and tolerant are, and who the haters are. For some conservatives, there is the consuming desire to find out who is standing strong in the orthodox faith, and who are the unholy compromisers. And the church as a whole is engulfed by one big culture war. Sometimes the church is a willful and active participant.
Now gay marriage and LGBT matters are the predominant topic on many days. But there are, of course, other issues that feed into our culture wars. Abortion and religious freedom and guns and immigration and health care, amongst others, are all battled about. Depending upon the topic, one side or the other will often claim the moral high ground, sometimes with both sides simultaneously asserting the greater righteousness.
Now, not all people and organizations are driven by culture wars. While some see great importance in winning political battles on these issues, others eschew any semblance of any such war. Yet, in today’s world, it would seem next to impossible to avoid them completely. Unless one goes completely in a shell and refuses to ever utter an opinion on any hot-topic item, people are going to be drug into a war, willingly or not, simply by expressing a belief on any said issue.
So where does that leave the church? Churches and their pastors and leaders are to preach the Gospel and the Word of God. By doing so, there are going to be times of overlap with culture war issues of the day. Some maybe more directly than others. The church can avoid intentionally focusing on or overemphasizing these issues, but they are going to come up from time to time. If not by the church itself, then by outsiders who request/demand that the church and/or its leaders give answers to their inquiries.
Some issues seem to embroiling more and more within the church itself, with some portions of the church abandoning orthodoxy and traditional church teaching while other portions obsess about speaking to the truth and depravity of certain choice sins while displaying very little love or compassion. Therefore, we can leave outside culture completely out of it and we’ve got some serious issues to deal with in house as a church family. (Although, in some regards, the influences and pressures of our culture have contributed to these things becoming issues within the church in the first place.)
So the church, which we all know is pretty much the exact opposite of a monolith unit, has plenty of moralistic matters it needs to deal with just within itself. As these issues are being dealt with, how does this then translate as to how the church, or Christians as individuals, are to relate to the culture at large? If a church will not affirm same-sex marriage or homosexual behavior, how should it and its members interact with a surrounding culture that more and more says these things are good and should be universally accepted and sanctioned by the state? If a church is against abortion, how should it and its members operate within a culture that allows for abortion? If a church believes the alien and widow and poor are to be cared for, how should it and its members work within their society to try to make this happen?
Certainly the church should be first concerned with being in alignment with God’s teachings and God’s will on these issues. Some issues would seem to be easier to discern based on Scripture and all the years of established church teaching and orthodoxy, while other issues may be more complicated and not quite as clear. Whatever the church discerns on these issues, they should teach and demonstrate to their members as is appropriate. How should the church and its members then interact within society on these things?
Placing one’s head in the sand and just ignoring the culture is not an appropriate reaction. But neither is trying to win a holy war and conquering the culture to be wholly in submission to the church. I may say it is no skin off my back if two women want and do get married to each other. But then at the same time, if the culture starts pushing on my school age daughters that it is okay for them to romantically like other girls and encourages them to experiment and tells them its okay if they want to marry another girl, then I cannot just sit idly by as I believe these things to be wrong. All the more so if schools in their structures and teaching are encouraging these things. I certainly need to instruct my daughters in what is right, but how should I and the church go about protecting my daughters from the teachings and pressures of this conceived corruption? And how should I and the church go about protecting others from these troubles and also influencing the culture to follow God’s ways, as it will only end up being better and healthier for everyone to do so?
We can replace the example in the previous paragraph with plenty of other issues and end up with similar questions. What about a complicated issue like health care? What can and should I and the church do to see that people are cared for, most especially the poor and downtrodden? Beyond what we can and should do individually and locally to help those in need, to what degree should we be trying to influence our culture to see that this action takes place?
The elephant in the room in this discussion is to what degree should we and the church get involved politically to try to see good accomplished and morality to be upheld in our culture? Again, some want to completely eschew politics, but that would seem to be too simplistic. Even the most basic and prioritized task of the church, that of proclaiming the Gospel, will have political implications within the culture. Thus, we have to deal with politics to at least some degree.
I am not one to clamor to be a culture war warrior. In today’s environment, to fight the culture wars seems to so often mean making one’s bed with a political party or affiliation or politician and to be intensely supportive of said person or group and to disregard all their troubling aspects while maintaining a laser focus on demeaning and defeating all others who are “against” you. With as much dirt and corruption as there exists with both major political parties and most politicians and political organizations, I believe it is often wrongful to declare any one party or politician as the “Christian” choice and to disparage those who do not see it that way. Unequivocally hitching our ride to any one politician or political party is not the prudent manner in which to act.
But if we are concerned with the treatment of not only our friends and family and loved ones, but with humanity as a whole, we will need to speak and even sometimes take action within our culture on what we believe to be right and God-honoring. And often that speech and accompanying actions will have political implications. Each and every one of us is in different circumstances of life and so what God would have for each will vary from person to person. God may have plans for some to become more politically active than others.
As for the church, it needs to stand for truth and sometimes that truth will have unavoidable political ramifications. I do not believe the church should set out to be intentionally political or combative or to disproportionately focus on pet issues. And its alertness on showing compassion and aiming to help those struggling in these issues should be just as strong, if not even possibly stronger, as its fastidiousness in speaking the truth. But there are times when the church will need to and should speak to the truth of issues. Issues that sometimes can be hot-button topics in our culture.
I have given some opinions but have also asked some questions. Questions that, at least in my mind, do not have simple or easily ascertained answers. As I am apt to conclude many of my writings, I implore God to give us wisdom and compel us to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly as we think through and act on these matters.