December 1, 2020

Why I Am Not a “Culture-Warrior”

By Chaplain Mike

In anticipation of the release of Mere Churchianity, Michael Spencer’s book, we have been examining various issues that are affecting evangelicalism, particularly in America. Today, a brief response to the “culture war” mentality.

This past week, in our area we had the culmination of a big to-do about a high school graduation ceremony. The valedictorian had sued the school district in order to prevent his school from endorsing the use of a prayer in the graduation ceremony. The ACLU got involved. The court ruled in his favor. No school-endorsed prayer at graduation. The student in question was not an atheist, protesting the inclusion of religion, but a professing Christian who just happens to believe strongly as an American in a particular interpretation of separation of church and state.

It was classic culture war. As you can imagine, the local newspaper editor’s inbox overflowed. The story ran regularly on or near the front page for weeks, as well as in prominent spots on local news broadcasts. Both sides claimed that they represented what America is all about. Both sides also backed their views with quotes from the Bible. People were hoppin’ mad. Opponents were demonized. Some suggested the students should turn their backs to the podium when the valedictorian gave his speech. That didn’t happen, but some students did show their disdain by coughing loudly and laughing as he spoke. Others removed their graduation caps and bowed their heads as if in prayer. The class president thanked God and quoted a Bible verse in her speech as a form of rebuttal. The newspaper reported the reactions. We all woke up the next day and went about our business.

Just another day in the life of culture war middle America.

I live in one of the more conservative areas of the country. Listening to Rush Limbaugh and watching Fox News is just a part of everyday life for many of my friends and neighbors. When Christians go to church ’round here, they expect to hear the same perspective, from the Bible, of course.

However, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: When it comes to the culture wars, I am a conscientious objector.

Since the 1970’s evangelicalism in America has taken to getting involved in public cultural activism and the political sphere with unprecedented vigor. Evangelicals have followed the voices of religious leaders like Francis Schaeffer, Jerry Falwell, D. James Kennedy, and James Dobson to raise their voices in the public debate about such issues as abortion, the erosion of personal morality especially as portrayed in the entertainment media, and the gay rights movement. In the process, evangelical Christianity became so connected to the conservative wing of the Republican party that at times the two seemed indistinguishable. This involvement had its high water mark in the presidency of George W. Bush and the Republican domination of Congress.

As a result of this evangelical embrace of a culture war approach to their mission in the world, churches, pastors, and individual Christians have been swept up into having to choose sides on many complex issues and to adopt a “Christ against culture” mentality. This has coincided with the development of an entire Christian subculture, which in my view has isolated believers from their neighbors and genuine redemptive interaction with the world.

Thus, evangelicals find themselves in the equivalent of spiritual trench warfare. We are dug in to our positions, separated from our “enemies,” seeing things only from one perspective, and having no real contact with those on the other side except to bombard them relentlessly. Doesn’t sound like a Great Commission lifestyle to me!

As Michael Spencer once observed:

Every day I listen to and read Christians whose consideration of other persons is on the basis of politics and cultural conflict. Not the Gospel. Their anger and frustration dominates, not the Gospel.

Frankly, I don’t want any part of that approach. And so I’ve decided to conscientiously object to that path of life and “ministry.”

Here are some of the reasons I’ve gone AWOL…

(1) The culture war approach assumes the position that America is somehow different than other nations in our manifest destiny, a “Christian” land that must be “saved” and “brought back” to its Christian “roots.”

Many culture warriors have an idea of some kind of vague Eden that once existed in our nation when people all went to church, lived moral lives, and the government supported the teachings of Christ. ‘Twas never so.

While I understand and appreciate the role of religion in America’s history, I have always thought it dangerous to confuse civil religion with Biblical Christianity. We can talk about the benefits that may accrue to our country from having a robust civil religion, but let’s not say that this flag-draped faith is the apostolic faith, which puts all people and nations on level ground before the cross and under Christ’s Lordship. At its best, civil religion may support Biblical Christianity. At its worst, it can become an idolatrous substitute.

I happen to think, as the classic IM post we ran on Memorial Day explains, that a proper gratitude, honor, and respect can and should be given to whatever nation is our home. It is part of God’s common grace to the citizens of this world. We can fly our country’s flag, sing her national anthem and pledge our allegiance, and take part in the military without nationalism or patriotism becoming our religion.

We U.S. citizens need not maintain a myth of American exceptionalism or manifest destiny based on a simplistic reading of history or some idea that God has specially singled out or blessed our nation in some parallel fashion to the way he chose Israel of old.

(2) The culture war approach holds that the media is the arena in which Christians should fight their battles, that it accurately represents the reality of the situation on the ground, and that therefore Christians must make their voice be heard through the media in order to win peoples’ hearts and minds.

The simple fact is that most people listen to broadcasts that confirm their beliefs, not challenge them. You won’t find the conservatives lining up to see the latest Michael Moore film or listening to the latest Bill Maher show. Nor will you pass many liberals listening to Rush in their cars or catch them watching Fox News at night. Culture warriors generally preach to the choir.

But this is not the only problem. By its very nature, no matter what “slant” a particular media outlet may take, their reporting will of necessity focus on attention-getting public issues and portray life in mostly “sound bite” terms. By moving to a media-driven strategy, Christians have become conditioned to seek the spectacular and to win the symbolic battles, forsaking the down-to-earth path our Savior teaches us to take—the small, seemingly insignificant, seed-planting approaches of loving our neighbors in the context of real daily life. That is the mystery of how the Kingdom comes and that is how the world is changed. Jesus-shaped Christianity is lived out on the ground, not on the screen.

(3) The culture war approach relies on political machinery as a primary weapon to restore righteousness to the land.

In the United States, this point is a bit tricky. In a representative democracy, all citizens actively participate in the public sphere by voting for our officials and influencing them to enact laws and policies they deem advisable. (The cultural situation in the NT was obviously different, and Christians did not have this access.) However, even in America, where the government is “of the people, by the people, and for the people,” the way of political change is still defined by principles and practices that are not the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Power is the key.

I’m anxious to read Tony Campolo’s new book, Choose Love, Not Power: How to Right the World’s Wrongs from a Place of Weakness. I heard a recent interview with him during which he shared his main thesis: Christians are to live and minister from a position of authority, not power. Power means being able to wield the sword. That is, those who have power use their positions which give them the ability to reward or punish to coerce the behavior of others. Christians, on the other hand, should influence change by speaking with authority. Authority is gained, not by having power, but because it has been earned through consistent loving sacrifice on behalf of those one is trying to influence. Like Jesus.

By choosing the way of political change as a primary weapon in the culture wars, evangelicals have allowed the world to choose the arena, the weapons, the rules, the referees, and the definitions of what it means to “win” or “lose” in the conflict. This approach is most definitely not Jesus-shaped, and it makes Christians vulnerable to the temptations of power, which are perhaps the least understood among us.

(4) The culture war approach teaches Christians to fear, dislike, oppose, and look down on their neighbors rather than lay down their lives for them in sacrificial love.

This mentality pits us “against” them, when the Incarnation teaches us to be “with” them, and the Cross teaches us to lay down our lives “for” them.

In The Divine Commodity, Skye Jethani tells about a “moral battle” that took place on the campus of Miami University in Ohio. It was Gay Pride Week on campus, and as part of the emphasis, The GLBA posted signs inviting students to show their support by wearing jeans on one day. This, of course, was a clever and sure winner—asking college kids to wear jeans! Christians on campus reacted by calling students who did not support gay rights to wear a shirt on the same day! On the chosen day, the campus scene was marked by Christians wearing khakis and multiple shirts, and those who supported the gay cause wearing jeans and going shirtless, guys bare-chested, girls wearing only bras. Then an itinerant preacher appeared, setting up his makeshift pulpit right next to the GLBA displays, and inveighed against their sins, calling them to repent. The scene soon became a shouting match between those on the “gay” side and those on the “Christian” side.

Jethani writes,

The mad scene was a microcosm of a culture in which everyone “wears” their identity. The gay community displayed their jeans. The conservatives displayed their khakis. Brother Jeb displayed his flaming placards. There was one exception. Positioned between Jeb’s pulpit and the GLBA’s closet was Dave. I knew Dave because he lived two floors above me in the dorm, and we became good friends early freshman year. Dave stood amid the the chaos in front of the student center with a large mental tank strapped to his back. It was a thermos filled with hot chocolate. With a hose from the backpack he filled cups and offered the free drinks to students on their way to witness the battle between Brother Jeb and the GLBA. Occasionally, someone would stop and ask Dave why he was giving away free drinks. “It’s just a way of reminding you that God loves you,” he would reply. (59ff)

There is a Jesus-shaped way, and it’s better. Yeah, I know, it’s harder to see who wins and who loses and to get that instant gratification of gaining victory over an opponent. But what does that have to do with Christianity anyway?

(5) The culture war approach leads to Christians unwisely choosing their battles and showing a misleading face to the world, thus undercutting their true mission.

Must a person have “correct” political or cultural opinions before he can come to faith in Christ? Can someone be a faithful Christian, and have political opinions that differ from the prevailing voices who lead evangelical culture war efforts?

