Yesterday was my birthday, and I posted about the Duggar abuse scandal. Which got read a lot. And which kind of consumed the day (I didn’t even get cake).
So perhaps I’m just feeling a little contemplative today, but I have a bunch of thoughts in my brain that I thought I should try to get down. I hope they make sense, but after a weekend of watching many Christians defend the Duggars’ decision not to immediately remove Josh from the home; saying “the girls are absolutely fine! You can tell because we see that on TV!”; and “it was only touching; it wouldn’t have done that much harm”, I guess I’m just a little restless and rather sad.
So I want to give my hypothesis of what’s happening in our culture.
Western culture, and especially American culture, used to be quite Christian.
We had Christian values, even if not everybody believed. And, to a large extent, people felt that our country was blessed because the country reflected Christ’s values.
Then everything went off the rails starting in the 1960s. The family was attacked. Marriage was attacked. The church was attacked.
So we went into defense mode. Every time we were attacked we’d fight. We decided that we wanted to stand out from the world, so we created more and more rigid standards of what it means to be a Christian–even more rigid than in the 1950s (take purity, for example. No one was arguing for no hand holding until you’re engaged in the 1950s. This is a new cultural phenomenon).
And we treat this like a war. We’ve decided there are two sides: Us and Them.
We retreat into our own sides on the internet and in news media. Whenever one of ours is attacked, we fight back, regardless of the merits of the situation. We can’t give ground, after all, or we very well may lose everything.
Right now Christians are waiting, scared, for the Supreme Court decision on gay marriage to come down. What will happen if they allow gay marriage everywhere? What will we do?
And I guess I’m just afraid that we’ve gone a bit off track and we’re losing the bigger picture.
Our main job on this earth is not to fight a culture war. Our main job is to reach people for Jesus and to show Christ’s love to a hurting world.
I live in a country (Canada) where the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage years ago, despite the votes of elected officials. I was despondent when that decision came down, and I wrote articles in papers before the decision talking about why traditional marriage matters. Because it does. And once you allow gay marriage, a whole lot of other consequences follow. Marriage becomes about a lifestyle choice, making it less likely people will marry. Adoption issues become messed up. Custody issues become messed up. It’s just plain sad.
But you know what? Our laws simply reflect our culture, and our culture is already there. And sometimes a country gets what it deserves.
That isn’t to say that we shouldn’t care; it’s only to say that even if the Supreme Court doesn’t allow gay marriage, I’m not sure what difference that will make because people’s hearts are no longer for traditional commitment. They just aren’t. And your laws reflect your culture, so within 10-15 years you will have gay marriage anyway, regardless of what the Supreme Court says.
Abortion is a separate issue; we’re winning there. But that’s because both issues have as an undercurrent justice and human rights. The world sees gay marriage as a human right and as a justice issue (gays should not be discriminated against). They see abortion in a similar way, because ultrasounds have let us see that this is a child. And so people are against abortion but for gay marriage, and in their minds that’s perfectly consistent.
So what do we do?
We can keep fighting, pointing out every bit of liberal hypocrisy to show that we’re right. We can keep fighting this war and funding this war and try to keep our ground.
And there likely is need for this. I think of it as a day job–we need professional Christians to fight the culture war on a 9-5 basis. But then let’s get back to our real life with real neighbours and real friends and real individuals.
Fighting the Culture War can’t be our main strategy or our main effort for evangelism, because it can backfire.
First, because we think in terms of strategy rather than in terms of Truth, Compassion, and Love. Sometimes strategically it seems better to slam your opponent rather than to admit that your Culture War soldier may have been off base. But that’s not standing for Truth.
But it’s not just because it can turn people away from God; it’s also because it blinds us to our own mission.
I had a woman say this on Facebook yesterday about my post about the Duggars: “I totally agree with your post, but I don’t see how saying all of this will show non-Christians we’re reasonable or that we love the victims. The media would never report this anyway. They just like to play “gotcha”.
