Recently, President Obama’s “evolution” on his views on marriage came to an end in both an historic and tragic milestone: the first time in history that a sitting U.S. President endorsed same-sex marriage, and basically called for the transformation and subversion of civilization’s central institution. This earned him the cover of Newsweek Magazine’s title, “America’s First Gay President.” While not really a surprise, observers referred to it as nothing short of a cultural earthquake. It brought to the forefront once again in a very deep and dramatic fashion what has been dubbed, “The Culture Wars.”
While I’m not particularly fond of the term, I feel a bit like David who said “I am for peace, but when I speak, they are for war!” This is actually a battle that is being brought to us. Albert Mohler Jr. said, “We are swimming in one of the most complex and challenging cultural contexts every experienced by the Christian church. Every day brings a confrontation with cultural message, controversies, and products. We are bombarded with advertisement, entertainments, and the chatter of the culture all around us.” The culture is a pretty broad term but it is made up of a vast network of institutions, laws, customs, and language that is a constant part of our lives, like it or not. The problem is that many of the most cherished ideas of our culture are in direct conflict with the teachings of Christ. Our challenge is how are we to remain faithful as Christians in this culture? How should we think about so many of the crucial moral questions of our day? To not think seriously about how we should respond to these challenges means that we will be swallowed up by the dominant culture. We will fail to live and think as Christians.
The Apostle Peter addressed his own “culture wars” or, more importantly, godly living before a watching world. Learning what it means to be Christian in the public square. Listen to what he wrote:
“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; 16 yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil.” (1Pet.3:13-17)
THE MISGUIDED SUGGESTION
It is right and fair to say that economic issues (i.e. jobs; housing market; corruption & greed at all levels; massive deficits) have dominated our nation’s conversation for the last four or five years. I’m certainly not against a good economy or a much-needed recovery; but at the same time, prosperity in itself is not a panacea. Listen to the wisest man who ever lived and made this clear, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.” The TM says, “God-devotion makes a country strong; God-avoidance leaves people weak.” He wants us to see that woven into the fabric of individual, family, or a nation’s well-being (or disgrace) is the issue of righteousness.
What originally “sparked” my inspiration was a call being echoed for a “social truce.” Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels was the one who this is first attributed to: calling for a “truce” on social issues (which are considered divisive) going into 2012, since the gravity of the economic and fiscal challenges facing America trump all. This idea seemed to gain traction with a lot of people. Jeremy Mayer wrote, “It’s about the economy. I just don’t think God, guns, gays and fetuses is really going to matter that much.” My concern with this is that it comes from a false premise. Peter said, vs.14, “but even if you should suffer for righteousness sake.” Fiscal responsibilities and policies matter, but the “basic glue” and foundations for our country go beyond money. The fallacy is that many are made to think they must choose between economic issues and social ones. Biblically, however, they are all connected! Charles Colson asked, “Can freedom survive where virtue isn’t able to flourish? The response is obvious, “He knew the answer in theory. And that answer was: No. Virtue-less societies cannot remain free for long. Without self-restraint, justice, love, for fellow human beings, and other virtues, eventually real chaos will follow moral chaos.” Some of our most pressing social problems today have definite moral and ethical roots. We only have one cause, and that is to preach the Gospel and make disciples of all nations. By definition and certainly by application, this will always means “engaging our culture” at a heart level.
THE LAST BASTION
This what caught my attention. I heard Radio Talk Show host, Dennis Prager, say, “The last bastion of traditional moral values is the Evangelical church.” He’s not writing as a Christian, either, but as an informed cultural observer. This has brought to the surface the question of to what extent should Christians be involved in the political process? I happen to agree with the late Carl F.H. Henry who addressed evangelicals and argued that disengagement from the critical issues of the day is not an option.
Peter highlights a critical role, perhaps more so today than ever before. “Who shall harm you if you become followers of what is good?” (RSV, “if you are zealous for what is right”). God’s major tool of change is not politics, but the Church of Jesus Christ, fueled by love and a prophetic voice! This is where you’ll find a voice of moral sanity in a very confused and dark society that fulfills Isaiah’s prophecy, “What sorrow for those who say that evil is good and good is evil, that dark is light and light is dark, that bitter is sweet and sweet is bitter.
