3 Ways Christians Are on the Sidelines of Cultural Conversations

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(Photo: Courtesy of Carmen LaBerge)Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee and host of "The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge," radio program.

A QIdeas study conducted by Barna in 2014 reveals that most Americans believe "society benefits from having a diversity of opinions and viewpoints, because variety and debate lead to the best ideas and solutions for our common future." It also confirms "a healthy and vibrant democracy requires an engaged public – one that includes people of faith." As Christians we should not only celebrate the freedom of living in a pluralistic society, we should lead the conversations taking place in it.

So, why are many Christians standing on the sidelines of the cultural conversations of the day? Some will immediately protest that Christians are not on the sidelines, but loudly engaged in cultural debates in ways that certainly don't honor the Christ whose name they bear. That drives other Christians away from engagement because they don't want to be associated with a presentation of the Truth that is ugly and mean. Then there is the sideline crowd — huddled together with brows furrowed and arms crossed, scorning the very culture to which they have been sent to bear positive witness. Why? I can think of at least three reasons:

1. We fell asleep at the wheel. Sometime around 1954 many Christians in America functionally went to sleep. Christianity dominated the institutions of the day so there seemed no need for vigilance. Teachers led prayer in school and taught from a distinctively Christian worldview. So, we figured, our kids didn't need us to intentionally disciple them. The church offered Sunday School and para-church organizations offered what the church didn't. The courts based decisions about moral behavior on Biblical principles. The media reinforced traditional Judeo-Christians values in everything from the Op-Ed pages of major newspapers to the nascent television and film industry. Things appeared good on the surface. Christian vigilance flagged as many turned their focus to self-interested kingdom building.

If you've ever drifted off to sleep behind the wheel you know the terror that dominates in the moment you awake. In an instant you must assess where you are and what needs to be done to avoid imminent death. That's how Christians feel when they wake up to the cultural realities of America today. They discover schools are teaching a worldview expressly contrary to Christianity. The courts are making rulings in express opposition to the Biblical worldview. And the media is saturating every moment of American life with dehumanizing, debased, coarse, foul, pick-your-adjective words, images, and storylines.

Things have changed and it is time Christians woke up to the reality that over the past six decades our culture was taken captive while we slept.

2. We're exiles in our own land. The language, worldview, media, and conversation has changed so much we feel ignorant and ill-equipped to converse with those who claim to be intellectually and morally superior.

I have a confession to make: my language fluency is limited. I appreciate, value, and celebrate people who are fluent in more than one language, but my brain is wired for one: English. Communication requires two people sharing enough of a common language that what is said can not only be heard but understood. Gospel fluency today requires Christians to become fluent across generations, cultures, technologies, and the most rapid change ever experienced by any human generation. That's intimidating for the most well equipped missionary and most of us have not been trained in cross-cultural Gospel fluency to reach people who are operating out of a completely foreign worldview.

3. We're afraid. We're afraid of a world we no longer understand and people around us who no longer look, talk, dress nor act as we think Americans "should." Fear leads to two predictable responses: fight or flight. The flight response is to self-isolate into what we hope will be protective enclaves where we can wait things out while someone else fights the culture battles and makes America great again (as we imagine greatness). This isolationist approach is detrimental in the near term, but its potentially devastating down the road. If Christians self-isolate, insulating the next generation in the hope of protecting them from all the evils of the world, they will be utterly unprepared to take their stand when the time comes.

The other response to fear is we fight – and fight we must. But we do not fight with the weapons of this world. We answer cursing with blessing. We answer hate with prayer. We answer those who come after Jesus, not by reaching for the sword, by reaching out hands of restorative healing. The Roman guard whose ear Peter hacked off in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night Jesus was betrayed had a transforming encounter with Jesus. Our job is to bear witness to Him. Our job is to let Jesus do what Jesus does – transform human lives by restoring people to right relationship with the God who Is. Even if they reject Him and those who represent Him today.

The culture is being influenced continuously to change. If you are not influencing it to change for the better then however others are intentionally influencing it will determine its course. We influence the trajectory of culture in a myriad of ways, but the simplest is to cultivate the mind of Christ on the matters of the day and then bring that mind into the conversations we have with others – particularly those different from us. The generational divide is one place to start but that bridge requires thinking in ways you may not have thought before.

We must admit that we don't quite know how to engage with the emergence of self-focused morality.

According to the Qideas study, 47% of Americans reject the idea of moral absolutes. That means nearly half of our neighbors don't see a fixed difference between right and wrong. So, how do we present the reality of a sovereign God who is the moral lawgiver, the origin and the summation of all things, and whose Son, Jesus Christ, is the only way to salvation to people who largely reject the notion of objective truth? "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so," doesn't cut it when the Bible is not regarded as authoritative. And the idea of commandments, submission, obedience, self-denial, sexual restraint and calls to holiness are a hard sell for a nation of people who are immanently morally flexible and insatiably self-interested.

To this we add the basic fear that comes from being on the defensive and in retreat. The militant sexual culture warriors have largely succeeded in bullying academics, artists, politicians, and the judiciary into seeing sexual liberty as a right that usurps religious freedom in the United States. To be a conservative Christian today – or even a Christian who is orthodox in their belief and practice – is to be open to the charge of extremist, bigoted, closed-minded, ignorant, out-of-touch, behind the times, or on the wrong side of history.

To this issue let me say: fear is not faithful. At least not this garden variety fear. It's time for Christians to get a grip on the truth that the Church is persecuted. There's not part of the Church being persecuted and some part not. THE Church, the body and the bride of Christ, is persecuted. It always has been and it always will be – until it's not.

If you're a Christian in this day and age it's time to get a grip on reality. This isn't Eden, it isn't the Promised Land and isn't anywhere close to Heaven on earth. But this is the day the Lord has made and this is the time and place into which God has called us as the ambassadors of the Kingdom of Heaven amidst the kingdoms of this world.

Originally posted at reconnectwithcarmen.com

Carmen Fowler LaBerge is president of the Presbyterian Lay Committee, host of "The Reconnect with Carmen LaBerge," radio program, and author of Speak the Truth: How to Bring God Back Into Every Conversation, to be released September 25th.