Tag Archives: culture change

Can Christians Impact Cultural Change?

The culture of the USA is a toxic stew of issues that challenge Christian values. Some of the issues challenge the values of other religious groups as well. Without any intent to diminish the concerns of other groups, this blog focuses on the concerns of Christians. The purpose of this blog is to inform Christians about the issues that challenge Christian faith and to inspire Christians to follow the guidance of the Holy Spirit in their responses. It is a call to Christians in the USA to recognize their civic duty as voters to be informed of the issues that make our country more free or less free, especially relevant to religious liberty, It is a warning to Christians in the USA of the parallels between social and political developments in the US and similar developments which lead to cultural restriction and religious persecution in other countries. It is an exploration of the fine line between the legitimate expression of the views of a citizen with Christian moral views and the illegitimate attempt of a citizen to assert a “right” to win the discussion simply because his views are Christian. Here you will find discussions of issues on which Christians are as divided as the rest of the country. This blog will advocate a viewpoint believed to be in accord with Scripture, but you will not find any advocacy for abrasive, abusive, or aggressive language in the discussion of this viewpoint.

It is very challenging to live by Christian values in a culture that increasing devalues any idea associated with Christian teaching. It is very difficult to discuss issues with other citizens when those citizens attempt to turn the conversation from a discussion of ideas to an assault on every opponent as a selfish, bigoted, brain-dead throwback to prehistoric times. Laws are actually being written that Christians may not be able to obey. If cultural pressure produces legislation in keeping with all the social changes, it may soon be very difficult to live by Christian teaching in the USA.

US Christians who feel threatened by such developments can learn something by looking at what Chinese Christians are doing. Chinese Christians have lived with severe cultural and governmental restrictions since 1949. In 2013, small changes are encouraging Christians in China. There is some light on the horizon both culturally and legally. The government is becoming somewhat less aggressive against Christians. The culture is becoming somewhat more open to the expression of Christian faith. Open Doors International is suggesting to Chinese Christians that they begin to take advantage of tiny openings where they may be able to impact culture and government. The pressures that seem to be slightly subsiding in China are actually increasing for US Christians, and this situation represents a shrinking window of opportunity to influence government and culture, but the same strategies recommended for China should have value in the US. In fact, these strategies have always been part of the way Christians affect culture and government around them.

The key recommendation to Chinese Christians is “to impact their society by embedding Christian values through contextualization and community engagement.” US Christians might argue that Christian values are already embedded in the society, and that Christian values are dominant in most communities. The nation was founded by people who held Christian values, a fact expressed in the Founding documents repeatedly. However, due to major changes in the way the history is taught in schools, many children graduate from public education without a firm grasp of those facts. Due to massive changes in both culture and government during the past fifty years, the curriculum, the standards, the employment policies and the administrative regulations for education are all established at state or federal levels, far from the communities where the schools operate. Media, social and political activist organizations, and even government promote definitions of Constitutional terms and principles that are at odds with the historical interpretations, resulting in growing restrictions on Christian faith expression. Christians must be realistic about the fact that there are and will continue to be changes in the culture and the government. It is not easy for one Christian or even all the Christians in a small community to make an impact in Washington DC.

Christians may need to think creatively about ways to embed Christian values in the society. Probably the first idea that comes to mind is to be sure they rear their children according to Christian values. Unfortunately, there is actually a movement under way to make that plan difficult. Just last week it was suggested that children do not belong to their parents and that the “collective” should take more authority in the way children are brought up. Further, the President of the United States wants children to start school at the age of four, an age when children are extremely malleable. God created children to want to learn, and they most naturally learn from the people with whom they spend their time. In God’s plan, the influential people in a small child’s life would be his parents. Moses warned the Israelites about the importance of teaching the faith to children when he said,    

These words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:6-7

Making government kindergarten the major influence in the lives of four-year-olds would vastly reduce the ability of parents to shape the values and perceptions of their children according to Christian teaching.

