Buckle Up: The “Culture Wars” Are Only Heating Up

There’s been a lot of talk about evangelicals opting out of the culture wars recently.  Some of that could be good.  Few of us want to identify the church with the Republican Party, or to act as if anything is more needful than the promotion of the gospel.

But some of this discussion, led by folks like Jonathan Merritt and Rachel Held Evans, is deeply harmful.  Why those strong words?  Because there is a desperate need for the church to be the church in this fallen world.  Now is not the time to back off from a robust cultural ethic.  Now is the time to engage.

Some will read this and still think that they have the luxury of sitting out the national debate over homosexuality.  They’ll think, well, the battle over marriage is for those frothy-mouthed Christians who send out the weird newsletters and are always sounding the doomsday bell.  I don’t really have the stomach for that; I don’t want, after all, to be weird, or unliked, or out of tune with the New York Times + NPR crowd.  I’m educated and above the fray.  Culture wars, as I’ve come to understand from the media, are for hillbillies and fearmongerers, the God-and-country set.  Nope.  No thank you.

Others will be more biblical in their convictions, but still will think that they can opt out of the conflict over marriage and homosexuality.  They’ll think, I don’t want my Christianity to be political.  The church should do what the church does.  I’ll sit this one out, as I usually do, and go on my way, trusting in a sovereign God.

Both positions suffer from a common flaw: lack of moral realism as it relates to our cultural moment.  You see, there is not going to be an “opt out” option in coming days.  Actually, let’s change that–there no longer is an “opt out” option.  The conflict over homosexuality and marriage is here to stay.  It’s only going to pick up steam.  Barring a miracle from God, the clock will not be turned back.  Most every Christian in every place in America is going to face a direct, confrontational challenge on this issue.  You can’t escape this.

Do you see this?  It’s different from abortion, which everyday Christians didn’t have to really get involved with.  Because abortion happens behind closed doors in nondescript clinics, Christians like you and me could pretend it didn’t happen.  We could occasionally pray, and occasionally give and serve, but because this menace was unseen, we didn’t have to get whipped up about it.  We could leave that to “weird,” “in-your-face” Christians, who we would subtly demean for their outspokenness.

But things have changed.  I just saw from Facebook that gay pride groups marched in my hometown of Machias, Maine (and other Maine towns–note the picture above).  Machias, for those who haven’t heard of this teeming metropolis, is a tiny coastal town.  It’s a long ways from Manhattan, culturally speaking.  But just a few weeks ago, in the Fourth of July parade, a group of gay and lesbian supporters marched, just as they did in numerous other small Maine towns.

I’ll ask this again: do you see this?  Do you get what’s happening?  This is a Fourth of July parade.  Over the years, there’s no more “safe” cultural event for Americana.  Everyone cheers the Shriners, the small but vigorous community band, the fire department as it blares its siren and throws candy to skittering children.  Everyone.  But that’s all, in a flash, changed in Machias, Maine.  Here’s what I can guess: this will happen all across America.  Bet on it.

There is no perfect nonbiblical argument we can make to repudiate and oppose same-sex marriage.  We can cite statistics and studies, and we should.  We can offer sound logic and clear moral guidance.  But at the end of the day, you and I have a choice as Christians: we can either sit this one out and let our society embrace a flagrantly sinful lifestyle.  Or we can stand up and oppose these efforts.  That’s it.  Two options: capitulation or challenge.

This doesn’t mean that we can’t fully trust our sovereign God to work out his perfect will, which may mean hardship and many earthly defeats for American and Western Christians.  Sometimes God wills this for his people, who are then challenged to remember that we serve a spiritual kingdom, not an earthly one.  Our hope is the gospel, not a political end.

But these glorious truths should not cause us to retreat from the world.  Pastors, churches, and individual Christians will all have to work out their own unique ways to engage this and other pressures.  There is not a one-size-fits-all approach here.  Churches are not to be political bodies or PACs.  But no Christian should excuse themselves from this fight–and make no mistake, it is a fight.  You can engage the other side in a godly manner, yes, and you must as a believer.  But do not stoop to such breathtaking naïveté as to think that if you are clear on the issue of same-sex marriage you can avoid being disliked and even hated by unbelievers.

