Have you ever heard the phrase "the culture war?" It's a blanket phrase that describes the various cultural "conflicts" between perhaps more conservative and more liberal beliefs in real world society. Images come to mind of the the battle over Christmas, yard signs that say "Keep Christ in Christmas" and of course who can forget topics like Columbus Day, Thanksgiving changing to Turkey Day, the debate over gay marriage, Religious liberty, NFL players taking a knee for the national anthem, Hollywood, "morality in the public square" and other sort of cultural topics with certain political undertones.
So what is a culture war? Does it really even exist? If so, who are fighting it? And should Christians be involved?
Usually when someone brings up "the culture war" it's in the context of talking about the mean, bad, "Christian Right" these terrible Christian supremacists (as Tim Keller called them) who won't stop fighting and being mean and driving people away from Christ.
But is this characterization accurate? Christians, especially young Christians don't just dislike this "Christian right" they downright hate them. Why? Well, it's hard to say. They're angry about what they focus on, I suppose. They've intermingled the Christian message with politics, those evil bastards! Is this correct? Let's talk about this culture war and the people who fight back and forth.
So does this culture war actually exist? The phrase "culture war" wasn't actually coined until 1991. But if one is referring to the struggle to define America waged by leaders on the left and on the right of the political spectrum, emerging in issues like "taking a knee" for the national anthem, the debates about calling it Christmas or winter season, and the discussions about gay marriage, religious liberty, and conscientious objection, then yes, a sort of struggle does certainly exist in American society and does emerge in political and social debate in media. Anyone who fails to recognize this apparent conflict is simply not paying attention to modern American society. It's one thing that nearly all of us can recognize and many of us often loath to recognize.
Is there a cultural struggle occurring? Yes. But it's not a literal "war" with guns, bullets, and death. The phrase "culture war" seems to describe a conflict of ideas, of ideologies and philosophies of life, not any sort of violence.
So if a cultural conflict exists, and we know it does, what caused it? How did it come about?
One could say that the culture war has been going on to some extent since the 1920s. Before then there had been a shared vision in the culture of the United States regarding how Americans saw the country. American society generally saw itself as Christian, moral, ethical, patriotic, and embracing of certain values like liberty, freedom, justice, and equality. But a new movement was beginning that would call into question all of these values and begin to question if America was really good, free or equal.
There were many leaders and sub-movements that one could talk about as to how the movement began: Fabian socialists, the results of World Wars I and II, massive immigration to the United States, cultural marxism, Saul Alinsky, Herbert Marcuse, the Frankfurt School's teachings on Critical Theory, the "new deal" under Franklin D. Roosevelt, the policies of President Woodrow Wilson, and the great depression to name a few. But that's not the main topic of our discussion today.
The culture war broke into new bounds in the 1960s with the emergence of the new left, prayer and the Bible being driven from public schools, and evolutionary theory being enshrined in the public school systems. The United States had been largely a Christian society, struggling with issues like segregation, eugenics, the debates over Watergate, the Vietnam war, and many other issues. But ever since the 1960s America society has been undergoing a major change in ethics and values. This change has been pushed by leaders in the business world, the public schools, Hollywood, the news media, the sciences, and most prominently the university systems of the United States. That's just a bit of history of the culture war.
So who started the culture war? This may come as a surprise to you, since I know the news media almost universally lays the blame for the culture war at the feet of traditionalists, conservatives, and Christians. But the data is unequivocal, the culture war has been perpetrated by those on the other side of the spectrum, the progressive movement, materialists, naturalists, atheists, and the new left. Now, it's quite true to say that both sides have made many mistakes. Many traditionalists and conservatives and "evangelicals" have made poor decisions in the culture war. I'm not trying to absolve anyone of shameful decisions. I'm just looking at the history here. But it's quite obvious from the history, that the opening shots were fired by the progressives, and indeed the progressive side is the one pushing for the radical changes to American society which has always been traditionally founded on a moral and ethical society based in Christianity, and centered on ethics like liberty, freedom, absolute truths, and equality under the law.
Next question, who is fighting the culture war? There are two main sides in the culture war. But let me preface by saying that there is a huge spectrum of beliefs here. And it's really quite foolish to begin characterizing everyone on the left side as socialist Marxist totalitarian Alinskyte critical theory radicals and everyone on the right side as judgmental bigoted gun toting gay-hating fascist westboro baptist Evangelicals. That just isn't accurate. There are radicals on both sides of the debate but on both sides they represent a minority. Most of those on the right side of the debate are honest, decent, hard working conservatives who may or may not be Christian or Jewish or other faiths. And most on the left side of the debate are honest, decent, hard working liberals who may be non-religious, naturalistic or atheistic, but then again many may identify themselves as Christian, Jewish, or other faiths.
Next question, what does the Bible say about participating in a cultural conflict? Unfortunately the Bible does not directly deal with the issue of cultural struggles. Though we do get some interesting pictures of cultural conflict from the struggles of the ancient nation of Israel in the Old Testament. Israel often struggled, especially in the time of the ancient kings with the issue of foreign gods and non-Jewish practices coming into conflict with Israeli culture. A bad king would take over, and would worship false gods, and asherah poles would be constructed. Then a good king would come along, like King Josiah, who was proceeded by his father and grandfather who were both evil kings, and they would try to turn things around. In fact in Josiah's reign the book of the law was discovered in the temple by the high priest Hilkiah and Josiah ordered the book to be read before the people, and repentance was proclaimed. The Asherah poles were cut down and the sacred stones of the false gods were smashed. As it says in 2nd Kings 23:14a "Josiah smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles..." Ever since the exodus from Egypt, Israel had practiced the passover each year to remind them of how God delivered them from captivity. But during the times of the evil kings this practice was lost over time. King Josiah restored this sacred practice saying: "Keep the Passover to the Lord your God, as it is written in this Book of the Covenant." For no such Passover had been kept since the days of the judges who judged Israel, or during all the days of the kings of Israel or of the kings of Judah. But in the eighteenth year of King Josiah this Passover was kept to the Lord in Jerusalem (2nd Kings 23:21-23). King Josiah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord and honored his ways all of his days. He renewed a broken culture. And all it took was one young man, who was only eight years old when we took the throne, to begin to try to turn the tide against a cultural decay (2nd Kings 22:1-23:37).
