Given the recent uproar in Washington this past week, I thought it might be helpful to post a short section from my book Unfashionable regarding the role of politics and cultural change. Wherever you might land politically, it’s helpful for all Christians to remember that the Kingdom of God is not flying in on Air Force One.
When it comes to engaging culture, many Christians think exclusively of political activism. I fully agree that Christians need to be involved in the political process; as I’ve argued so far, Christians are to bring the standards of God’s Word to bear on every cultural sphere, politics included.
But political activism isn’t the only thing-definitely not the main thing-God had in mind when he issued the cultural mandate to mankind. Nor is politics a particularly strategic arena for cultural renewal, as theologian Vern Poythress writes:
Bible-believing Christians have not achieved much in politics because they have not devoted themselves to the larger arena of cultural conflict. Politics mostly follows culture rather than leading it. . . . A temporary victory in the voting booth does not reverse a downward moral trend driven by cultural gatekeepers in news media, entertainment, art, and education. Politics is not a cure-all.
After decades of political activism on the part of evangelical Christians, we’re beginning to understand that the dynamics of cultural change differ radically from political mobilization. Even political insiders recognize that years of political effort on behalf of evangelical Christians have generated little cultural gain. In a recent article entitled “Religious Right, R.I.P.,” columnist Cal Thomas, himself an evangelical Christian, wrote, “Thirty years of trying to use government to stop abortion, preserve opposite-sex marriage, improve television and movie content and transform culture into the conservative Evangelical image has failed.” American culture continues its steep moral and cultural decline into hedonism and materialism. Why? As Richard John Neuhaus observes, “Christianity in America is not challenging the ‘habits of the heart’ and ‘habits of the mind’ that dominate American culture.”
For a long time now I’ve been convinced that what happens in New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens in Washington, DC (politics). It’s super important for us to understand that politics are reflective, not directive. That is, the political arena is the place where policies are made which reflect the values of our culture-the habits of heart and mind-that are being shaped by these other, more strategic arenas. As the Scottish politician Andrew Fletcher said, “Let me write the songs of a nation; I don’t care who writes its laws.”