An hour of winnowing is coming and has come to America, even as it has already come to other western countries.  Those who have previously defended marriage from a “neutral” set of presuppositions are not going to last; see one-time traditional marriage advocate David Blankenhorn’s recent defection.  That will happen in increasing measure in coming days, I think.  Get ready to feel lonely, Christian, and to be unliked.  It’s unavoidable for ethical, gospel-driven evangelicals who know that they cannot sit this one out.  Actually, we may even see a measure of unity in this battle; complementarians and egalitarians, for example, must and surely can find common cause on this issue, to cite just one common point of division.  We need to do so.  This is by no means only a complementarian issue.

Step up.  Contribute to organizations that are contending in the political realm for biblical marriage.  Contact friends to alert them to this hour of need.  Figure out a way in your own corner of the world to get involved here.  Collect signatures for petitions and send them to your legislators.  Do whatever you can.  Above all, pray.  And do not–please do not–opt out.  As always, engage this issue and those with whom you disagree with the love of Christ.  We’re not opposing flesh and blood here, and even as we contend for biblical truth (Romans 1), we seek to win those who are lost just as we were lost before God’s marvelous grace saved us.

Lastly, remember Matthew 5:10-12.  Let these familiar words ring in your ears, and let the resurrection hope of the one who said these fateful words wash over you even as you celebrate righteousness and oppose darkness.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

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37 Comments

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37 responses to “Buckle Up: The “Culture Wars” Are Only Heating Up

  1. Ryan Taylor

    Owen,

    Amen! More and more Christians are faced with the media’s insistence that we discard God’s commandments and embrace society’s acceptance of the homosexual movement. My wife and I used to watch the show “What Would You Do?” on Friday nights because it put people in situations where they needed to take a stand. Unfortunately, we quit watching because every week NBC (big surprise, right?) would have a situation promoting gay and lesbian issues. I’ll admit, some people were very rude and didn’t act anything like Christ. At the same time, though, there were also people who would oppose the homosexual agenda being endorsed based on Biblical beliefs, and they were vilified.

    As Christians, we need to be clear that we stand by God’s Word and not the swaying and shifting perspectives of society. I think it’s also important that when evangelizing to homosexuals, we not condemn them, but rather explain that Christ wants a relationship with them. First explain Christ’s saving grace and love, then help the person grow in his or her walk with Christ through helping the individual understand God’s righteousness and commands.

  2. jv

    Personally, I believe homosexuality is a sin just as much as divorce & fornication. Politically, I understand that America is not a religious country therefore we cannot force our biblical convictions on others. I say this because I lived in the Middle East among Muslims. Every Ramadan it was against the law to eat, drink, chew gum, & smoke outside in public daylight for the entire month of Ramadan. As an American who is NOT a Muslim, I felt it was unfair that just because Muslims were obligated to fast, I shouldn’t be forced to do the same either. Restaurants would close & you can only eat in private if you weren’t a Muslim. We are also talking about the Middle East during summer temps of 140F+ degrees heat. You would think a sip of water would be ok but it isn’t. Then I began to understand how non-Christians viewed Christians. I say America is not a religious country because it isn’t. There are many active religious people but America is not a Christian nation the way Saudi Arabia is a Muslim nation. In the Middle East, Religion is a way of life, part of the culture, & the law. Hundreds of women are imprisoned for simply getting pregnant out of wedlock.

    Since our country is not exclusively & lawfully a Christian country, we cannot force non-Christians to share our convictions. We do however, have the liberty of voting from our convictions which is something the Middle East does not have. I believe marriage was indeed established by God. Divorce wasn’t though. Yet God allowed it b/c of the hardness of man’s heart. I disagree with the Homosexual agenda of forcing kids in Kindergarten to learn about homosexuality, I disagree that homosexuals should be compared to the Blacks during the Civil Rights Movement, & I certainly don’t want to be sitting through a movie and watching a love-making scene between 2 men or women. But I do think that if they want to get married, then let them have their Civil Unions & leave it at that. I don’t oppose their Civil Unions though I know it is debased. But even if we outlawed homosexuality, do you really think God will bless our nation because of that? No. God wants hearts of repentance. Just because we force lip-service to God does not mean he will bless us for it. If you keep a homosexual from committing homosexuality (what does that really even mean though?), won’t his heart continue to lust? Also, what I read in the the NT is the Apostles focusing on spreading the gospel, not getting politically involved. I say, vote your convictions b/c you can, stop the Homosexual agenda from trying to force their convictions on everyone else, but let them have their Civil Unions.