In the minds of many, “evangelical” has come to be identified with certain political stances rather than with the “evangel” itself. The simple Good News of Jesus and his gracious salvation can become so mixed with righteous “positions” that the Gospel itself gets distorted. The culture war approach thus may have a lot more in common with the way the Pharisees and other “conservatives” lived out the religious life than it does with how Jesus taught us to live.

Christians First
I believe in being a good citizen. I also think it is perfectly valid for Christians to be involved in the public sphere and engaged in the political process, if we do so with adequate caution. After all, in the United States, this is part of what it means to be a good citizen. Furthermore, I do think some good can be done within that sphere. We just need to maintain some perspective here. We ought to be Christians first. Our ultimate allegiance should be to our Savior. The way we participate in his mission should be ultimately shaped by him, not by the political process or the media.

I conscientiously object to the strategies and tactics described above. Furthermore, I object to leaders who are out there enlisting believers for these causes. What I have seen happen is that a few people may actually do something constructive, but the great majority just take up a new opinion and start spouting it in slogans, mostly among themselves, in letters to the editor, on blogs and social media sites, and in other venues where they know they are among the like-minded or feel safe enough to lob a critical hand grenade in someone’s direction.

Is that what we really want? Has discipleship become the process by which we create opinionated, moralistic critics?

Sorry, I don’t want any part of that.

Comments

  1. Dan Crawford says

    Thank you, Chaplain Mike. I too have gone AWOL, and I no longer stand around listening to Christians rant about politics. I gently remind them that the Messiah has already come, and he was neither a Republican or a Democrat. Most of what he taught is ignored by ministers who believe politics is the Gospel. If they took the real Gospel seriously, they might show themselves capable of actually doing something positive for the common good.

  2. Culture War–def: What theological liberals call it when someone proclaims that the bible calls sin what it calls sin.

    John: Did you hear Larry say that homosexuality is always a sin? What a religious bigot.
    Sam: Oh you know Larry. He’s just involved in the Culture War and actually (snicker) believes the bible is true.
    Both: What a moron.

    • Not many theological liberals hanging out around here. To whom are you referring?

      • Let me talk to him Chaplain Mike. Joe Blackmon and I go way back, although I must say I haven’t seen his name here in a long time. Joe has blinders on and cannot be reasoned with. No Christ shaped spirituality coming from him that I have ever witnessed. It may be just the gay thing with him though. I have never read his rants on any other subject here.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          Joe has blinders on and cannot be reasoned with.

          The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs, and Won’t Be Taken In?

          It may be just the gay thing with him though. I have never read his rants on any other subject here.

          Well, Homosexuality is usually a Bright Red Murder Flag for Christian Culture Warriors. Right up there with Evolution.

          • They must really hate liberal gay Darwinists then…

            🙂

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Naah, that’s when their heads explode and take everything else with them.

          • Not just the Christian Culture Warriors, HUG. The “exiting fundamentalist” and newly minted ex-Evangelical atheist crowds use the gay issue as a litmus test. It’s how they spot the religious bigots. Any critical comments of GLBTs from a non-GLBT is proof of prejudice.

      • I apologize for the previous post here. I should just remain silent when I see his name here instead of engaging him. I find it incredibly ironic that after all this time, it is this subject that brings his name back to my mind. He is my case in point…opposite sides of the spectrum on most subjects, and we become rude with our words to one another. I don’t want to do that anymore. He can believe whatever he chooses and it has no effect on my life. That’s between him and his God, as it is with me.
        I love you Joe Blackmon.

      • That Other Jean says

        Chaplain Mike: Not many theological liberals hanging out around here.

        Eh, I don’t know— you’ve got me. I’ve been reading and commenting–generally politely– here for several years now.

        • I think I can be classified as a theological liberal too.

          • But you’re one of the nicer ones.

          • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

            I ain’t… and now I’m glaring at you with squinty suspicion now… if only I could find a suspiciously squint-glare smiley….

        • And I’m glad to have you all. As I’ve said before, the iMonk auditorium has seats available in the left, center, and right sections.

          I was just hoping to draw out our friend. Theological liberals or not, you all are certainly not the silly stereotypes he set forth.

          Thanks for participating.

    • Donalbain says

      Then why do the conservatives use the term?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_Warrior

  3. While I understand the spirit of this post, I must disagree.

    I believe that what is taught in the pulpit becomes the moral law of the land. It is inevitable. If the church is in the culture and a culture is made up of people what is taught is manifested in the choices people make. The same is said for universities as well and it seems the church and the university are at odds.

    Also, regardless of how hard a Christian tries to be objective on cultural issues, at some point, there is no more digging for the deeper issue and a position must be taken. Christianity is not Swiss.

    For example, say that instead of taking a stand on abortion a Christian instead opts out of the culture war and focuses on helping single mothers cope. That is a nice, neutral, passive place. But it avoids the conflict between the scriptural admonition to “flee sexual immorality” and the cultural embrace of “free love.” By simply being passive ministers to single mothers, the Christian has avoided the uncomfortable question of pregnancy being a consequence of a behavior that the bible criticizes.

    I have long considered taking the role of conscientious objector, but as I watch young children grow into young adults who are desperate need of clarity, I can no longer stand on the sidelines. It is insane to watch young men and women throw their lives away for a corporate sex machine and an abortion industry dependent on their irresponsibility while they go to the “gospel” for comfort from the pain they have inflicted on themselves. No, I will take a stand and tell them casual sex is deadly wrong, that homosexuality is deadly wrong, that they cannot simply be neutral on such matters.

    The consequences of nuetrality are too devestating to view the world as a spectator sport.

    • Don’t mistake what I said for neutrality or a call to abandoning public issues. The warrior approach based on power tactics is what I most object to. And don’t downplay the power of personal ministry. The Kingdom comes through planting seeds not publishing diatribes.

      • Exactly.

      • Mike you write, “In the process, evangelical Christianity became so connected to the conservative wing of the Republican party that at times the two seemed indistinguishable. This involvement had its high water mark in the presidency of George W. Bush and the Republican domination of Congress.”

        I believe that there is emerging an ever greater link between the political left and the mainstream church, though not many are talking about it. Yes, the evangelicals put way too much faith in George W., but mainstream ministers, including my own, openly advocate in the pulpit voting for government-subsidized “health care.” And it is even more dangerous because Jesus openly spoke of helping the poor and it is much easier to use the church to justify ideas like “economic justice” and “redistribution of wealth” because they are dangerous ideas masequading a virtue. Liberals like Bill Press have openly advocated for religion being in close support of government-forced subsidies for the poor.

        So while the evangelical / right-wing / Bush legacy seems like a match made by Hell itself, and I have heard plenty of Nazi references, the subtle and quiet union of mainstream churches and government-managed economics (all hail Che) is going to prove to have a much greater impact on both people and the church.

        It is this temptation, more than the shallow patriotism and nationalism, that is a greater threat to the church.

        • You make a good point and I decry culture war policy on all sides.

        • I remember being a pro-Bush evangelical and watching him act like the very kind of politician I did not want soured me and refocused me away from the rank and file conservatism and back to my faith. The fact that I had to choose was a wake-up call.

          I think that there is a top-down view of that requires the government to be the first step in the remaking of a society. Churches across the spectrum can be tempted to think that the right politician or the right political system can make the nation better.

          It is, I believe, a bottom-up view that is correct. Nations and cultures are made up of people. They marry, labor, have children, gather for worship and form governments. So it is the people and their lives that are really battlefield. It is a conflict between chaos and order, confusion and truth, fear and love. Ceasar can make himself first, but Jesus made Himself last and God made the last first and first last.

          • MWPeak, your recent posts dovetail with something going on right now over at Father Ernesto Obregon’s site (orthocuban.com). I just got in the middle of a discussion entitled, “On various political opinions.” (How should Christians vote in Culture War matters, anyway? And how gracefully can we disagree?)

        • Ahem, you have not gone to the website of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops lately, I can tell. The same bishops who are leading the fight against abortion say that the appropriate pro-life stance is to have an appropriate universal healthcare in the United States. You may want to re-evaluate whether it is only liberals who support universal healthcare.

          • I learned something new. Wow. I am going to have to think about such a stance. And I am aware that there are evangelical Christians who vote Republican who don’t mind universal health care. They just wish it was from the GOP. Sigh.

        • cermak_rd says

          But I suppose a big difference is that on the right, the right wing Christian viewpoint tends to drown out all other viewpoints on social issues (gays, abortion, prayers et al), with their other coalition team members dealing with other issues like guns & tax rates. On the left, there’s a huge voice for atheists, doubters, freethinkers, and religious minorities as well as Christians. So the Christian left doesn’t set the agenda on social issues for the entire left, they hold a viewpoint (though not a solidified one across all elements of the Christian Left) and must negotiate amongst a fractious coalition to see their viewpoints dominate.

          In all honesty, I suspect that most people are left or right and if they’re Christian, pick the denomination or church that most closely matches them. It makes sense. And I think it’s good for Christianity as a whole if it is actually desired that it be accepted by more and more people. By having different brands that can appeal to people on the left, right and middle you build up the movement.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        The warrior approach based on power tactics is what I most object to.

        Because that way lies Jihad and Blood Feud to the Death.

        As well as what happens when you reduce anything to power struggle. In the words of a certain George Orwell: “The Only Goal of Power is POWER.”

