I write this with some trepidation, because I am well aware of the all-too-common tendency among us to misread, misinterpret, misunderstand and misapply. So, let me be clear about what I am NOT going to say in this post before I try to make my point.
- I am NOT saying that Christians should retreat from engagement in the social and political arena. I do not believe that the church’s task is political, but spiritual – we are here to introduce sinners to Christ who is their only hope of salvation and to teach the full truth of God’s Word through which the Spirit works to transform us to be like Christ. But American Christians have the right and responsibility, both from the Word and from the Constitution, to be active and vocal in the political arena. I am not advocating that Christians abandon the political arena.
- I am NOT saying that we should compromise our convictions in any way. We must remain faithful to what the Bible says about gender, about sexuality, about the sanctity of life and other issues, regardless of its unpopularity in this culture. We must resist that nauseating habit that the church has had through the years of molding our convictions to the current social climate. What is right is right even if the whole world says it is wrong and what is wrong is wrong even if the entire country says it is right. Truth is not a candidate seeking our support.
If someone accuses me of saying these things, I will close my eyes and think of you while reciting that old Methodist Hymn:
May the bird of paradise fly up your nose.
May an elephant caress you with his toes.
May your wife be plagued with runners in her hose.
May the bird of paradise fly up your nose.
You have been warned!!
Now, let me state my thesis as clearly as I can.
I think that it is time for Bible-believing Christians to begin singing a new tune in our cultural engagement.
For most of my life, we (Conservative Christians) have been singing the same song from the Culture War hymnal: “We must work to restore America to the place it once was!” I sang that song loudly and unapologetically. But I think it is time for us to sing from a different songbook. America has rejected righteousness and embraced immorality and perversion. We are losing the culture war in a way that seems to me almost irreversible, short of a Third Great Awakening on a scale beyond anything Jonathan Edwards ever imagined. No amount of political activity is going to undo the losses.
Perhaps we need to sing a different tune, the one sung by the early church in its relationship with Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Empire. They did not expect the government to reflect their values or support their work. Their hope was simply that the government would allow them to do their gospel work without hindrance, without persecution. They wanted to “obey God rather than men” and declare that Jesus Christ (not Caesar) is Lord.
Look at Paul’s exhortation in 1 Timothy 2:1-4:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Paul first urges that prayers be offered for everyone, then narrows the focus to governmental authorities. The prayer focus he advocates is simple. Pray that the king and those in power will allow Christians to lead peaceful and quiet lives – living as Christians without persecution and government interference. The church can then be about its evangelistic purpose, which is the heart of God.
Christianity was born and thrived in a culture and political system that was hostile to its existence. The early church wanted only that the government leave them alone to do their eternal work without hindrance. They did not expect the government to support their values or agree with their convictions, but simply wanted the freedom to live counter-culturally without persecution or interference.
American Christians have much different expectations. We have gotten used to living in a culture and under a political system that (on the surface, at least) shared many of our values. It shocks us when laws are adopted that flaunt biblical truths, because we expect that the laws of God should inform the laws of this land. And in our public engagement, we have operated from that assumption. As the self-designated “moral majority” in America, we threw our weight around trying to elect candidates who shared our values and get laws passed with reflected our beliefs.
But things have changed, drastically. Christians have debated whether and to what extent America was founded as a Christian nation. That debate has been rendered irrelevant by our culture’s blatant rejection of biblical values. Our nation has abandoned any sense of responsibility to the Creator and his laws.
In such a culture, it makes sense that we would change our tune in terms of our social engagement. It makes both biblical and practical sense that we would focus on protecting our freedoms to believe and proclaim increasingly unpopular minority opinions. We need to focus on protecting our rights of free speech and religious freedom. It is issues such as this that should drive our political endeavors.
There is little indication from history that secularists or liberals will protect our rights of free speech. They have consistently demonstrated intolerance toward those who diverge from liberal orthodoxy. If this tide continues to come in, and I believe it will, secularist progressives will become an increasing majority and we will have to face living in a land that hates what we love and scorns what we believe.
We need to stop living in the past and start preparing for the future by focusing our political efforts on establishing and maintaining free speech and religious freedom while we still have significant clout.
I believe two truths are evident:
1) We have pretty much lost the “culture war” for the minds and hearts of Americans.
2) When secularism takes hold, it is consistently hostile to and repressive against biblically-derived convictions.
3) We need focus on protecting our freedom to live out our convictions in a world that is and will continue to become more hostile toward our views. Our political weight needs to be put into protecting religious liberty while we still have the clout to do so.
It is going to be quite an adjustment for us to accept our status as a viewpoint minority in our land. But that is what we are now. Nominal Christianity may still be a majority, but blood-bought believers who honor the authority of God’s Word and seek God’s glory in all things are a small minority.
I know that I am a pessimist and some of you may disagree with my belief that the culture war is lost. I’m reading tea leaves and there is always room for interpretation on issues like this. But I am convinced we are moving inexorably to a less Christian-friendly America and we need to prepare for what lies ahead. Our focus needs to be on protecting the right of the minority (which biblical Christians are quickly becoming) to live by their convictions and proclaim them even when they are counter-cultural.
If we continue to fight the fight of the 70s and 80s, trying to “restore America” we will not be ready for the new reality that seems to be headed our way.
Perhaps it’s time that we learn a new song to sing – one in a minor key.