  3. Christiane

    “Is everything sad going to come untrue?” To which the answer is: Yes, but not here, alas, not now.”

    J.R.R. Tolkien

    I think that fighting against the ways of this world using the ways of this world is fruitless. The ‘weapons’ of Christianity are paradoxically strange ones: things like patience, and love, and humility . . . how can this be?

    So, some tell Christians to take up other weapons . . . that are not ‘of the Spirit’.

    If you want to go to war against the evils of THIS world, the only way is through the great power of the Holy Spirit . . . and HIS WAY has always been to point always towards Christ the Lord.

    Not good enough ?
    Well, is the ‘other’ working?
    Think about it.

  4. K

    Doesn’t it make more sense just to focus on sharing Christ’s love and grace? And then, if you do believe homosexuality is an outright sin, once someone becomes a believer and is filled with the Holy Spirit won’t that person desire to obey out of the overflow of love for God in his heart? And if someone is not a believer, why fixate on that person’s sin, whatever it may be? I mean, is it really that shocking that unbelievers, who do not have the indwelling Holy Spirit and don’t believe the Bible so they don’t have that truth to guide them through life, are sinning? Especially in light of how we, as believers, still battle our flesh despite knowing the truth? Is it sin that motivates change? Or is it the love and grace and sacrifice of Jesus? How about we just concern ourselves with loving God and loving our neighbors as ourselves and let our lives (AND our words) be a testimony to the transformative power of the Gospel, hoping for Christ’s transformation in thri lives, rather than fixate on political issues and trying to force non-believers to live like believers, despite their lack of love for Christ as a motivation?

  5. “They’ll think, I don’t want my Christianity to be political. The church should do what the church does. I’ll sit this one out, as I usually do, and go on my way, trusting in a sovereign God.”

    Owen, what do you think of Christians who have a public platform who might choose to decline to state publicly what their convictions are? Like maybe Jeremy Lin, Tim Tebow, the golfers who won the majors this year? Is it okay for them to sit this out?

    Perhaps some celebrities, sports or hollywood or whatever, have noticed the blacklisting and condemnation extended to Kirk Cameron when he was ambushed by Piers Morgan. And out of fear of what it could do to their careers they decline to state a position. Is that okay?

    What do you think of “Christian” stars like Carrie Underwood and Miley Cyrus who support gay marriage? They publicly state their support for gay marriage without media backlash. Or Christian-raised Katy Perry who supports gay marriage without media backlash.

    I kinda like Manny Paquiao who, although Catholic, supports traditional marriage and unborn life. He’s a celebrity who doesn’t mind saying things that the secular media will find abhorrent.

  6. F. Stuart Taylor

    When most vital in our engagement with the culture we suffer both “in” and “outside”of the “camp”……IF…..we stand humbly upon Scriptural authority. We will be attacked, ridiculed and minimized and pressured to recant even by fellow “believers”. It is part of the “fellowship of suffering with Christ” per Phil. 3 but is a stop on the pathway to “knowing the power of His resurrection”.

  7. Paul M.

    Owen,

    I happen to know some folks from Machiasport, the Ramsdell’s. Beautiful area–at least in the summer when we visited. I’ve heard winter is very different experience.

    I agree completely that evangelical Christians who call homosexuality sin will likely soon become cultural outsiders, perhaps even legally discriminated for their beliefs. Yet that danger does not necessarily mean that we ought to push for legislation maintaining bans on gay marriage or other civil rights for homosexuals.

    You call attention to three Christians responses to the recent surge in homosexual activism. 1) I want to be cool and liked by non-believers so I won’t fight for heterosexual legal marriage. 2) I believe in the spiritual church so I don’t want to get my hands dirty with messy politics. 3) Join the Christian Coalition 2.0

    You left out a fourth option: those who believe that homosexuality is sinful, but do not believe that the State should be involved in legislating righteousness. If sanctification cannot be coerced by human agency, then forcibly preventing people from acting out their homosexuality is futile at best, a form of political legalism at worst.

