Expecting a person in your culture to understand and accept your viewpoint without taking the time to understand their perspective and how they became who they are will short-circuit whatever gospel advancement you hope to make in their lives.
The period of social unrest our nation experienced in the sixties and seventies was, in many ways, a watershed time. We have been forever changed by the advent of the movements that were birthed then. Many of the changes, to be sure, were negative ones.
Abortion on demand, the breakdown of the family due to radical feminism, and the onset of rampant drug abuse have damaged us to the core, and it's difficult to see how we as a nation will ever recover this side of heaven.
In a sincere attempt to be a prophetic voice to the culture, though, many Christians have developed a tendency to over-correct problems and broad-brush people in a way that's spectacularly unhelpful.
Collectively, we seem to have lost our gospel worldview that is obligated to oppose not only the societal ills I've described but also the legitimate injustices that make people feel like they have no choice but to act the way they do. My brothers, this ought not to be so. Let me help you understand what I mean.
Hate the Sin and the Person?
I have listened to a dear sister in Christ (who happens to be black) tell of having to drill her godly, intelligent sons about what they should say and do, and conversely what they should never, ever under any circumstances say or do when they are pulled over for driving while in their middle-class neighborhood.
She also has to help them guard their hearts against sin when people in the church say that if black men don't want to be beaten by cops, maybe they should consider obeying the law.
This very week, I have heard believers sneer at the cries of the children of illegal immigrants who are terrified their families will be torn apart if their parents are deported soon. They shouldn't be here at all. Fair enough, but what choice did these kids have in where they were born?
If one of them was standing in front of you, what would you tell him? Sorry, you're losing your parents; stinks to be you. Would your words be motivated by your citizenship in Christ's kingdom?
Even with all we gained from the civil rights movement, we remain somewhat blind to the sin that remains in our society. In the church.
It's a pity the law doesn't allow me to be merciful.
Javert, Les Miserables
My mother-in-law remembers her dad coming home with a new alarm clock when she was a girl. "It seems complicated," he said, "but the salesman assured me even a woman can run it." I am adamantly against the feminist movement and its rotten fruit, but I understand the anger and hurt that gave rise to it.
Crossing White Lines
Earlier this year, I wrote some articles about abused wives and drew some "friendly fire" from men in my own theological camp who labeled me a feminist. To their credit, they eventually did hear me out and come to realize that what I said was biblical, but their original response is all too common in the conservative church.
I have begun to feel an empathy I would never have thought possible with the feminists of the previous generation. It hurts to be marginalized and misunderstood, even if what you believe is opposed to God's Word.
The irony of what I just shared is that feminism is operating on borrowed capital: the freedom they enjoy is a distinctly Christian idea. Wherever in the world women have rights, they have them because the gospel of Jesus Christ has had a profound impact on the culture they live in. The places around the globe where women are still viewed as property are governed by non-Christian worldviews.
In Jesus's day, devout Jewish men thanked the Lord every day that they weren't Gentiles, slaves, or women. Women could not own property then, nor were their testimonies accepted in a court of law!
In the midst of that, my Lord declared women equal with men and allowed them the privilege of being the first to bear testimony of His Resurrection. (Nobody believed them, but still.) I love Him for that.
My friends, I hope I have not come across harshly. It was not my intention to. And I have no desire to do myself what I'm accusing others of; I know very well that not all Christians are like I've described.
But I have long since stopped defending evangelicals against the charge of being anti-intellectual and bigoted. It's true too often for us to have any genuine ground to stand on.
Carl Trueman said recently that American Christians, by and large, interpret life through a "nineteen-fifties white male hermeneutic." He means that we can sometimes be less governed by the precepts of Scripture than we are by the not-so-great America we long to return to. And thus, at times, we are bigots and misogynists, reacting and over-reacting to the culture instead of engaging it in a thoughtful, biblical way.
Call to Action
- Will you find a person who voted differently than you did and have a conversation with them? Will you try to understand their viewpoint the way they do, without trying to sway them?
- Will you make an effort to befriend someone who is culturally different from you? What has their life been like? In what ways have you mischaracterized them or their culture?
- Will you read a book about a viewpoint you disagree with, written from the perspective of someone who actually believes it?
Rick Thomas is an author, speaker, consultant, teacher, and podcaster. He has been encouraging and training Christians since 1997. Find him online at https://rickthomas.net/