The most important statement in the Open Doors suggestions for Chinese Christians is the most important thing every Christian needs to remember: “Christians need to be encouraged to live out biblical values and show people what it looks like to be followers of Christ.” This is something every Christian ought to write on his heart. In fact, it is so important that a failure to do it is probably at the root of many social and political evils in the US today. Timothy Dalrymple recently wrote, As our nation struggles to clarify the status of same-sex relationships, it’s all too easy to ignore the fact that the foundation of America’s social, economic and military success has been our society’s broad, voluntary commitment to Judeo-Christian morality.” He develops a strong case for the failure of Christians to live by their own values as a major enabler of the cultural momentum to revise the whole concept of marriage and family, a change of cosmic proportions and apocalyptic portent for human society.

If the future depended on human ability to live like Christ, all hope would be lost. Fortunately, Christians do not believe that the future of the human race is dependent on human perfectibility, as secular thinkers do. The book of Revelation, terrifying images notwithstanding, is actually filled with inspiration and hope for the future. It isn’t a book of pep talks: Hang in there. Never give up. Just do it. Instead, the author of Revelation warns that terrible cataclysms will be the expression of the ultimate war between good and evil in time and space. Hope for the future, however, resides in God’s complete victory over Satan through Christ’s death on the cross. Because Satan himself has already been defeated in the realm of eternity and infinity, the horrific clashes between good and evil in time and space are simply the dying gasps of a defeated enemy. The apparent reality of Satan’s power is transcended by the real reality of Christ’s power through his death and resurrection. Revelation reminds us not to limit our understanding to the measure of our senses.

How does this truth shape our interaction with our culture? Why should we suffer if it is all up to God? The answer is that our battles are important. Our suffering matters in the eternal scheme of things. That is why we go ahead and stand up to socialist activism that wants to snatch children away from their parents, that wants to redefine marriage and family in self-indulgent terms, that demands that we lock God and all references to him inside buildings. God’s purpose for time and eternity requires that we live so close to Christ that he is our only treasure, so that we testify with Paul,

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. Philippians 3:8-10

What Is A Christian Doing in Dirty Politics?

I have a wonderful friend who tells me that she does not want any part of politics. She does not want to hear about it. She does not want to talk about it. She believes that too many participants in politics are driven by hate. She is affronted by behavior and speech she regards as venomous.

Many Christians feel that way. Some do engage in the national conversations on topics such as taxation, budgets, social services and so forth, but my friend comments that when Christians say something, it is likely to be hate-filled speech. While I disagree that the political speech of most Christians is hate-filled, I did stop and take a closer look after she made that statement. I observed a couple of disappointing truths.

First, many Christians actually do believe that Christianity has the right and responsibility to dominate the culture. Secular thinkers complain that when Christians assert their right to express their faith, they are actually asserting cultural dominance. The secular thinkers say that Christians do not want “religious freedom.” Secular thinkers believe that Christians want “religious primacy.” The assumption by many Christians that cultural norms which held firm for more than two hundred years should continue unabated into the foreseeable future fuels the secular concern. The demographics tell us that the proportion of Christians in the population is declining as the proportion of secular thinkers is increasing, and the natural consequence of changing proportions is cultural change. Most human beings resist change, especially when it is uncomfortable change, and there are a lot of uncomfortable Christians in the culture of the USA.

Second, while I reject the accusation that Christians who speak out against cultural changes that are inimical to Christian teaching are venomous, I do observe that many are whiny. The sense that somebody stole the culture while we were not looking fuels that attitude. Whatever the explanation is, it won’t pass muster as justification for whining. Christians who whine are not doing any favors for the faith they want to promote.

Without going into the history of the declining Christian demographic, it is still proper to note that there is ample evidence that the founders of this country were predominantly Christian, and that those who were not Christian nevertheless believed that the God Christians worship existed and deserved respect. That is the worldview that shaped the nation for more than two hundred years.