        Because when you reduce anything to Power Struggle, there are only two end states: My boot stamping on your face forever, or your boot stamping on my face forever. Remember what the Ayatollahs and the Taliban did when they WON their Culture War.

    • I was involved in the pro-life movement in Canada. I was active in the campaign to defeat the Prime Minister’s wife when she ran for a seat in Parliament (she was very pro-choice.) I helped organize the first National Rally for Life on Parliament Hill, where Mother Theresa attended along with 40,000 other people. Yet after spending all this time and energy on the matter, I decided that what I was doing like a Doctor treating the symptoms, and not trying to cure the underlying disease. In our case the real issues are that the world needs to be introduced to Jesus Christ, and Christians need to become true disciples.

      • In our case the real issues are that the world needs to be introduced to Jesus Christ, and Christians need to become true disciples.

        sometimes it really IS that simple……very well said, and I agree 100%

    • I think it is good to call sin sin, and warn people from it, as long as the forgiveness of sins is also proclaimed.
      And it is just those people who have made a ruin of their life that perhaps need the gospel more than anyone, and are ready to hear it more than most. There is no shame in helping out a single mother. Nor is their shame in preaching against abortion and exposing it for the sin it is.
      There is shame for the Christian though when they fail to explain that Christ died for all sin, that we are forgiven in Christ.
      We should also be a bit more careful with our choice of words. The Bible is quick to condemn all sorts of homosexual activity. But if I am reading 1 Cor. 6 aright, the homosexuals are for their activity along with the revilers. They are not condemned for “being gay” as I imagine their particular “sexuality” stayed with them even as they sought to avoid the sins they were tempted to, finding strength for that battle in the same place the rest of us do, the forgiveness of sins, especially in their identity as baptized Christians who have been washed.
      As to the Culture War. It isn’t calling sin sin that I object to but Christians resorting to law rather than Gospel to try reform society.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Law or “Just like Shari’a, Except CHRISTIAN(TM)!”?

        • Headless Unicorn Guy,
          Pretty much.
          On another note though. I would like to bring out that the separation of Church and state is the child of Christianity.
          It was an unfortunate hold over from pagan thought that led Constantine to try wed Church and State. Most other religions being composed of law, have no problem, not even an inherent conflict between religion and the government. In Europe there has always been tension between the two, where one has tried to control the other. And so in the United States this same battle has gone on but in a different manner.

    • I have to disagree with you on one part of your post. Helping single mothers cope is EXACTLY what those opposed to abortion should be doing, rather than standing up on a soapbox and railing against the immorality of abortion.

      While Christ did perform very public acts that affected a large number of people, most of the effect was temporary – the wine at the wedding was consumed, people were happy for an evening; the loaves and fishes were eaten, people had a good lunch. When he made permanent, life-changing actions, they were done on an individual basis, and for the most part privately. The woman who touched his robe, the lame man, the blind man, all of these were done with personal touches and words.

      Could Christ have healed an entire crowd? Of course. But I believe that his focus was on relating to one person at a time, to change one life at a time. There’s nothing neutral about keeping one’s own counsel in public, and living a private life that openly declares one’s alleigances.

      In my humble experience, nothing permanent has ever been achieved by standing in front of a crowd and declaring God’s grace or declaiming one’s sin. Even, sad to say, during the years when I was involved in ministry. However, I still see the now 7-year old whose mother my wife and I held when she was pregnant, and listened to her weep and struggle over whether or not to have an abortion.

      Christianity is not best accomplished by mass invasion. Guerilla tactics are what’s called for. 🙂

      • I like what you’ve said, Donald, and the way you said it. “There’s nothing neutral about keeping one’s own counsel in public, and living a private life that openly declares one’s allegiances.” Well said.

  4. “Christianity is not Swiss”–That is true. We cannot remain neutral when the Bible speaks. Either we believe what God has said…or we do not.
    Jesus was not neutral on the subject of sin. But He never turned away a sinner because he or she did not meet His perfect standard of righteousness. And He did not appeal to the government or to the religious hierarchy to “fix” the culture in which He lived. He did not denounce the culture, either. He knew that the culture was an expression of the heart…a symptom, not a cause. Did immorality exist while He lived on earth? Did dishonesty and cruelty flourish? Was there wanton hedonism among those who could satisfy their lusts? Of course there was!
    That said, I believe that we must look first to our own house before we try to clean someone else’s. It is much easier to codify sin within our culture than it is to repent of the sin in our own lives. I am reminded of lawmakers who have espoused “family values” and have been exposed as lawbreakers.
    God has not called us to change our culture. Only He can do that. And I’m not so sure that He intends to change culture before Christ returns…at least that is what the Bible seems to indicate.
    He has called us to make disciples of Christ, not to make laws that force people to conform to an external standard without conforming to Christ. It is not our job to do the work of the Holy Spirit.
    This was a good post, C-Mike. I hear the iMonk applauding.

  5. Thank you for this post Chaplain Mike. It’s something with which I struggle almost daily, but have been very mindful of my approach to those who believe differently than I. Christ commanded me to love God with all of my heart, and my neighbor as myself. There is no hate in me for anyone. It is my wish to do away with any of the “us” and “them” kind of thoughts, and remember fully that we are all one body. I remember the days when people didn’t want to tell who they voted for, but that is a far distant memory. Now we put the stickers in our car windows as though we are flipping a bird to all those who are different. As you said, this was never a country comparable to Eden, but we did have manners at one time. God help us all.

    • Debra, I am one of those people who does not want to put bumper stickers on my car telling the world what I think or believe. If they want to know, they can ask me. And even then, I may or may not tell them. Sometimes I have a little envy of people who are so sure of themselves and so “out there” but sometimes they just annoy me.

      • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        Yeah, I agree. When theology or politics can be reduced or deconstructed to bumper sticker or T-shirt slogans we’ve got some shallow theology or politics. I’m reminded of NT Wright’s call for “proper theological debate and discussion” rather than “the postmodern exchange of prejudices.”

        But that doesn’t mean I’m not still looking for that afore-mentioned suspicious/squinty/glarey smiley…

  6. Thomas Carlyle’s wonderful 1843 political tract, Past and Present, contains a long discourse about a 12th Century monastery that lapsed into shame and dissolution, then recovered under the inspired leadership of an abbot named Samson. While he is still just a rank and file monk, Samson is asked by a novice why he doesn’t take a more active hand in the affairs of the monastery, and Samson answers, “This is the hour of darkness when flatterers rule and are believed. Videat Dominus.”

    Today is another hour of darkness, and I don’t think there is any way to win these culture wars by our own strength. Probably there is nothing more at present for us to do than raise our own children well and behave ourselves. That and one more thing: we need to avoid feeling satisfied with ourselves, making our inaction feel like a virtue instead of seeing it for the weakness it is.

  7. Savannah says

    Good for the valedictorian! We Christians whine about these things and call them “persecutions” (which is laughable), but can no one take one moment to consider what it would be like for Christians if their faith, or their brand of it at least, is no longer the faith of the majority? We would be screaming bloody murder if a valedictorian wanted to offer up an Islamic prayer, let’s face it!

    The separation of church and state protects ALL of us, Christian and non-Christian alike. Christians should be working to protect this precious wall, not tear it down.

    Being a conscientious objector to the culture war does not mean one has to disengage or become “Switzerland” or “go soft on sin”. Hardly. Read some of what Pastor Greg Boyd has written on the subject and how he and his congregation are still engaged in the community. If anything, dropping our culture warrior weapons allows barriers that both/all sides have erected to fall. When we start dealing with people as people, not “them”, then we’re able to talk gospel.

    • dkmonroe says

      Speaking for myself, as long as I wasn’t compelled to join in a valedictorian’s Islamic prayer, I see no reason to prevent him from offerring one. Many people bring up this “double standard” accusation but I have yet to actually see it in the wild.

      Separation of church and state is supposed to protect peoples’ freedom, not constrain it.

    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Savannah,

      I agree for the most part with all you have said in this comment but I do think that the church/state separation issue is one that has been/is used in a way that was not necessarily intended to begin with. As you know there is no specific mention of a separation of church and state in specific words in our constitution – those words “wall of separation” related to church/state was from a letter written to a baptist group in Danbury, CT. I think the concept of separation of church/state was/is more about protecting the church from the government (state) than protecting the government (state) from the church.

      Current day use of separation of church/state is used more by government (state) to quell or supress, in general, any church influence in public discourse and demonize christianity specifically in just about every way that can be conceived of. Now I know that sounds culture warish to say that but that is, unfortunately, what has and is happening – one only has to pick up the paper or turn on the “news” channels to hear the latest whacking of a church, christian group or christian individual while giving pass to anything and everything else regardless of the persuasion. Example (glaring example) – and yes, again, I know what this sounds like but it is truth – christianity is thwarted in every way possible by government (compared to past history) while islam is given free pass, for the most part, on anything and everything…… think Dearborne, Michigan – ask the folk there what’s happened…… that will burn your cookies!

      I don’t consider myself a culture warior at all – used to be big time – but no longer however, what I said above, I realize sounds just that way but I know of no other way to state it – this is what’s happening and it is unprecidented in many ways for our government to do this. The wall needs to be protected but it’s the church that needs the protection from government not the government needing protection from the church.