That’s the problem. We think the Christian life is lived out in the Culture War, and it’s not. The Culture War is important, but it is not our Christian life, nor should it be our main focus.
Let me give you one example: both of my girls have large numbers of non-Christian friends on Facebook–from work, from university, etc. And they saw non-Christians saying things like, “The Duggar scandal proves God doesn’t exist”, or much worse things. So the girls posted Rebecca’s article, and talked about how appalled they were, too. And their friends understood, and many messaged them and said, “I’m so glad you said that. I thought all Christians were excusing the Duggar parents. I’m so glad to know that’s not true. Thank you for standing up for what’s right.”
In fact, in the whole hubbub, the girls were attacked by Christians and comforted by non-Christians. Katie, especially, had non-believers messaging her and saying, “thank you for standing strong. I’m sorry for all the hate you’re getting, but we’re with you. You’re a great person.”
The media didn’t share the article. The media didn’t say, “some Christians aren’t supporting the Duggars.” But these people got the message because the girls said it themselves.
I’m afraid that we have put ourselves in such enclaves that most of us don’t have non-Christian friends, so the only way we communicate with non-Christians IS through the media.
And we forget that evangelism is supposed to be one on one. It’s relationship building. And that’s the only thing that will bring people back to Christ.
The disciples wanted Jesus to lead an army and win Israel by force. I sometimes think that’s what Christians want for America, too. Look, I’m not against having Christian leaders–Canada’s Prime Minister is a Christian and I pray everyday that he will win the next election. A country is blessed when it has Christian leaders.
But our main goal on this earth is not to make America into a Christian nation; it is to reach individuals for Christ.
And sometimes in the way that we frame the culture war as Us vs. Them, and circle the wagons, we turn off the individuals. And we feel like we are so busy winning people to Christ because we are so engaged in the Culture War–supporting politicians, giving political contributions, keeping up on the news, writing political letters–that we forget we have neighbors who just need to see Jesus. Not a letter writing campaign.
One more thing: In our attempt to be Us vs. Them, we have created even more legalistic rules of what it means to be a Christian, so that you can be sure you’re on the right side of the Culture War. To me, one of the main problems of the Duggar show was that it made it seem like the only way to be pure was to save hand holding until engagement and kissing until marriage. By showing something so counter-cultural, we thought we could show the world there is an alternative and win people to Christ that way.
But we’re just setting up rigid rules that the Bible doesn’t have. If you choose those things for yourself I completely support you. But saving hand-holding until engagement is not the biblical definition of purity.
The more that we elevate these kinds of extreme rules for Christian living, the more we solidify the Us vs. Them.
Let’s remember that Jesus was radical–but He was radical because He hung out with tax collectors and sinners, and they enjoyed Him! He was actually, for His time, radically Progressive. We’re trying to be radically Conservative. And by doing that, we’re almost becoming radical Pharisees. (I’m not saying we should become today’s version of Progressives, by the way; I’m just noting that we’ve turned the idea of radical on its head.)
I just want us to get back to a life where it’s not about rules; it’s about Jesus. And when Jesus (not rules) is real in our lives, we will have a true love for our neighbours, not a disdain for them because of the Us vs. Them Culture War.
I’m not sure if that makes any sense; I didn’t get a lot of sleep last night. And, like I said, I do think it’s important to have good laws and Christian leaders. I do think holiness matters. But the Culture War can’t be our main focus of evangelism. It doesn’t work first of all, but it also makes us all feel like we’re part of the Great Commission when we’re really doing nothing of the sort. We will win the Culture War when we start winning individuals. And the louder and more stridently we fight the Culture War, the more we lose those individuals all around us.
Does anyone get what I’m saying? Or can you give me an example from your own life of how you reached out to an individual rather than seeing them as an Us vs. Them? I’m not sure I’m articulating myself well here, so I’d love to keep the discussion going in the comments!
And then I’ll try to get back to regularly scheduled programming and regular type posts tomorrow.