Additionally, we see the example of Daniel during the Babylonian captivity. Daniel and his friends refused to bow before the golden statue of Nebuchadnezzar. They lived differently. Daniel did not eat the fine foods of the Babylonian society, but instead requested vegetables (Daniel 1:12). He lived differently, but he didn't shelter himself from society either. He worked for the king, interpreted his dreams, and worked for him in his courts. And God honored this, and through his work in Babylon, eventually Israel was able to return home, and Darius honored God (Daniel 6:24-28). Daniel was a counter-cultural force in an ungodly culture.
Secondly, in the New Testament, did Jesus involve himself in the politics and cultural issues of the time in which he lived? The short answer to that question is yes. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the political and religious leaders of Israel at this point in history. Of course the Pharisees and Sadducees had to get everything cleared through Roman officials, because at this time in history Israel was occupied by the ancient Roman empire. Jesus contended with many of the cultural practices of the Israelites at this time, by doing things like healing on the Sabbath day (which was forbidden), condemning the Pharisees as blind guides, white washed tombs, and hypocrites, declaring all meats as holy and able to eaten (despite Jewish custom to the contrary), and declared himself greater than Abraham (the key Jewish father of the nation) by saying "before Abraham was born, I am. Jesus was a truly counter-cultural figure, and he participated in his culture, fighting against the old, corrupted laws of the Pharisees, and declaring a new culture of grace, mercy, and the coming kingdom of God. Jesus won this culture war, and later his followers led by Paul won another cultural battle in Acts at the Jerusalem Council (Acts chapter 15) where it was determined that Gentiles (non-Jews) would not be required to follow Jewish cultural customs, but would be free under the grace of Christ.
But it's important to note that Jesus did not advocate violent overthrow of corrupt cultures. Instead he advocated obedience. In fact he told the Jews to pay their taxes to Caesar (Matthew 22:21). And the apostle Paul echoed the obedience of Jesus in Romans chapter 13 when he talked about being subject to governing authorities.
One additional thought: The first Jesus followers launched into the Roman empire and in three hundred years they had redeemed a fallen, decadent culture by carrying the gospel and interacting with leaders and spreading the faith. They offered up their blood in brutal persecutions and eventually this led to Constantine declaring Christianity to be the official religion of Rome. They carried a counter-cultural message and millions of Romans were converted and Roman culture was transformed as a result.
Final question: Should Christians be involved in the culture war? Well, that's up to you. If you have no interest in the "culture war" and your focus as a Christian is simply to make disciples of Jesus, and to carry His gospel to the hurting of this world: Then please, please, please do that! If your a Christian and you feel called to serve others through charitable work, soup kitchens, and social services, then please, please do that! If your a Christian and you feel called to serve as a missionary to foreign countries: Do it! Please! And I love each of you for it, so much. Thank you so much for those callings.
But I would just ask one thing of the pastor called to preach, the evangelist called to spread the gospel, the missionary called to go to other nations, and the servant leader led to meet the needs of the poor: Please don't attack your brother and sister Christians who feel a strong, important, much needed call to stand up for Christ in American culture. Because there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
In fact for the past two thousand years the gospel has served to transform cultures and remake cultures. Maybe you don't like the term "war" and don't like the idea of Christians "fighting." Well, then don't use those words. Think of it in terms of transforming and renewing broken culture.
But it really, really bothers me when people attack Christians who take a stand on political issues, and who attack Christians who take a stand on social issues. Those are areas where we as Christians serve: Not to enshrine Christianity, no, but to uphold society, which the gospel has been doing for the past two thousand years across the globe. So please, please, think twice before you go out into the media to win brownie points by attacking your own brothers and sisters. Sure, people will cheer you, because they hate the much vilified "Christian right."
I don't consider myself as part of that. I'm just a Christian. But I'm thankful for those who are in court each day defending the rights of millions of Christians in our country who don't even realize their right to speak about Jesus is under attack everyday. I'm thankful for Christians who stand against child genocide and human trafficking. I'm thankful for Christians who stand against racism, sexual abuse, and child abuse in the cultural and political sphere. And yes, I'm even thankful for Christians who stand up for Thanksgiving and Christmas, as unique parts of American society, that remind children and adults alike that all we have comes from God. There isn't anything wrong with that either.
Sometimes I wish they would fight differently, or more wisely, but I'm glad they are out there trying to make a difference. So the next time you see a Christian standing up for marriage, or for the life of unborn children, or for religious freedom, or even for simply respecting the flag of this country, don't take pot shots at them. Encourage them to continue, and remember that they are standing up for your rights, for the love of Christ, and for future generations that will live in the society we create today. And if you feel yourself filled with rage and anger for the "Christian right" then maybe ask yourself: Where is this hate coming from? And then ask God to set you free from that anger. And if you feel called to help transform American society, then participate, and don't let anyone tell you your being "judgmental" for standing up for Christ.