  8. Chaplain Mike said: Don’t mistake what I said for neutrality or a call to abandoning public issues.

    Could you flesh out HOW you would advise us to go about addressing public issues? For example gay rights in society? Abortion? Thanks.

    • Perhaps we’ll explore some of these things in future posts. The answers require more than a comment.

      But I would say it is always safe to start with your own neighbors and your own community. Build face to face relationships with the people around you. Learn to listen to them. Try to see things through their eyes. Try to understand why they hold the positions they hold. Eat meals with them. Quietly serve them. Find ways to serve together in good causes in your community. Learn to love them.

      Work on that for awhile. That will go a long way.

      • That’s kinda the gist I got: It’s more or less ‘grassroots’ rather than…well…obnoxious behavior. And I think that’s the key: it’s not that it’s bad to promote Christian values or call something like you see it — it’s all about the delivery.

        A bit like the campus preachers in college: Most you avoid like the plague because their methods are, well, embarrassing. But occasionally you get that guy that everyone respects regardless of the differences.

        There’s a right and wrong way to do everything in life.

        • this little snippet of back and forth with you and Chap Mike has nailed it for me. It is self-evident , to me, that there will be some kind of conflict between the Kingdom of GOD and the other kingdoms reflected in our culture, The question is not , “do we push back…” but “HOW will we push back…” and what are our attitudes and approaches to our lost American culture (at least parts of it). As you put it “it’s all about the delivery…’ I think that is exactly it, the “HOW” matters quite a bit, and if we dont’ tend to the package, folks will never get around to unwrapping it.

  9. Thanks for this post, Chaplain Mike. I’ve been a CO in regard to the culture war for a number of years now also, for basically the reasons you cite. It’s a big part of the reason I consider myself post-evangelical, and why I continue to struggle with church at times even as I attend.

    I have two struggles living in a very conservative area where culture warriors abound.

    First, most evangelicals herabouts equate Christian faith with conservative culture war values at such a deeply rooted level that to express an alternative political opinion or social solution or critique is to have your faith questioned and to risk ostracism. So I stay quiet and quieter a lot of the time, but still try to serve and live faithfully. It’s difficult.

    Second, the difficulty this creates in making the gospel attractive to my very bright and socially conscious and compassionate teenage children is just astounding. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had to explain why some public action or behavior by the culture war crowd isn’t really compatible with the way of Jesus as anyone in our family sees it.

    Peace.

  10. BTW, John Warwick Montgomery has a couple of good lectures on “Christianity in the Public Square” that really help show some of the pitfalls of the use of power rather than authority.

  11. Petersen says

    http://www.osjspm.org/major_themes.aspx

    Has anyone considered Catholic Social Teaching? Since Christianity affirms the dignity of man, shouldn’t political, social and economic consequences flow from the pursuit of the church’s mission to spread the gospel?

    • Petersen,

      What happens in Catholicism, a lot based on my observations, is just the opposite of what happens in evangelicism. You can’t be a Republican and be Catholic. Social Justice overrides everything else, including different ways of getting the people helped.

      I tend to be more conservative, more capitalistic in my thinking, and that puts me at odds with many of the Catholics that I work with in the church.

      Too bad that we can’t take the best of both world views and combine them.

      • Isaac Rehberg (the poster formerly known as Obed) says

        Well, you’ve got your single-issue (usually abortion) Catholics that often put them firmly in the Republican side. Indeed, abortion is such a hot button in some segments of Catholicism that they could never vote Democrat.

      • And, there were several bishops who openly took the line that people could not vote for Obama and be truly Catholic. Fortunately, the rest of the bishops did not back them on that stance.

      • “What happens in Catholicism, a lot based on my observations, is just the opposite of what happens in evangelicism. You can’t be a Republican and be Catholic. ”

        You should move to Virginia, where you can’t NOT be a Republican and be Catholic.

      • cermak_rd says

        I left the Catholic church because of the whole you can’t be a Catholic and vote for Kerry thing back in 2004. Having the Church so involved in that side of politics (who the individual parishioner votes for) was just so offensive that I quit. And I’m not sorry I did. It set me on a better path. So I guess I should be glad for those culture warrior Catholics.

      • A friend of mine is deeply Catholic and expressed his frustration several years ago about his political choices. He is opposed to abortion, the death penalty and the war in Iraq, but at the same time is rather conservative economically. He was just about balanced with dislike of both parties. I’m not sure how he ended up voting.

      • Anna A….where I live I think a lot of the Catholics think to be truly Catholic you must be Republican. It didn’t used to be that way. I grew up in an area where likely almost all the Catholics were Democrats. John Kennedy may have had a lot to do with that.

        • The Guy from Knoxville says

          JoanieD,

          I agree – I’ve not heard the Catholic = Republican thing before…… most all that I have known, at least in the past, were Democrat voters. But then again, there was a time here in the southeast US when Democrats were the conservatives and Republicans were considered more liberal and big government types – my how times and things have changed. But then again, it was the Repbulican party back in Lincoln’s day that was the major party supporting the ending / abolishing of slavery which most of our minority groups here have long forgotten or refuse to accept giving the blind loyality they continually give the Democrat party of today! Messed up we are!!! LOL and then some!

      • Christopher Lake says

        Anna,

        I can definitely see how your experience, at the local parish level, could seem to you like the “whole story” of Catholic political thought, but there is actually a strong Catholic and conservative intellectual tradition. National Review was largely founded by William F. Buckley on that tradition, and I believe that to this day, at least some practicing Catholics still write for NR or work there in other capacities.

        Also, Crisis Magazine, which used to be a “print” mag, was Catholic and politically conservative. Now, it can be found (archived and new material) at http://www.insidecatholic.com/

        New Oxford Review is Catholic, and conservative in many ways as well. http://www.newoxfordreview.org/ I send this note along as encouragement from a former Protestant and soon-to-be Catholic “revert” who leans to the right on many (not all) political issues. 🙂

        (Still not really a “culture warrior” in the terms that the post describes though!) 🙂

  12. Clay Knick says

    This was excellent.

  13. In my mind, culture-war issues are one of Satan’s greatest weapons; not because of the evil the particular thing being argued (i.e. abortion) may represent, but rather how our reaction and focus on it draws us away from sharing the Gospel, which I believe is our greatest and perhaps only calling.

    If you honestly think that arguing and fighting to get the lost to agree with your contrary position on some social / moral issue is going to bring them to Christ, then I wish you luck. It never worked on me.

  14. In the school prayer debate, I’ve always wondered why the Christians (well, evangelical Protestants of a certain stripe) wouldn’t behave with ordinary politeness and consideration. Aren’t those Christian values? It’s almost as though they’re using displays of religious behavior as a weapon to intentionally marginalize others.

    And what are they going to say when some school decides to include Muslim prayers, or New Age meditations?

    • And what are they going to say when some school decides to include Muslim prayers, or New Age meditations?

      I read somewhere once, something to the effect of “Defend others’ rights and their lives. Soon enough it’ll be your turn too.”

    • Donalbain says
    • The Guy from Knoxville says

      Werner,

      To some degree that’s already happening – think (as I mentioned in a comment above) Dearborne, Michigan – practically the islamic capitol in the US and certainly in Michigan. They own the place, run the city goverment (for the most part) and all schools in that town have all PA
      announcements in english and arabic. Christianity is not a welcome thing threre yet all
      the islamic rituals, prayers, holidays etc are given pass by goverment with no questions asked.
      Try that same exact thing with christianity in some town/city and watch and hear the outcry, castigation and litigation that would come about. No, we’re very, very messed up here in the US right now.

  15. I really don’t know what I am theologically. Perhaps an agnostic, but certainly not an evangelical, or if I am I harbor deep, deep doubts about the faith, God and his church. One of the things that drove me from the faith was the whole ‘culture war.’ I voted proudly for W, as I thought it was my Christian duty in 2000 and 2004. As time wore on I felt sick about my actions of voting for W. Likewise I grew discouraged by seeing and hearing in the media the polaric comments made by many evangelicals always assocaietd to the same issues. You know them…abortion, homosexuality, abstinance only education, etc..

    I never figured out why so many evangelicals held non Christians to their own standards which many themself could not even follow. Over the 10 years I was an evangelcal I was shocked by how many would jump on the bandwagon and yet in their private life acted differently. There was a huge disconnect. But the other thing that also bothered me was how selective and subjective evangelicals are about what is sin. In the 10 years I was an evangelical there were many topics not even preached, so I guess its okay to slander, and gossip, be gluttoneous, and materialistic, etc.. I haven’t been to church in a year but of the few evangelcal freinds I still have no one has talked about this environmental catastrophee in the Gulf of Mexico with this huge oil spill. Somehow…I can’t imagine God smiling and him filled with relief as to how we are destroying his creation that he gave us to rule, according to Genesis.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      But the other thing that also bothered me was how selective and subjective evangelicals are about what is sin.

      This is usually called “Hating and Denouncing only the Sins we have no chance of ever committing.” As one author said, “I can righteously denounce X, Y, and Z, but talk about gluttony in regards to coffee and suddenly I’m for the Separation of Church and Starbucks.”

      In the 10 years I was an evangelical there were many topics not even preached, so I guess its okay to slander, and gossip, be gluttoneous, and materialistic, etc..

