Saturday, January 04, 2014

What You Lose When You Win the Culture War

What comes to mind when you think of the "Culture War."

Democrats vs. Republicans? 
Blue States vs. Red States?
Liberals vs. Conservatives?

Since the early 1990s the term has been a constant in political and religious discussions in America. 

From James Davison Hunter's 1991 book, "Culture Wars," to James Buchanan's 1992 Republican National Convention Speech, known as "The Culture War Speech," to Bill O'Reilly's 2006 book, "Culture Warrior," the language of "Culture War" has become a common designation for the clash of worldviews between conservatives and progressives.

For Christians who engage in the Culture War, the past few years have presented several key skirmishes that have upped the stakes. 

-The Dan Cathy Scandal (Chick-Fil-A)
-The Phil Robertson Scandal (Duck Dynasty)
-The War on Christmas (Merry Christmas vs. Happy Holidays)

In response to these incidents, Christians have become vocal on social media. Boycotts have been called for. Chick-Fil-A Appreciation day gave conservatives a day to vote in favor of Dan Cathy with their pocketbooks. Apparently, there is also a Chick-Phil-A Day scheduled later this month in support of Phil Robertson.

But before you (My intended audience are those whose first identity is Christian above any other identity) wear your camo into Chick-Fil-A on January 21st to engage in the next edition of the Culture War, it's important to consider the possible casualties of joining the war.

Just a consideration of the language of "war" has certain implications. Because wars have enemies. Wars demand winners and losers. Wars include collateral damage and casualties.

Before we try to win the war, perhaps we ought to consider if winning is worth losing as much as we are sure to lose.

Every war has two sides. And when you fight any war, there are people who inevitably become enemies in the course of the conflict. Make no mistake. When you declare war in a Culture War, you are declaring war on a group of people you are eventually trying to reach. 

In the recent flap over Phil Robertson, I saw many Christians post things on Facebook and Twitter that could do nothing but cause further damage to the relationship between Christians and the gay community. 

If winning the Culture War was the number one goal of Christianity, then we would be obliged to do whatever it takes to secure victory.

But as I read the Bible, winning a Culture War is way down the list from making disciples of Jesus Christ. In fact, I don't think it would have even made Jesus' top 10 list.

Jesus couldn't care less if the Roman Empire had religious symbols and Bible verses on their statues and monuments. He wasn't offended that "under God" wasn't in Rome's Pledge of Allegiance. He didn't fight to ensure "In God We Trust" was on every bit of coinage Rome manufactured.

He spent his life making disciples who would make disciples who would make disciples.

When we fight the Culture War, we are intentionally making enemies out of people with whom we should be building a relationship. 

And when we fight the Culture War, we completely misunderstand who our enemy is. Our enemy is not the gay community. Our enemy is not a particular political party. Our enemy is not Al Qaeda.

Paul says it well in Ephesians 6:

"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12)

If you have a human enemy, you have already misunderstood the true battle. Because every bit of evil in this world is animated by spiritual forces. 

Satan loves it when we make enemies out of people. 

And that's why I love the Civil Rights Movement so much. King and his followers refused to make enemies out of their oppressors. Martin Luther King Jr. understood that his white oppressors were not the enemy. 

One of the key principles of King's notion of nonviolence was to win the friendship and understanding of the opponent, not to humiliate him. Another key principle was that evil itself, not the people committing the acts, should be opposed.

King understood Paul's words in Ephesians 6. And though many of his opponents likely never desired a relationship with King, he had done nothing to close the door on future relationship with them. 

It's time to put down our weapons. It's time to take great care in what we post online. 

Because there's a whole lot more to lose than a Culture War.


Cary said...

Thank you Collin. Nailed it.

Jeremiah said...

I keep wondering if this is why young people in our generation are leaving the church. Similar to those in the Civil Rights and post-Vietnam eras, we are a generation that craves peace. Or maybe we're just tired of fighting, living in a nation coming off of a 20-year spell of wars in the Middle East that served...exactly what purpose? The vitriol continues to surround us in pop culture, in political discourse. Too often weapons of war are violent, explosive devices that intend to hurt, discriminate, and maim others. When the church lobs these verbal weapons, I wonder how many people (churchgoers and non-Christians) shake their head and walk away. I'm curious if a "Culture War" that involves non-violence is possible.

Anonymous said...

Hum. Interesting reading. I believe Jesus was the ultimate culture change catalyst. What about his dealings with the Pharisees, Sadducees and the scribes? How about his dealings with the Samaritans, non-sectarian Jews, the money changers and gentiles? Jesus even had to repeatedly correct the cultural thinking among his own Apostles and disciples. He turned the then current culture on it's head! He ushered out the old covenant and delivered the new covenant; a definite change in culture - so I believe it was high on his list. Yes, he paid little attention and little of his focus on the Roman government and their idols and gods. He called all out of sin and into reconciliation with God. But why does Colin choose to refer to the current affairs as "scandals"? For people standing up for their Christian beliefs (reading from the scriptures)? That's a scandal? I think not. And those who were called out did so without violence or threats. That would have been scandalous. Have the media and others politicized their Christian stands? Yes they have. Have they mocked those Christians, the word of God and threatened them? Most assuredly.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, it seems that you are waging your very own culture war against culture wars. Can you do that without making yourself just as they are?

You look at sadness upon the blogosphere, yet don't you become a contributor to it by your very own blog posts? How are you any different than those posting on twitter, facebook, and other blogs?

Collin Packer said...

Thanks Cary & Jeff for your comments.

I'm sorry I can't thank the others by name, but thanks for stopping by and continuing the dialogue.

To the two anonymous comments, a couple of thoughts.

1) It's certainly up to each individual to decide how he/she will engage in the Culture War. I'm not suggesting Christians shouldn't engage in it, I'm merely assuring those who do that there are consequences that should be considered.

The post was merely an attempt to point out the consequences, which certain people will certainly think are worth the risk.

2) Jesus certainly changed the culture. Yet, by my definition of the Culture War, he wouldn't have done in the ways many choose to (boycott, consumeristic support, political action, etc.)

3) Jesus did challenge the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, non-sectarian Jews, money changers, Apostles, disciples, Old Covenant, etc., but each of those challenges were challenges to insiders, not outsiders.

I'm interested in challenging Christians about our behavior. I have little interest on my blog of challenging outsiders to the standards of behavior Christians have agreed to maintain.

4) Perhaps the critique about my "Culture War" is correct. Many people make the same circular argument about judging (We can't judge others about judging because we're judging them).

I think the difference comes when challenging people who have similar commitments to me. It's one thing to wage a culture war against non-Christians. It's another thing to challenge fellow Christians to rethink how we engage social media.

There seems to be a difference there.

All Christians have a role in helping one another engage those unconnected to Christ in better ways.

However other Christians choose to fight the Culture War impacts my relationship with outsiders. I feel I have a responsibility to challenge Christians when it hurts our witness.

Jesus was much more willing to critique insiders who had made similar commitments to God than he was to critique outsiders who hadn't chosen to follow God.

As Jeremiah points out, young people will continue to leave the church as long as we fight a political Culture War. We have to rethink the way we engage the world.

This blog was just one attempt at pointing out some possible changes.