How Christians Lost the Culture Wars.
Since at least the women’s lib movement in the 1970′s—but most certainly much earlier—there has been an ever increasing conflict between Christian conservative values and their more progressive liberal counterparts. (A conflict, incidentally, that has only been exacerbated by social media. remember the good ole days when you only had to listen to your crazy aunt’s political views at Thanksgiving?) This “culture war” has ranged anywhere from prayer in schools and the role of science in the classroom to public nativity scenes and the name that we give to the break from school in December. And while there has always been a bit of back and forth between sides, it seems that this last decade has shown an increasing amount of people shift away from the conservatives on some key political issues. So even though gay marriage ultimately was decided by the Supreme Court last Friday, it is important to note that it came at a time when over 60% of the population was in favor of marriage equality.
I cannot say that the culture wars are now over, in fact I can pretty much guarantee that they are not. There are any number of things that can shift the tables in regards to our country’s worldview. However, as of right now, it seems that conservative Christians are quickly losing clout and influence in the public sphere. I have a few thoughts as to what may have went wrong.
1. Christians have mistaken “Legality” for “Morality”
Here is a quick list of things that are perfectly legal in the U.S. but highly immoral according to the bible: Lying (except when under oath), adultery, not honoring your father and mother, greed, divorce, coveting, lust, murderous thoughts, practicing witchcraft, not keeping the sabbath, making graven images, blasphemy, and so on. I am sure I can think of more given a little more time. The point here is that civil laws are separate from moral laws. They are decided by a different standard and hardly ever have anything to do with each other. My mother, for example, is by all accounts a godly woman. However, she is also what you might call a “heavy footed driver.” It is absurd to think that at the end of her life she would be denied entrance into Heaven due to the copious amounts of speeding tickets she’s received. It seems that God will judge you based on his laws, not the laws of man.
Likewise, Christians need to remember that the legislation of our government has little to no bearing whatsoever on eternity. Whatever God’s law is concerning homosexuality, do you think it has changed at all since last Friday? Has the Supreme Court somehow altered the sovereignty of God? I somehow don’t think so. Obviously when a man made law is found to be unjust in regards to the higher moral law, the latter should trump the former. Just as many bravely demonstrated during the civil rights movement. If it should come to pass that ministers are forced to marry homosexuals against their beliefs or go to jail, I hope and expect a lot of ministers will go to jail. In fact, I’ll actually become a minister again so that I can go to jail with you. That would be stripping away your religious beliefs. However, we have not yet come close to that in this country (issuing a marriage license or filling a birth control prescription seems like a different thing). All Christians actually have been faced with is seeing more things being added to the list I mentioned above. Legal, but not necessarily moral. Until your actual moral values are actually under attack by civil law, than you are not being persecuted and need to focus instead on moral suasion.
And as a quick side note, I will point out that having your television show canceled or people angry at you on Twitter does not count as persecution or an attack on your free speech.
2. Christians have mistaken “Action” with “Salvation”
Even back in my Christian days I was surprised at how angry believers get when sinners act like sinners. Non-Christians tend to act like Non-Christians, it’s kind of our thing. It’s our wheelhouse; our M.O. But yet Christians still get upset that we don’t think like them, value the same things, share the same politics, or even define words like “marriage” or “truth” the same way they do. And that’s because (brace yourself) we are actually, truly, honestly, different than Christians.
I have had a lot (and I do mean a lot) of conversations with Christians since I left the church and a common feeling that they seem to believe is that us non-believers are really just believers in rebellion. Meaning that we know and believe that Jesus Christ is truth and that the bible is infallible and everything else, yet we just try to deny that by inventing evolution so that we can enjoy our R rated movies and Katy Perry music. Obviously, I am being a little hyperbolic (no one enjoys Katy Perry music), but what I am trying to say is that Christians need to recognize that non-believers actually live up their name and actually “don’t believe” the same things Christians do. That’s why we aren’t convinced that gay marriage is wrong just “because the bible says” no matter how often that’s repeated. And just like any other repetitive droning noise (see: Katy Perry) we eventually just tune it out. If Christians want to regain influence on our culture, then they need to change the message to something that is coherent and persuasive to us. Think the apostle Paul on Mars Hill, think Jesus and his agrarian based parables.
And ultimately, according to Christian theology, there is nothing that will ever be said that will be persuasive in and of itself. It is only by the work of the holy spirit that anyone comes to Jesus, right? It’s a spiritual transformation, not a rational one. You can yell at an apple tree all you want, but it won’t become an orange tree without some sort of supernatural occurrence. Arguing semantics seems a little like wasted breath without that divine intervention. In fact, I feel myself wanting to become a bigger and stronger apple tree each time I have a conversation that tries to persuade me using evidence that I don’t believe in.
3. Christians have forgotten to love
Probably the most frequent sentence I heard in church while growing up was that Christianity is not a “religion but a relationship” ( the second most common was an old lady saying “bless her heart” when someone was singing badly during the offertory). And if this relationship thing is true, then it really should fundamentally change the way the church greets the outside world.
When I was in Jr. High, I asked every girl I had a crush on who their favorite Saturday Night Live cast member was and whether or not they enjoyed The Simpsons. This was my litmus test. Because clearly, I could never love someone who did not love Phil Hartman. But as I’ve grown older I’ve realized that these things don’t matter. You don’t have to love Phil Hartman to be in a relationship with me, you just have to be willing to spend time with me and enjoy my company, and over time as we watch Caveman Lawyer together, you will come to love Phil Hartman too.
When I think about the kind of God that I wish existed, I think about a God who doesn’t care about my politics, my habits, whether I say “happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” Instead I think about a God who just cares about me as a person and wants to get to know me as I am. A God who will see someone as the broken, lonely, hurt people they are, who will see that they have been through hell and not really care whether that hell was self-inflicted or not, but will just want to hold them and restore them back to who they were intended to be, and you know what? Behavioral change might just follow suit as the relationship develops.
I don’t know if that God exists. I certainly haven’t seen a lot of that God in the lives of believers, to be honest. Which is why I think more and more of us just don’t buy into what they are trying to say. Gay people are not a concept. They are not an issue. They are people. This goes the same for trans people, poor people, and even us pseudo-intellectual agnostic blogger people. And until the church can convey that they care more about who we are than what we do, they will continue to fade away from public life.