      Don’t you know “Thou Shalt Gossip” is the Eleventh Commandment?

      I haven’t been to church in a year but of the few evangelcal freinds I still have no one has talked about this environmental catastrophee in the Gulf of Mexico with this huge oil spill.

      Not even claiming it’s the Fulfillment of some End Time Prophecy?

    • I did as well. I want one of those ‘W’ bumper stickers, so I can put one underneath that says ‘I’m sorry’.

  16. Dan Allison says

    Thanks, Chaplain. I pretty much agree with everything you say. I was the Director of Right to Life in Tampa Bay for four years (1988-1992) and a board member of Florida Right to Life. But something Bill Clinton said in 2008 floored me: “All you people want to do is put women in jail.”

    How true. How can anyone be pro-life and oppose the living wages and labor unions that would make it possible for folks to actually have children and raise families? Don’t people understand by now that Limbaugh, Beck and the others are just paid mouthpieces for the rich? That anything they say that sounds semi-Christian is just designed to trick us into voting for Republicans?

    And the whole ridiculous argument about America being a Christian nation — people really need to get Biblical about that. There’s only one Christian nation — the Kingdom of God. All the others are empires of Caesar. All of them! And that stuff about the “Founding Fathers” being Christians? They were rum-runners, slave-traders, and tax dodgers who conned a few naive Christians into thinking it was about “liberty” rather than big bucks. Of course, I actually studied American history at a university, and my professors weren’t named Robertson, Beck, or Hagee.

    As for gays, I have one for a boss. He’s deeply intrigued that I’m a Christian who doesn’t put him down, who respects his authority, and who cares to be his friend. I might actually have an opportunity to share Christ with him, because I don’t condemn him or think he should be put in a prison — I actually care about his life.

    The church in America seems to exist for two purposes: to grab political power, and to make pastors rich. I’m already post-evangelical, and I may soon be one of those not attending church at all. Somehow my walk with Jesus seems better when I’m entirely dependent on Him alone, without any American church as a “mediator.”

    • Dan Allison says

      Last thought. Most of what the Christian right claims as “family values” are merely bourgeois, upper-middle class values. Back to history. Prohibition was promoted by Anglo, Protestant forces in an attack on working class, Irish and Italian Catholic immigrants, trying to force “them” to be like “us.” It had nothing to do with the Bible. The fundamentalist attacks on rock music (“the devil’s music”) have always been nothing but the crassest racism. Rock’s rhythms are black rhythms — Roll Over, Beethoven.

      When Catholic priests first sent missions to Hawaii, they were shocked that the natives ate dogs, and told them to stop. The natives asked, “Where does scripture forbid eating dogs?” The priests were stumped, because they natives actually had the better case, biblically. Please, let’s stop pretending our personal tastes and cultural prejudices are biblically mandated. Clearly, they aren’t.

      • Careening off the rails here, Dan. Are you seriously confessing that you just wanted to jail young women? I think ol’ Bill has a case of FOS there. First of all, I doubt economics as the leading driver of abortion. Secondly, Christians are fighting abortion at every step, including prevention. Third, threats of jail are principally for the doctors, not the women. Fourth, what has Bill ever done to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare”?
        Next, “bourgeois, upper middle class values” are thoroughly biblical and, from the practical standpoint, they work. That’s why the people who practice them are upper middle class. Those values (marriage, fatherhood, education, respect for the law, honest work) are the chief difference between the poor and non-poor, and easily trump considerations like race.
        Third, I’m a racist because I dislike Rush, AC/DC, Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, and all those other black bands?? Say what??

        • Dan Allison says

          1) Oh, dear. You “doubt” economics is the leading cause of abortion. But remember that woman who served you at Starbucks, who helped you exchange that computer at Office Depot, who checked you out at the supermarket? She makes the minimum wage with no benefits, like a hundred million or so Americans. She would love to have a child, but she’s too busy on her feet all day, being bullied by bourgeois, upper middle class people, as she makes them rich. She is a real person, one whom Christ loves. The bourgeois, upper middle class stockholders — when they aren’t drinking pina coladas on the beach — work hard to make sure she can’t join a labor union and that her minimum wage doesn’t increase.

          2) What do you mean, “principally?” That’s a pretty vague qualifier.

          3) Bourgeois, upper middle class values may work for you and those in your circle, but they exploit, bully, and intimidate the rest of us. If the people who serve your every whim — at the Starbucks, the restaurant, the convenience store, the supermarket, the cabbie who drives you to the airport — could speak freely without fear of losing their jobs, they’d tell you. And frankly, they do a lot more “honest work” than the bourgeois, upper middle class people I see, with their personal phone calls and air-conditioned desk jobs and little “meetings” all day long. I can’t call my clients and “cancel appointments” or “tell them I’ll be a little late.” I’d be fired.

          My only hope is in Christ to make things right when he returns. That will be the real revolution.

          4) In the 60s there was an Oklahoma preacher named Billy James Hargis who became semi-famous for his book ripping Bob Dylan and Elvis. Billy James was later disgraced for sexual misconduct. Dylan and Elvis — despite Elvis’ sad death — went on to record many songs glorifying Christ and point many people in His direction. Jimmy Swaggart wrote a book condemning Christian rock and specifically Amy Grant. Who’s been the better witness for Christ?

          Obviously, my point was NOT that all rock bands are good — I dislike all the bands you named. Rather, my point was to counter the argument that only dead white male European composers can glorify God, while rock is music of the devil. I think anyone who has open-mindedly listened to Dylan, Elvis, U2, Van Morrison, or Johnny Cash would agree.

          • Dan Allison says

            Final thought: For those who believe America’s material wealth is a “blessing from God,” it’s not. We enslaved one race and committed virtual genocide against another. Hundreds of millions worked and suffured in inhumane factory conditions for chicken-feed wages. And today we have men with guns in more than 100 nations around the globe. Their job is to kill anyone who doesn’t do what America tells them to do. That’s where our material wealth comes from.

          • I did a study once that plotted the abortion rate against the unemployment rate, and the applied a best fit line. There was a definite high correlation between the two. Economics was definitely a significant factor in the number of abortions, but I could not say whether or not it was the primary factor.

          • Ok, dude. I’d really love to know what you do for a living, that you could be fired so easily. Meanwhile, taking a sip from my pina colada, some replies:
            1)Obviously 100 million Americans don’t make minimum wage. Here’s a link to some stats. http://www.bls.gov/cps/minwage2008.htm And the lady at Starbucks makes me poor, not rich. Labor union membership is declining in large measure because the actual workers oppose the actual unions.
            2)Principally = mainly. The vast majority of today’s antiabortion actions are against docs and clinics, unfortunately up to and including violence. Even if abortion were banned tomorrow, enforcement actions would be overwhelmingly against clinics, not clients.
            3) I seriously want to know what “upper middle class” values exploit, bully, and intimidate you. I cannot fathom your argument. I am just reminded of Alfred P. Doolittle in “My Fair Lady” cursing “middle class morality” because instead of getting drunk with the boys he’ll be married and respectable.
            4) Dylan, Elvis, and Amy Grant have all been witnesses for Christ. Bono, too. What’s that got to do with racism?

    • Dan,
      I applaud your real-life approach of respect and love with your boss. That is the most effective way to show Christ. I have to call you on something though. Yes, the church in America can be disconcertingly hypocritical, but to pull out completely to entirely dependent on Him alone is a cop out.

      You may think you are avoiding frustration and so bettering your walk with Christ but it is not scriptural and will ultimately lead to your demise. Faith was NEVER meant to be done alone.

      Also, let’s just sum the founders up as flawed human beings. I think the litany of labels you used to dismiss all of our founders could be construed as being just as narrow and judgmental as the people you are meaning to criticize in the American church. This I will defend, America was not founded for money. The IDEA of individual liberty is a pure one. Of course there were massive overarching economic concerns as there always are this side of heaven. However, the vast majority of the “founders” died in relative poverty mostly due to a life of public service and the cost of the war they waged. While I don’t really wish to post my resume here, I do know something on this particular topic.

      Much love and respect…

      • I don’t recall the last time I was inside a church building. My father was a preacher, so my childhood was spent there until I was old enough to decide for myself. Now in my 40’s, I don’t feel the need for that weekly gathering inside a building. Instead, a few of our friends gather each week at a home, and we have church the original way, probably much as the apostles enjoyed. One friend plays piano better than most, we sing, talk and eat. We call it a spiritual supper club, and I leave there filled in more than one way each week. You don’t need a “sanctuary” in the formal sense. Find some like-minded friends, get together and lift one another up each week, if you feel so inclined. Jesus will meet you there, I promise.

        • Christopher Lake says

          Debra,

          You write that you and your friends “have church the original way, probably much as the apostles enjoyed.” An important question here is, does the Bible actually say anything about the early church meetings that the apostles enjoyed?

          Interestingly, The New Testament contains some descriptions of those original church meetings. There were recognized leaders– elders and deacons. These leaders were appointed because they met specific qualifications which are described in the New Testament. The leaders were also entrusted with specific responsibilities (also described, partially, in the New Testament)

          A church building is certainly not necessary for these things, but friends simply getting together, singing, and talking is not the way that the New Testament describes early church meetings.

