I read a lot of articles about religion, and Christianity in particular. Even if I don’t read every word, skimming the various headlines helps me to grasp how faith is fairing in our culture. As you might guess, God isn’t very popular at the moment.
Among those touting tolerance as the highest form of morality, the one exception is tolerance of Christianity. For a while it has been fun and “cool” to make fun of Christians, and the snarkier you are, the better. Now the articles have gotten incredibly insultingly, in-your-face rude. Reading them, I feel spit upon, ridiculed, and dismissed into obscurity with a smirk.
I first noticed the sudden descent into loathing when Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, debated Bill Nye, the Science Guy. Although he actually represents an extreme view, the secular press treated Ham as representative of all evangelicals, and used the debate to point out how stupid we all are. The only point everyone seemed to agree on was that science and religion are mutually exclusive—a conclusion I vehemently disagree with, by the way.
The next spate of headlines dealt with Hobby Lobby’s case before the Supreme Court. Most articles read as if the court’s decision was a foregone conclusion (deciding against Hobby Lobby), and anyone who sided with Hobby Lobby was obviously a sexist imbecile.
Then there was the pile of press releases and blogosphere commentary on World Vision’s rethinking (and re-rethinking) their policy regarding same-sex marriage, and the assault came from both sides. No matter what World Vision finally decides to do, a lot of people are going to be furious.
One insightful blogger (Libby Anne, on Love, Joy, Feminism) wrote,
Evangelicals are facing a critical moment of decision. They have to either give on this issue, or they risk being marginalized as akin to racists. They have lost the culture war battle over marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, and as time goes on, that loss will be solidified. If they cannot find a way to reconcile their religious beliefs with marriage equality and LGBTQ rights, they are in for some serious problems going forward.
She’s right, and not just on this particular issue. Another battle we’ve lost is on heterosexual promiscuity. The majority of Americans no longer believe that sex outside of marriage is wrong, even though the Bible hasn’t changed its mind on the subject.
In fact, the church is losing ground on many sides. The culture is going one way, and the church is going in another. This will definitely cause serious problems—but is that bad?
There are two possible reasons for the church to find itself at odds with popular culture. Either the church is wrong, or the culture is ungodly. Before we accuse the culture of promoting sin, we need to make a serious search for any logs in our own eyes.
One well-known example of the church getting it wrong is with interracial relations. Many (though thankfully not all) Christians justified slavery on Biblical grounds. Even when slavery was abolished, racism remained, also often in the name of God. The forbidding of interracial marriages, for instance, was justified by the belief that it was against God’s law. Today, the idea of God endorsing racism is unthinkable.
Some of the issues currently being fought over probably fall into this category. It’s easy to condemn the bigotry of the Christians from two hundred years ago, but much harder to be objective about our own blindness.
Then there are those issues where God’s opinion isn’t clear. The Bible doesn’t directly address every controversy of modern life. Even where there are passages that seem to apply, the way we interpret them can lead us to very different conclusions. In the case of these issues, we have to decide: is there a way we can agree to disagree, or is this a hill to die on?
Lastly, we have those non-negotiable issues, the essentials of our faith. If we’ve truly sought God’s opinion on a topic of critical importance, with an open mind, ears to hear His voice, and diligent Bible study, and we’re convinced that God’s will runs counter to what public opinion is telling us, then we must stand firm, even if it means being ridiculed or worse.
Remember our call is to be salt and light in the darkness of a world without God. No matter how tempting it is to hide in our Christian enclaves and avoid controversy, God expects more of us. (I’m preaching to myself here—I absolutely hate discord and argument! It leaves me in a quivering heap.)
And what if we find ourselves marginalized, as predicted in the quote above? Well, we can’t say Jesus didn’t warn us:
Do not be surprised, my brothers and sisters, if the world hates you. (1 John 3:13
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. (John 15:18-21)
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. (John 16:33)
Why do we act surprised when the secular culture disagrees with the Church? We have different values, we are heading in opposite directions, and we serve different masters. Remember, the light shines brightest in the darkness.