In 2009, retired Army General Mark T. Kimmit wrote in the journal Foreign Policy of what he called "war of exhaustion" with regard to America's military efforts in Afghanistan.
"The objective in a war of exhaustion is to defeat a nation's will to fight. The British Empire was not defeated in Afghanistan by a war of attrition, nor was the Soviet Union defeated in Afghanistan through attrition. Both were defeated through exhaustion. And this is how the Taliban intends to defeat the current coalition efforts in Afghanistan — by steadily eroding our will to fight," he explained.
Whatever is now happening in Afghanistan, there is another "war of exhaustion" plaguing America: The exhaustion of social conservatives as we continue to defend life, uphold marriage, and protect religious liberty.
It's wearisome to be in combat for a sustained period. Combat is usually a "dirty business fought by tired, hungry soldiers," wrote Frederick J. Manning, former Director of the Division of Neuropsychiatry at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, in the book War Psychiatry. "High morale demands, for each soldier, a goal, a role, and reasons for self-confidence," he argues.
Christians involved in the public debates of our day often feel like they are in a "war of exhaustion." Like the "tired, hungry soldiers" engaged in a "dirty business," many of us are struggling with a sense of weariness, discouragement, and, in some cases, even hopelessness.
Some need to take a true break, to replenish their spirits and refresh their minds. There are many ways to serve, and not all of them involve political activism. No believer should ever withdraw from serving Christ and those made in His image, but there are seasons when Christians who have long participated in the cultural battle can, as Jesus said to the Twelve, "come away ... and rest for a while."
In the case of His disciples, His call to rest came because, as the apostle Mark explains, "many were coming and going, and they (the disciples) had no leisure even to eat" (Mark 6:31). For Christians enmeshed in today's social issues, "having the leisure to eat" — to detach from constant engagement in seeking to uphold righteousness and justice in the public arena — might well be merited.
With respect to Dr. Manning's comments about the need for "a goal, a role, and reasons for self-confidence," Christians who are committed to life from conception until natural death and protecting it in law, who understand the implications of turning from the historic (and biblical) definition of marriage as the covenantal union of one man and one woman, for life, who grasp the necessity of healthy families for parents, children, and the nation as a whole, and who recognize that religious liberty is under threat at home and being violently suppressed in many places around the world — we have our goal.
As Family Research Council puts it, that goal is "a culture in which human life is valued, families flourish and religious liberty thrives."
And we each have a role. There are various ways to participate in building such a culture, from sending emails to friends about an upcoming ballot initiative to running for office or preaching a sermon on biblical values. Most of us already know the roles we can play, given our time, health, and various other resources.
Perhaps what some of us need is a boost of confidence, not in the sense of "self-talk" or desperate efforts to see a bit of blue amid the gathering gray storm clouds. Rather, true confidence, in the context of the cultural battles we face, comes from surety that (1) we are in the right with respect to the convictions we seek to uphold and (2) in eternity, we indisputably are on the winning side.
As to the first point, I am not suggesting that every position taken by every conservative Christian activist on every issue is correct!
Rather, the declarative, clear, and propositional assertions of the Bible concerning the sacredness of personhood from the womb onward, marriage and human sexuality, and human dignity and its obvious implications for religious liberty assure us that on the essentials of our efforts, we are moving in tandem with the Holy Spirit.
As to the second, the temporal scorecard is uneven. There have been some valuable federal court wins and some disastrous court losses. We have had some significant political victories at both the state and federal levels, and some noteworthy losses.
We need to keep seeking to advance the things we believe God cherishes for any society and do so with grace, courage, integrity, an unremitting allegiance to truth, and prudential good judgment. We must love our enemies, pray for those who oppose God's rule and rules, and share with them the good news of a King Who died for them and rose again in triumph.
But we need to do so with a firm understanding that eternity awaits us, an eternity in which the Lord of Glory will reign over "new heavens and a new earth" in which justice and purity will be unblemished forever.
With that perspective ever in mind, exhaustion will never be our permanent lot. We will not lose heart (II Corinthians 4:16) nor grow weary in doing good (Galatians 6:9).
That's our call. That's our challenge. That's our confidence.