          • So say you Christopher. Really, must every single thing become a “I’m right and you are wrong” discussion here? Can’t you just accept that others can know for themselves when they are in the Presence of God? My spirituality can beat up your spirituality.

          • Christopher Lake says

            Debra,

            So say I? No… not I. I was describing what the New Testament says about early church meetings. I wasn’t trying to put you or your meetings down. They are obviously good and spiritually helpful for you. That being said, they are simply not “church, as the original apostles enjoyed.” It is a simple fact that the New Testament does have descriptions of, and guidelines for, church leadership and church meetings (services). Why does my mentioning that fact bother you so much?

  17. Always Lurking says

    Thank you for this post, Chaplain Mike.

    I attended a Bible study a few months ago where we talked about how to better engage the culture. I was shocked and speechless when a woman stood up at the end of one session to encourage us all to get behind and purchase “The American Patriots Bible”, complete with four-color pictures of the US founding fathers.

    I sat in silence, amazed, and I felt sad that she had missed the entire point of our four-week discussion on how to reach more people for Christ.

    She was fully committed to the culture war. If only her energy could be directed to prayer and loving her neighbors.

    Haven’t gone to church in awhile. Was considering becoming Orthodox. Feeling lost in the American Evangelical Wasteland. Getting ready to order Michael Spencer’s book. Missing him in the worst way. Glad y’all are here on this blog. I feel less lonely.

  18. I agree with quite a bit of what Dan Allison said. I find it interesting that in this discussion of culture war, there are two entire segments of Christianity that are totally ignored, African-Americans and Latinos. Evangelicals in both groups voted overwhelmingly for President Obama. Few questions have been asked about how people so against abortion could vote in such a mass group for Obama. In fact, the lesbigay movement has been quite upset with the majority of black preachers (and Latinos) because there has been a refusal to support many of their points. And yet, those two groups voted for Obama.

    In answer to that, the periodic African-American or Latino is trotted out by the Religious Right to show that everyone supports their talking points. But, there is a very careful avoidance of poll numbers with regards to African-Americans and Latinos, because the reality still remains that the majority of Evangelicals in both of those groups would still vote Democratic.

    It is said that Sunday is the most segregated hour in America. When it comes to Evangelicals, so is the voting booth.

    • Not that we could vote, but at election time Obama enjoyed an 81% approval rating in Canada. (It has since dropped to 74%). This means that Canadians of all political stripes and religious backgrounds would have voted for him in the last election.

    • Your comment can’t be said often enough, Father. Thank you.

    • I actually said something similar of the liberals in regards to playing the “race and gender card,” but I have a feeling going off on that tangent is a bad idea.

  19. So many of these were driven to effect change in our culture because of their faith. So many people have helped our society evolve because their faith has rooted their value system.

    Was it not a culture war between some Christians and others to end slavery in this country or fight against racism or stand up to any injustice? I would think so. What is the difference today? Are the issues less clear? Are the appeals to natural law less clear? Are the evils being condemned less associated with political or financial power? What are the differences in these situations?

    Despite the official separation of church and state in this county, religion has always affected the electorate, the laws we make and our moral standards. This has changed our country for the better.

  20. Bravo CM!

    Couldn’t agree more. I have been thinking and plotting in my local church about teaching Christians about actual civil discourse regarding ideas in the public arena. Right now the church seems to be headed in three different directions, right, left, or nowhere.

    We have been duped into joining sides or shutting up. Neither of these is the answer. I think the answer lies in the point you made about speaking from a place of Authority instead of seeking out a place of Power. We must first re-gain our place of authentic authority in American culture, then we can join the free-market of ideas with some capital to spend.

    I do not think complete silence is the answer. I think that we should be showing the world how to have true discourse. A revival of true reason and debate would be amazing.

    BTW I don’t think that we re-gain our place of Authority in American culture by TRYING to do so. Louder music, bands that sound just like so-and-so except Christian (TM) DO NOT give us “cultural relevance”. When we seek “cultural relevance” we lose it and Truth to boot. The Truth is always culturally relevant. Love is always culturally relevant. That is how they will know we speak the Truth, our LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER – nothing more, nothing less.

    Also, sorry to Headless Unicorn for stealing your “Christian(TM)” device, couldn’t resist. Plagiary is flattery right? :-).

    • Savannah says

      There are more choices than “choosing sides” or “shutting up”. Complexity is no vice. Please don’t assume that those of us who have laid down our culture war weapons are simply “shutting up”. Not true.

    • Donalbain says

      Sorry… do you think that Christians should have authority over non Christians in America?

  21. I find it amazing that when the Republicans held the Senate, the House, and the White House they did nothing about abortion. Then why are conservatives so angry at the left? They were let down and betrayed by their own champions. Or maybe their own politicians don’t really support their cultural issues.

    DSY

    • Many of the conservatives I know would say that the Republicans in the House & Senate this last time when they were in power were not true conservatives but RINOs (Republicans in Name Only). On social issues, they either gave only lip service agreement or sided with the more liberal members of Congress, claiming to be just “economic conservatives”.

      Many of them fault the Republican leadership over the last 15 or so years for being “go-along, get-along” types. They are afraid of being called racist so they don’t stand up to Obama when they disagree with him. They are afraid of losing their social standing in Washington circles, so they continually reach to the other side of the aisle and “compromise”, when those who voted them in want them to stand on principle. This is why the “Tea Party” has attained such visability. Tired of leaders who continually sell them out, they are looking to unconventional politicans for representation.

      I know this may not necessairily pertain to the discussion at hand, but I just wanted to give some reasons for the disconnect between “Republicans” and “conservatives”. The two are not necessairily synonomous.

      • Savannah says

        What do you mean by “this last time”? The republicans were in power for six of the eight years preceding this current presidency – were they all RINO’s, too? Were they afraid of offending GWB?

    • Donalbain says

      Social issues are a handy way to get people to vote for you. People are more emotional about abortion/gays/prayer than they are about a marginal difference in the tax structure. By keeping the social issues in play, you increase your turn out. Once abortion was finished as an issue, the religious right could not be depended on as a source of votes and money.

    • dkmonroe says

      Passing a ban on partial-birth abortion was doing “nothing?” Seemed pretty significant at the time. Abortion supporters surely thought it was the end of the world.

      If you’re asking “why didn’t they overturn Roe v.Wade”, well, I think that most people would agree that making abortion a federal crime with a stroke of the pen would have been potentially diastrous for a number of reasons, whereas opening the door for some commonsense restrictions on the practice (such as banning partial-birth abortion) was a more practical and a significant move in the right direction. If abortion actually becomes legal again (and I certainly think it should be illegal in most cases), then it’s not going to be by fiat.

      To answer your question, conservatives are “angry at the left” because “the left” rejects everything conservatives think is important. Not that hard to figure out really.

  22. Excellent post, Chaplain Mike.

    The Clinton years are what drove me away from the Culture War. When Jerry Falwell tried to hawk “The Clinton Chronicles” tape on the Old Time Gospel Hour, it was time for me to abandon ship. From then on, I kept asking the Culture Warriors I would meet, “What do you consider victory? How will you know when you are done? What does success look like?” and I could never get a straight answer. For that matter, the whole concept of an end point was lost on them. It isn’t about achieving an objective, but continuing the fight.

    I see this in the Southern Baptist Convention. The Conservative Resurgence has retaken the SBC and now they are embroiled in even more struggles over the areas of “Baptist Identity” and Calvinism vs. Arminianism. The Culture War will never end because there will always be some new battle to be fought and won. And personally, I’m sick of it.

    • IMO, the SBC should forfeit their non-profit status as they are more politically active than the law allows. Separation of church and state exists for a reason, and you really can’t have your cake and eat it too.

      • dkmonroe says

        How are the SBC “more politically active than the law allows?” What specific laws is the SBC violating?

        • Sorry to be so long to reply to you. I see I left out “more politically active than the law SHOULD allow”. It’s more about Land’s approach to the letter of the law rather than the spirit of the law. He is the one who will find out where the line in the sand is located, and then operate from the point of having his big toe nudged up against it. Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. He is the last guy I could see Jesus hanging out with after hours. I was raised by a SB preacher, and I know a thing or two about the group. I have looked into the eyes of many liars who just left the pulpit giving a hellfire and brimstone sermon. Give them enough time and they will reveal themselves. I have also met many pastors who have the heart of Christ, and that is also revealed in their eyes, along with their ministries. Richard Land is the former, IMO. A snakeoil salesman, and the proof is in the pudding. Enrollments in SBC have been on a steady decline for a while now.
          And to Kozak below, I feel strongly that ANY church who campaigns from the pulpit should begin paying taxes then and there. The fact that it’s so common now doesn’t make it right to me. It’s straddling the line and does nothing to further the cause of Christ, and that should be the churches one main goal. Get the politics out of the churches!

      • Careful. That standard would apply to every prominent black church in the US. What campaign hasn’t featured politicians speaking in black churches?

    • cermak_rd says

      Dear goodness you should see the current brou-ha-ha going on over the Great Commission Resurgence. I wouldn’t have thought that anyone could start an argument over striving for increasing emphasis on the Great Commission, but the SBC has.

