I have commented before that I observe a massive cultural change in the USA. Our country was founded by people who believed in God and considered the Bible to be a holy text. They attended Christian churches and sang Christian hymns. When they spoke, they exercised a level of restraint on their speech that seems quaint to twenty-first century ears. In eighteenth-century Boston, nobody would have considered it cute for a seventh-grader to shout “Oh my God!” at the sight of a beautiful necklace. Local, state and national leaders in the early days of this country were expected to behave respectfully toward Christians and to live by Christian standards, an expectation that occasioned little concern on the part of the leaders who pretty much accepted those standards in daily life anyway.
It happened this way, because the vast majority of the people who came to the east coast of North America came from countries where Christianity was the state religion. Even if they came in protest at the particular church the state had chosen, it wasn’t because of a desire to worship a different God.
As a result, our culture and our cultural expectations were shaped by Christian teaching. In many instances, those expectations actually perverted Christian teaching into little more than a cute little proverb for schoolchildren to learn. Nonetheless, Christian ideas and Christian words shaped the culture. Even as immigrants from around the world came to our shores, they, too, soon absorbed the cultural norms. Until very recently, both immigrants and American citizens assumed that immigrants would assimilate. We didn’t expect them to abandon their festivals or even their religions, but we did expect them to speak English and dress in clothing that we considered normal. The immigrants likewise expected to become part of this nation when they came here. They did not expect to bring their old country with them, even though they continued to protect their heritage in festivals and holidays of their own. They expected that when in this country, they would become more like the people who lived here.
Even though the civil rights demonstrations alleged to be about integrating the culture, its outcome has been to divide the culture in ways I don’t believe the original leaders ever considered. It is the subject for another post to examine the issues of language and law that have steadily widened the rift between the many subcultures in this country. For today, I simply observe that it has happened. Rather than become more thoroughly integrated, more deeply unified in cultural and political values, our nation has become steadily more divided. Every subculture presses strongly for pre-eminence, and failing that, it demands equality. The word “equality” has become a weapon, not a unifier. In the service of this conflict, the word “diversity” stands right beside “equality” as a weapon of division.
The bottom line is that the culture that dominated life in America for almost two hundred years is disintegrating. You may have your own ideas about how it happened or why it happened. You may think that it is broken and needs to be fixed. Nevertheless, no matter how you look at it, our culture today is not the Norman Rockwell culture many people imagine to be the bedrock of American life. I believe that his state of affairs will persist into the foreseeable future. For good or ill, this is the world we live in.
Christians need to recognize this truth, because we cannot continue to live by the same expectations that worked in 1950. We cannot assume that people respect us for being Christians. The new normal in American culture is the idea that religion is something to keep locked up in houses of worship and not dragged out into the streets. If we Christians want to continue to be free to live and speak our faith, we need to recognize the realities. In order to deal with them, we must remember what Jesus promised us.
As Jesus ascended to heaven after his resurrection, he sent his followers out to share the good news and baptize believers into the kingdom. Knowing that in the Roman Empire, this work would meet with cultural and political resistance, much as it does in the contemporary USA, Jesus promised, “I will be with you.” It is important to know that when we are living our faith, swimming against the cultural current, our Lord and Savior in the person of the Holy Spirit is with us. That is comforting, but it isn’t the only thing we should remember. We must also remember that Jesus promised us we would endure persecution, resistance, and hatred, and we must absolutely remember that he told us the answer to all of Satan’s assaults on us was love. The Christ who asks us to serve him faithfully says that our defensive weapon against people Satan uses to persecute us is love.
I encounter a lot of people online who really scorn Christian faith. They scorn God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, the Bible, churches, and Christians in general. Some are respectfully resistant, but others trash Christians and their faith in words I would neither speak nor print. We must expect this, because the new normal in American culture is not a Christian standard for behavior.
For those of us accustomed to the general accommodation of Christianity by the culture, this state of affairs is hard to take. We are tempted to feel hurt personally. We must remember that Jesus said the world would hate us, because it hated him first. Our job is not to respond in kind. We don’t serve Christ by whining that things used to be different. It won’t help anything to accuse people of a war on Christians. We must, instead, do exactly what Jesus told us to do – be salt and light in the world. The Satanic way to deal with rejection is to act out, to take the initiative and pound the opposition into submission. God has been enduring rejection since the day Eve rejected him and bit into the forbidden fruit, and his way to deal with it is to love us even more. If we want to be like God, we, too, must simply love our enemies even more than they hate us. That is how we live with the new normal.