What sorrow for those who are wise in their own eyes and think themselves so clever.” (Isa.5:20,21) The church has always challenged society because the Gospel speaks directly to the hearts of men and women. When Scripture instructs us to love God and then to love our neighbor as ourselves, it gives us a clear mandate to the right kind of cultural engagement. We love our neighbor because we first love God, and we display His glory by preaching the Gospel, confronting persons with God’s truth and serving as agents of salt and light in a dark and fallen world. Loving our neighbor requires our participation in the culture and in the political process, working for the ultimate good of the culture around us.
Jesus spelled out for us that we are to be salt and light in a fallen world, and this includes politics. "You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.” The main emphasis is salt as a preservative, to arrest the putrefying process. James Emery White wrote: “We should use our freedom to vote in any way possible to bring the Kingdom of God to greater reality. And yes, the Kingdom of God includes the biblical understandings of marriage and family. This is not about attempting to impose things through power, but influence.” In Jesus’ day, the main use of salt was a preservative to keep food from rotting. Without refrigerators or freezers, canned goods or packaging, salt was used to keep food from spoiling. If you had a piece of meat that you couldn’t eat right away, you would take some salt and rub it into the meat, which would prevent the meat from going bad. John Stott wrote, “The notion is not that the world is tasteless and that Christians can make it less insipid...but that it is putrefying. It cannot stop itself from going bad. Only salt introduced from outside can do this. The church...is set in the world...as the most powerful of all restraints within sinful society to be His own redeemed, regenerate and righteous people.” He continued, “The influence of Christians in and on society depends on their being distinct, not identical. Unless the salt penetrates the culture, the decay cannot be arrested.
This is behind the debate over what our engagement should be or look like in relation to the “culture wars.” In my study, a very interesting statistic came up which was referred to as the “40/40 divine.” “Many discuss the 4040 divide on the matter; those under forty tend to support same sex marriage, and not only believe it is pointless to engage, but harmful to Christian outreach. Those over forty believe it is a decisive issue and that failure to speak out and resist comes at great cultural peril.” My concern is “is the salt losing its saltiness?”
Albert Mohler wrote again, “There is no time for silence or for shirking our responsibilities as Christian citizens. Ominous signs of moral collapse and cultural decay not appear on our contemporary horizon. A society ready to put the institution of marriage up for demolition and transformation is a society losing its most basic moral sense. A culture ready to treat human embryos as material for medical experimentation is a society turning its back on human dignity and the sacredness of human life.”
THE WINNING STRATEGY
Jesus Christ was no stranger to culture wars. On a number of occasions He was drawn (attempted) into His generation’s “culture wars”! Whether it involved paying taxes (Mark 12:13-17), or the touchy subject of marriage and divorce (Matt.19:3-8). Then there was the debate over social justice where He was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” The whole Sermon on the Mount (masterpiece) could easily be looked at as Jesus’ treatment of the culture wars, “You have heard....but, I say unto you.”
If we visit our text, Peter spells out for us a winning strategy for us to engage our culture for Christ. There is no time for silence or for shirking our responsibilities as Christian citizens.
WE MUST GIVE GOD HIS RIGHTFUL PLACE, vs.15a “sanctify the Lord God in your hearts.” The answer to maybe 90% of life’s problems can be boiled down to our hearts. Is Christ Lord and at home there?
FOCUS ON REASONED WITNESS, vs.15b, “always be prepared to give answer to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.” There should be an authenticity of content about why you’re living the way you are.
ALWAYS MAINTAIN A GRACIOUS ATTITUDE, vs.15c, “with gentleness and respect.” He’s referring to the manner that we engage people with the truth of the Gospel.
LIVE THAT WHICH GIVES VALIDITY TO WHAT YOU SAY, vs.16, “having a good conscience....good conduct.” Peter says there will always be those who will speak against you, but a good testimony will win out in the end!
REMEMBER, THIS WILL COST YOU SOMETHING, or there’s always a price for doing what’s right. You will never be able to remove the scandal or offense of the Cross to the carnal mind.
Today when people “lose their religion” well, you must blog about it or at least be interviewed. You know, a “why I left” treatise. It’s one thing when people leave because of an unloving attitude, but another it it’s over a moral stance that the Bible commands us to take! The “bookends” of Jesus’ ministry was that “He came preaching repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” and he concluded with, “and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” To quote James Emery White: “THIS, BELOVED, IS ONE CULTURE WAR THAT WE CANNOT AVOID.” Over the next six months or so, it is my desire to help us think Biblically, and bring a reasoned voice of leadership to the issues of freedom and virtue, and ultimately for God to “heal our land.”