  23. dkmonroe says

    Pardon me, but whenever I read articles like this, the message I’m hearing is, “It’s actually wrong to be a Christian and be politically active in a conservative context. To the extent that you are concerned with conservative politics, you are alienated from the Gospel.”

    I have never, ever read an article by a Christian on the left criticizing his side for being too involved in liberal political causes. If someone could show me an example of that, I would be most interested.

    My point here is not to challenge the Chaplain’s motives – I’m sure his feelings are sincere – but I just find it puzzling how it’s always conservative politics that is the bad, poisoning, un-Christlike thing.

    • I do not know how old you are, but I am just old enough to remember when it was the theological left that was always involved in taking political action with regard to social issues, and they were thoroughly lambasted by “Bible-believing” Christians for doing so. They wanted absolutely nothing to do with the “social gospel.”

      • dkmonroe says

        But my point is, where is the criticism of the theological left and their political activity? Why does conservative political activity engenger criticism while leftist political activity is unquestionably laudable? Your very response assumes this double standard.

        • Because I am critiquing Evangelicalism here specifically with regard to its culture war approach. If someone wants to broaden the discussion, fine, but don’t criticize me for not speaking to things that were not part of my original topic.

          • dkmonroe says

            I think what you’re really doing here is critiquing a particular subset of evangelicals and their political activity specifically. I’m certain that there are evangelicals who are aligned to the left who are engaged in “culture war” of their own. You criticism is just coming off as a little one-sided to me, that’s all.

            • dkmonroe: you may well be right, but unfortunately their public words and actions have made areputation that affects all of us who are evangelicals.

              Sorry dkmonroe, I was responding to something else and put this in the wrong place.

              • dkmonroe says

                Sorry, I don’t know which of my statements you are responding to here.

                • I think he’s talking about christians on the conservative side that are part of the culture wars…..and I think the point is that ev’s in general end up getting painted (fairly or not, I’d say) based on what public figures say and proclaim “for us”. I think he’s headed that way with his post.

      • Petersen says

        You are right. And the civil rights movement is a great case in point. Generally, the good conservative Christian churches (white) absolutely lambasted the other Christians (black) who were protesting, marching, singing, and praying publicly to try to bring an end to American apartheid. Jerry Falwell was then an segregationist who denounced the Brown v. Board of Education decision and who featured Geo Wallace and Lester Maddox on the Old Time Gospel Hour.

        • dkmonroe says

          What particular relevence should this have for conservative Christians of today like myself who aren’t racist and think that segregation was monstrous and recoil at the though of being in a church that supports it? Do you not recognize that we as a society have made at least some modest progress in this regard in the last 50 years?

          Chaplain Michael stated that liberals criticizing liberals for their own political involvement was irrelevent to the point of his article and this discussion. I think that bringing up the sins of the opponents of the Civil Rights movement is equally irrelevent, seeing as there are no “culture warriors” looking to bring back segregation.

          • Petersen says

            Mike’s point was that it wasn’t long ago that conservative Christians (today’s ‘culture warriors’) were lambasting others who protested deplorable social conditions. I think the Civil Rights movement illustrates his point.
            You say no ‘culture warriors’ want to return to segregation. That’s probably true, though I have my doubts. But the larger point is this: though white conservative Christians are more politically active today than they were in the 60s, it’s not in order to speak on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, the disabled and the disadvantaged. It’s to ‘get their country back’ to a time when they were in complete control. Modest progress indeed.

        • Christopher Lake says

          Peterson,

          I am white, and by your criteria, I would probably be a “(largely) conservative Christian.” I also have a physical disability and have lived below the poverty line for years. I have advocated for conservative churches, in which I have been involved, to help the “poor and disenfranchised.” One might even say that I *am* one of the “poor and disenfranchised.”

          As a “white, (largely) conservative Christian” who is poor and disabled, and who wants to help the “poor, marginalized, and disenfranchised,” in your view, I must be some sort of living self-contradiction!

          It is not helpful to over-generalize about Christians on the political right *or* the left.

          • It is not helpful to over-generalize about Christians on the political right *or* the left.

            Triple amen tho to this; thanks Mr. Lake. Peterson, are you listening ??

          • Petersen says

            Plainly, I was generalizing, but I was also referrring not to whether any particular white church takes up a collection for the poor, but how it involves itself in the ‘culture war,’ the subject of these comments,
            There’s little advocacy on the part of such churches that either nonprofits or the government (local or federal) be used to help those most in need. I stand by that admitted generalization, though it does not describe every last person who belongs to such churches.

  24. Mike, I would suggest that you revise every single point you made in this post to read as follows:

    “The culture war approach AT ITS WORST….” That is really what you are representing here. There are good and bad ways to engage the culture from a Christian perspective. A discussion like this one needs a lot more nuance.

    • dkmonroe says

      I agree, that would be a more balanced approach. It would also be informative to know what entails a “Jesus-shaped” way of engaging the culture.

    • A discussion like this one needs a lot more nuance.

      I thoroughlly agree with this ,and my question to Chap Mike and others would be: show me some examples of those thoroughly engaged with culture, pursuing a Jesus-shaped spirituality, who are “doing it right”. If christianity speaks to all groups and classes of learning and endeavor, then who are todays “heroes” of cultural/political engagement ?? I’m not asking for plaster saints, but flesh and blood examples of folks doing Kingdom work in the public market.

      A point to Aaron and dkmonroe: I dont thing it’s a matter of conservative or liberal as much as it is the means and methods we use in our cultural engagement. Are we using , primarily, political tools to fight a political battle, OR are we using a political or social opportunity to advance the Kingdom , using Kingdom methods (truth telling, compassion, gospel centered, redemptive in the full sense of the word, etc. )

      As has been mentioned a few times, we have conflated “power” with “authority”. Bad idea.

      • dkmonroe says

        I don’t think it is necessary to concede the notion that political battles are necessarily tainted and inappropriate for people of faith. I have heard Peter Kreeft explain that the ancient Greeks considered politics to be “the pursuit of virtue.” Politics, like every other aspect of the human experience, may be simply something else that needs to be redeemed.

        • Absolutely agree with this post also, and yes, we would hope to see redemptive inroads in this field as with (almost) all others……this isn’t dogfighting or cockfighting……OK, I guess it depends on whcih channel and what hr. you’re watching 🙁

          Connecting the dots with your post and mine: what does it look like to see the political arena “redeemed” ? what does that involve, and who has been at that for awhile that we can learn from, someone using the political stage to promote something other than a parochial, stunted, agenda…..someone Kingdom and King-centered ??

          Again, I’m not stumping for EITHER a conservative or liberal answer for my quest, and I certainly see the possibility of a christian politician, though most of what I’ve seen the last 20 or 30 yrs has been a lot of vote-grabbing.

          • dkmonroe says

            I can’t think of any individual who I would posit as an example of one who is “redeeming politics”, and I’m not sure I’d offer a name if I had one, because I’m certain it would only encourage partisan wrangling, but I do think that people actually being aware of the classical idea of the link between politics and virtue would be a start. We are at a point in history where we expect politics to be dirty and ridden with lies and self-interest and it’s a shame and a sin. Fighting against such cynicism would be a revolution worth having.

            I don’t know that one necessarily has to take an obviously “Kingdom-centered” approach to politics, as in the obvious pursuing of a “Christian agenda”, but rather just by being an upright person and a true representative of ones’ constituency would be redemption aplenty. One example is the art of political compromise. Unlike many people of my conservative and I daresay Republican stripe, I was actually pleased that John McCain appeared to take the issue of environmentalism seriously as a Presidential candidate. Not because I have great sympathies with the environmentalist perspective, but because a lot of Americans do, and there must be a responsible way of accomodating those sincere concerns. The way to the redemption of politics would be long and complicated, but I believe it will start with personal integrity and a sincere desire to reach out to the other side (whichever side one may be on) and seek to genuinely accomodate their concerns while not abandoning ones’ own.

            I could write for hours on this, and haven’t really begun to explain it adequately, but dinner intrudes.

    • Can I mention one silly pet peeve I have? I absolutely detest the phrase, “engage the culture.” I find it utterly unhelpful, so vague and amorphous that it has no use whatsoever. Talk to me in concrete terms. Tell me to love my neighbor. Write a letter to the editor. Run for office or write my representative. Volunteer at the crisis pregnancy center. Visit the elderly. Tutor at risk kids.

      In my experience, engage the culture means little more than Christians talking to each other.

      Thus endeth the rant.

      • dkmonroe says

        I agree, that is a rather silly pet peeve. People use the words and phrases they use for various reasons, but the point is they are trying to communicate. I really think that criticizing the way people say things rather than try to come down to their level and understand what they are saying risks short-circuiting authentic communication.

        I’m sorry I annoyed you by using the phrase, “engaging the culture.” I was actually mirroring greg r’s use of the term, in an effort to communicate with him. And I’m still interested in what you suggest as a “Jesus-shaped” alternative to the culture war.

        • And my point is that such catch-phrases don’t really communicate anything. They become part of our arsenal of cliches that many repeat but few could define.

          As you will see in my response to Greg below, I believe Christian involvement in the world should look like an iceberg—1000 “below the surface” acts of sacrificial love and service in our communities, for our neighbors, and with regard to public issues for every 1 visible, public attempt to get our voices heard.