Today, however, there are a couple of other worldviews that compete with Christianity for dominance: secular thinking and Islam. Christians who feel pressure to stop speaking and acting like a Christian in public are responding to the pressure from those two worldviews, but they are not always responding with the grace that the Bible tells us should be characteristic of Christians. A whiny victim mentality is not a testimony to our loving, victorious Christ, the One whose name shapes our name.

Just as Christ’s s name is embedded in the name of our religion, Christ himself is embedded in each believer. Paul wrote, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16) If the Holy Spirit is living in us, then our words and deeds ought to testify to that truth. We are called to bring the kingdom of God near to everyone we meet, and whiny complaints about ‘the war on Christmas’ and other such issues do not bring people near to the love that sent Christ to the cross. It almost seems as if Christians in general have become quite Pharisaical in their views. Some seem to believe that as the appearance of Christian cultural dominance declines, Christians themselves should take offense in the name of Christ.

Jesus never did any such thing.

Christ himself constantly offended those who worried about appearances. The Pharisees complained that Jesus did not respect the Sabbath, because he went right ahead and healed people on that day. They tested his respect for the Ten Commandments when he refused to judge the woman caught in adultery. They thought he defiled himself over and over by touching lepers and eating with publicans. The truth is, Christ did not and does not have much use for “appearances.”

That does not mean that Christians should sit on the sidelines of politics in the USA. The government of the USA is quite different from the government of the Roman Empire. In this country, citizens must participate in the government, or the Constitution will not work. If citizens worry that politics is dirty, then more of them must get involved in the work of cleaning it up. Christians care deeply about the values expressed in the culture that ultimately shape the government. If Christians refuse to participate then their voice will not be heard in the decisions that are made by elected officials. The culture shapes politics, and politics shapes the government.

One problem Christians face if they do get involved is a demand that they keep their religion to themselves. This demand arises from secular thinkers who believe that all religion is bunk. They do not want to hear about religion in public, especially not in government.  A Christian who wants the government to mandate a national holiday on Good Friday will call down a firestorm on both himself and the faith he represents. Another issue growing in magnitude is pressure from Islam to incorporate sharia law into US jurisprudence. That pressure also wants to suppress Christian input, because Christian views did shape the English Common Law that is the basis for US law. Islam, a diametrically opposite worldview from secularism, believes that there is not and cannot be any separation between religion and government. Islam believes that Muslims must be governed by sharia law. Secular thinkers would say of Islam and Christianity, “a pox on both their houses.” The United States hosts a veritable conflagration of views that cannot all be simultaneously upheld.

 The people who wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights had great respect for religion. They respected all religions. They believed that religion had an important cultural role in shaping the values of citizens. Unlike contemporary secular thinkers, the men who wrote the Constitution believed that the culture and the government alike benefited from the moral and ethical voice of religion expressed when citizens advocate for the laws and the services that shape the government. They expected people to express their religion in the expression of their values, and they honored that contribution as a counterweight to the government tendency to operate more pragmatically than ethically.

Christians, like any other US citizen, need to be part of the political discourse, speaking, acting and voting. They should, however, be recognized in political discourse the same way they are to be recognized in all other venues. They should be known for lovingkindness that makes people see Christ in them. Christ’s lovingkindness was at work when he cleansed the temple as surely as it was at work when he faced Pilate, so Christians must not confuse lovingkindness with abandonment of truth for the sake of “getting along.” The value of “coming together” only stands if the group that comes together actually accomplishes something good. It is a considerable test of character to advocate without compromise for an important principle while unfailingly projecting God’s love into the discussion.

Christians need to stand for objectives that are good. Even more important, while a political conversation may not be the place for an evangelistic sermon, it is certainly a place where God’s steadfast love for all people should be manifest. If Christians are only known for whining and crying that things are not the way they used to be, they are utterly failing in their call to be light in a dark world.

For more discussion of the challenge to live our faith as light in a dark world, read my review of Martin Roth’s book Brother Half Angel.