    Paul

    • Bob

      I would also challenge Owen to provide a Biblical argument for why Christians should ever engage in politics, advocacy, and attempts to shape secular culture. I have posted a response similar to this on several articles and have not received an adequate (Biblical) response. I don’t think there is one but perhaps you can prove me wrong.

      • JR

        Insofar as the American government is “by the people, for the people” and can be influenced by the people to provide a better life for the people, I challenge you, Bob, to provide a biblical argument why Christians should NOT engage in politics. The burden of proof actually rests with you, since the activity of politics is not inherently sinful. Otherwise, you could demand a biblical argument why Christians should ever engage in bicycling (there isn’t one).

      • Bob

        JR–I have one but I am interested in a Biblical argument for WHY Christians should engage in politics, especially when it is something that turns so many against Christianity. If you don’t have one just admit you don’t and quit responding to my posts.

      • JR

        Bob, until you give your argument for why we shouldn’t be involved in politics, I’m under no obligation to give you my argument for why we should. I can say I have one just as easily as you say you have one. Ball—->your court.

      • Whether or not we should be proactively involved, we will have to be reactively involved when our rights start being taken way. Or maybe we let the hard stuff happen to us and don’t fight it…. Witness the Boston situation. Or the situation with IV on Vanderbilt’s campus.

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  10. YAMS BADGER

    “Get ready to feel lonely, Christian, and to be unliked.”

    Yes, like al qaeda or any other group of nutjobs who seek to force their Bronze Age ethics on modern society.

  11. Trevor

    Ugg. The United States of America is NOT the Church of Jesus Christ. PLEASE come to terms with this fact. American citizens are not obligated to act like Christians.

  12. Owen,
    I read your column in Baptist Press. You certainly are a good writer. But, I do not agree with your overall premise. Certainly, from your religious viewpoint I can understand why you take the position you do.

    I, too, am from Maine, and while you somewhat cringed at Machias having a gay pride element in a town parade, I was rather pleased to see it. You see, those of us who are gay have always been gay. We always have been in society. Our numbers seem to remain about constant throughout history. We always have been here and always will be. However, you don’t usually see us. We are somewhat hidden in that we look like everyone else and come in a variety of colors, ages, genders, and backgrounds. And, as citizens we should be allowed to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed us in our Constitution. And, as you know, religion is not part of our civil law. That is why it is called civil law.

    I truly believe that if your religion does not support same-sex marriage (SSM), then it need not perform SSM ceremonies. In those states where SSM now is legal, has there been one instance where a church was brought to court for not performing a ceremony? Of course not.

    All the law is dealing with are civil ceremonies. All the talk about infringing on the rights of the church and religion is just bunk. Today, if a church refused to perform any ceremony (marriage or otherwise) for some reason of its own choosing, it certainly would not be hauled into court. Inter-racial marriage was finally legalized in 1967. I am certain there are churches out there who, to this day, refuse to perform such a ceremony. I never have heard of any church being brought to court because of such a refusal. It never has happened and never will happen. The First Amendment guarantees that. History has shown that.

    I might add there are a number of well-known churches who are willing to perform SSM and are just waiting for the civil law to pass. Your church apparently disapproves of SSM. It would appear to me that your church wishes to impose its religious beliefs upon other churches. That hardly seems fair, despite how “right” you feel your religious beliefs are.

    My experience is that those objecting to SSM based upon religious grounds do so because of the actual word, “marriage,” as if this word is somehow sacrosanct and is the exclusive purview of the church. But, it is not. The State uses this word to describe its version of civil marriage. Call it a homonym – same word, different meaning. No one will confuse the two, so I would not worry about it. Ideally, we would have done what Europe has done for centuries – a civil marriage occurs at City Hall, usually followed by a religious marriage ceremony at a church. Two separate ceremonies. The USA, being as expedient as it is, killed two birds with one stone and allowed a cleric to perform a marriage ceremony in a church and that was good enough for the State to satisfy the civil marriage license aspect. A done deal and all that.