          Christians and various church and mission communities will have different callings to deal with different issues: some to advance life issues, some to help the poor, some to minister to immigrants, some to visit prisoners, some to provide health services and care for the sick, some to visit the forgotten, some to build houses and help clean up inner city neighborhoods, some to work on environmental concerns, some to tutor children and help in areas of education, some to coach kids in community sports and recreation settings, etc. Some will run for office, and others work to support them. Some will become journalists and filmmakers to investigate and report on various issues.

          In all this, we represent Jesus, we proclaim good news, we try to persuade people that he came to make all things right, starting with us. Our goal is not to restore America to its status as a “Christian nation.” The goal is to represent the Kingdom from which Christ rules over all nations. The key is service, not talk. Another key is a real hesitancy to take and work from positions of power, knowing how power corrupts and often distorts the example and message we are trying to give.

          That’s a start.

          • dkmonroe says

            Certainly you must know that there are many evangelicals who identify with the “culture war” issues that you define who do participate actively in many of the charitiable activities that you list here. In the 20 years or so that I’ve been a Christian, I’ve met very few that did not have this instinct. It’s not an “either/or” proposition.

      • OK, let me honor your pet peeve and re-word my question. Who, in your opinion is able to be thoroughly immersed in either politics, or a similar job in and with the general public, who has been an example to you of translating their christian values (hope that isn’t also a trigger) to that job, that platform ?? Who has been able to address the political and social issues of the day without devolving into the culture wars you’ve written about ?? Francis Schaeffer was adamant that the christian voice and worldview was adequate for any arena…..is it ?? Who is doing at least a decent job of that ??

        better ?

        Greg R

        • Greg, I have an idea that the ones who are truly doing the work of the Kingdom with regard to most issues, both public and private, are the ones we’ll rarely see or hear about. This is one of my main points. I think Christians have been so concerned about losing the “public debate” that they fail to realize that this actually means little. If you and I would turn off our tvs and radios and not go on the internet for a month, and devote that time to serving others in our communities and in whatever public issues we think require Christian influence, we would accomplish more than a year of “engaging the culture” by trying to get our voice heard in the media. The number of people who need to be doing the visible, public part of it is small and limited. The size of the “quiet army” needs to be massive.

          I didn’t mean to be petty with my comment about “engaging the culture.” I simply find that catch-phrases like this don’t really accomplish much unless we flesh them out.

          • Thanks for the reply, and after some thought, I can see your point about the use of language to get nothing done. The phrase “community outreach” comes to mind= lots of fliers or pamphlets stuffed on doorknobs. So I think I get it.

            More service, less talk; couldn’t agree more with that, and in a talk happy culture like ours (where family relationships are so riddled with sin and noncommitment) so much the better for doing something for someone.

            Your point about “christian america” makes me wonder then if our grasping at some kind of public/political clout might be some kind of jumping the shark desperation, or else we lapse back into secular oblivion…..just a thot. I think you are so on target about the quiet army, if the world was revolutionized by those backward Palestinian peasants way back when, then it can happen again.

            Love on a ‘roman’ today, especially the liberal secularists 🙂

            Greg R

            to dkmonroe: I don’t think it’s “identifying with the issues” where you disagree, mildly, with chap mike, it’s maybe the methods that are used to see progress in the issues, and perhaps seeing a more broad palette of issues, not JUST the usual two or three……

    • Note my comments below, Aaron, and see if this helps provide more nuance and clarifies my points.

  25. Something about this entire thing is now beginning to bother me. I’m not sure why.

  26. Okay, I’m at a point where I can’t help myself: http://tinyurl.com/2bqhb7e

  27. I totally understand what Chaplain Mike is saying and I agree with him.
    However, it is clear to me that there are those who do not follow Christ, and who are opposed to the Christian influence in America (to whatever extent you believe Christianity has influence this country).

    There are those who are actively trying to do away with Christianity and its influence, and they are using many different means to this.

    We need to define the difference between “Culture warmongering’ and being a responsible citizen.

    If a group, or an individual is trying to do things that are un-Constitutional, or are violating a groups Constitutional rights then someone ought to call them on it.

    Now, how a person, or group goes about that, and what attitude we have towards those who oppose us, or even oppose the Gospel is of the utmost importance. I would say THAT is the battle.

    If I don’t act Christ-like as I try to promote Christ, I have lost even before I really got started.

    The problem I have with the “Culture War” is with how it being fought, not the fact that there is a conflict. I don’t deny that there is a conflict between those who follow Christ and SOME who do not.

    Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. So there is a struggle, but who is it really with, and how do go about struggling?

    • Donalbain says

      Can you possibly give an example of someone who is actively trying to do away with Christianity?

  28. Chap Mike: i’ve said it before, but will repeat, this is a very timely topic and post, as the robust back and forth posts show. I reread the article again, and this quote from IMONK stood out to me

    Every day I listen to and read Christians whose consideration of other persons is on the basis of politics and cultural conflict. Not the Gospel. Their anger and frustration dominates, not the Gospel.

    I think the anger and frustration are meant to be red lights on our dashboard, alerting us NOT that we are interested in the wrong things, exactly, but we’ve lost the Kingdom balance and focus, we’re probably not concerned enough about people, the people behind the issues. I fed on this anger for years, and am slowly weaning myself off of “the drug” . Again, very good topic and discussion.

    Greg R

  29. dkmonroe says

    Petersen:

    “You say no ‘culture warriors’ want to return to segregation. That’s probably true, though I have my doubts. But the larger point is this: though white conservative Christians are more politically active today than they were in the 60s, it’s not in order to speak on behalf of the poor, the marginalized, the disabled and the disadvantaged. It’s to ‘get their country back’ to a time when they were in complete control. Modest progress indeed.”

    I believe that is a very prejudiced and unfair view of what conservatives advocate. It is not “get our country back” in order to preserve hegemony for people of a particular race/class, it is “get our country back” to a place where there is less government intrusion and less dependence on government. There are more and I believe better ways to help “the poor, the marginalized, the disabled and the disadvantaged” than the expansion of the welfare state and other entitlement programs.

    Now I’m sure you’re going to argue this point, but I hope are open to understanding that if you approach conservatives with the preconception that they are all driven by desire for race/class hegemony, you will neither establish communication nor convince. As a conservative, I know full well what I am and what I believe, and it ain’t that.

    • Petersen says

      I’m sure that I can’t convince you. But have tried to see your positions through the eyes of people for whom “government intrusion” is a necessity? Who by it are enabled to survive or at least to live as comfortably as those who can afford to do without certain laws and programs?

      • dkmonroe says

        Yes, I have tried to see my positions through the eyes of others. And still I am not convinced that the government is the best engine to solve social problems.

        More than that I’m not going to say, as I’m not going to turn the thread into a raw political debate.

  30. Weighing in late (as usual . . .)

    I removed myself from the ‘culture war’ a long time ago. Didn’t see the use in engaging in debate about various social issues, other than some intellectual time-wasting; the brainy version of watching TV with a bag of Cheetos. I wasn’t going to change their mind, they weren’t going to change mine. We were just exchanging body blows, and shaking hands when we fought to a draw.

    I love the title of Conscientous Objector. It’s not that I can’t fight, I choose not to. As a soldier, I am constantly asked my opinion about world events, and especially the War on Terror. For those who are only interested in sound bites or extra ammunition, the debates are easy to deflect. For the few who honestly want to change my mind (whatever my stance may be) I simply tell them that it doesn’t matter what I think – I took an oath, and I’ll do my duty. I admit that it’s a cop-out, but arguing won’t do anything to fix the global conditon.

    Equate that to the church. In Sunday School, we were encouraged to be ‘Soldiers for Christ’, and held ‘Sword Drills’ and ‘pledged alliegance to the Christian Flag’. As a Soldier for Christ’ it’s not that I can’t fight, (I was very, very good at sword drills and can twist scripture with the best of them), it’s that I choose not to. Or rather, I look at it as infiltrating a cell instead of assaulting a beachhead. If you can’t see what I believe by the way I live, then I’m a failure as a proponent of Christ and have no business speaking on His behalf.

    “…the development of an entire Christian subculture, which in my view has isolated believers from their neighbors and genuine redemptive interaction with the world.”

    Too true. It seems that the biggest reason people don’t attend church is the Christians who do. I know it’s why I dropped out. So many attend for their weekly ‘feel-good’, and their service in the community (if they do it at all) is so tainted with smugness that any lasting good is negated. Then they will further isolate the ‘church’ from the ‘community’ with soap-box activism – shouting about how bad/wrong everyone else is, because we don’t think like them. People I work with are suprised that I label my self conservative, but don’t watch Fox or listen to Rush or Glenn Beck.

    “Is that what we really want? Has discipleship become the process by which we create opinionated, moralistic critics?”

    Amen. and ouch.

    • If you can’t see what I believe by the way I live, then I’m a failure as a proponent of Christ and have no business speaking on His behalf.

      For being late, you showed up with some good stuff to share at the IMONK picnic. Thanks for stopping by, and Godspeed in finding felloship that honors GOD and nourishes your soul.

      Greg R

  31. Mike –

    Loved this post. Good thinking, honest, and presented a proper viewpoint – without lobbing the verbal grenades that so often can happen. Thanks brother.