    If a straight couple gets married by a Justice of the Peace, involving no religion whatsoever, do you consider them married? Perhaps not. But, the State, all other States, the Federal government, and all other countries certainly do. That is all we want – the ability to obtain a civil marriage license. After that, we can get married by a JP or by one of the churches who will perform SSM, but in any event, it will have no effect on your church.

    I do not really see why there is such a push-back from the religious crowd. We are speaking of only civil marriage in which your church is not involved and we have not, and cannot, take your church to court for not performing a SSM. I guess I fail to see how this affects you and your church in any manner whatsoever.

    I might add that regardless of the outcome of the votes on SSM, there will be no more, nor any less, gay people and gay couples in existence. The only difference between having SSM and not, in my case, is that my partner of 15 years and our 12 year old daughter will or will not have a piece of paper from the State saying we are entitled to the same rights as the other families on our block. My goal is to protect my family just as others are able to do. That is it in a nutshell. I guess I do not understand why you feel we are not worthy of this civil right.

    • Gustavo Flores

      Chuckgg, you bless me. Yours is probably the most civil, well thought out response on the issue I’ve ever heard. Thank you. I’m not a proponent of the lifestyle, but I love gay people. You will not find me engaged in the culture wars the way most of the church is.

      I also wish to lend you a New Testament perspective on civil law. Paul writes that the church SHOULD recognize the civil authorities because God Himself institutes or perhaps more correctly ALLOWS the civil authorities to govern over His church. It’s why within the church we recognize couples who have not married in the church as being married. There is a place for civil disobedience as evidenced in the history of the New Testament church, but we’ll be hard pressed to say that homosexuality is the determining line.

      God bless you sir, forgive our harshness and do not judge our beautiful Jesus by our misrepresentation. Examine His claims and receive His love. Take care.

  13. Before we engage in the wider cultural battle, there’s a battle brewing – no, boiling – within the so-called Evangelical, Bible-believing church. It’s that many who purport to love the Lord and believe in His Word are being deceived by this world to think that homosexual practice is ok as long as it is within a committed relationship: a marriage. So they are pro-gay marriage in order to allow for “legitimate” homosexual practice. I wonder if we need to fight this battle for our brethren’s minds first.

  14. Allen

    I have never come across a Biblical argument for why Christians would ever limit or seek to influence the actions of non-believers against their will. Notice that Owen does not include any relevant scripture on this matter.

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  16. Sharon

    There are no Bible quotes in the Metaxas opinion piece.

  17. So? I didn’t provide the link because it was an exegetical argument for involvement or not but because it was along the same lines of discussion. It was simply an FYI, Sharon/Allen/Bob.

    • Allen

      My point was that you cannot provide any Biblical argument that supports engagement in the culture wars. You simply proved my point and I thank you. Do you have anything that draws on the Bible? It is a sad state of affairs in the church that so many people readily and tenaciously engage this issue without any sort of Biblical backing. All I am asking is for a Biblical argument.

      • Should we be involved in the compassion wars when it comes to abortion? Should we do all we can to protect the unborn? I think so:

        Proverbs 31: 8
        8 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,
        for the rights of all who are destitute.

        Isaiah 1: 17
        17 Learn to do right; seek justice.
        Defend the oppressed.

        Psalm 41: 1 -2
        “have regard for” or “consider”: sustained attention

        1 Blessed are those who have regard for the weak;
        the LORD delivers them in times of trouble.
        2 The LORD protects and preserves them—
        they are counted among the blessed in the land—

        So, why become involved in the gay marriage issue? I asked that of a friend who was very involved. His answer? To protect future generations of children who will suffer the harmful consequences of the redefinition of marriage. We are speaking up for them…

  18. Allen

    But you have nothing about actually entering into the secular political arena or seeking to change secular culture. Contextually, everything you pulled was from the Old Testament where God specifically laid out the law for the nation of Israel. You fail to make an argument for why we should even begin to engage this way in the American system. Where do you get that we should change SECULAR culture? Also, I didn’t say anything about abortion, this is strictly about gay marriage. You have to do better than this because I am tired of foolish Christians with weak arguments making outreach to the lost even more difficult for those who actually do the work of the Great Commission!

  19. Ryan

    Awesome. So you will join my fight against Christian Conservatives’ failed attempts to shape secular culture?

  20. Ryan

    Nice Job Allen!

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