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“There’s so little trust between the two parties that it was very difficult to put together an agreement that would avert changing the rules.” This is how Sen. Susan Collins (Republican from Maine) explained the failure of efforts to avoid today’s “nuclear option.” Republicans are now expected to change Senate rules today so that a simple majority can confirm Judge Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Democrats warn that this change will damage any prospects for bipartisan efforts in the future.
Senate Republicans are also considering other rules changes that would further prevent Democratic opposition and speed up the consideration of President Trump’s non-Cabinet positions. A spending bill later this month to prevent a government shutdown is expected to be extremely contentious as well.
I remember when Republicans were led by President Ronald Reagan and Democrats by Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. They battled mightily over policy and party differences but then came together for the country’s good. Now we seem to be divided across the spectrum of life, from abortion to sexual identity to marriage to family to taxes to health care to euthanasia. Why?
For an answer, I reached back twenty-six years to a book that coined the phrase that defines our era. In 1991, sociologist James Davison Hunter published Culture Wars. He noted that “America is in the midst of a culture war that has and will continue to have reverberations not only within public policy but within the lives of ordinary Americans everywhere.”
According to Hunter, our conflicts are “rooted in different systems of moral understanding.” The orthodox system affirms a “consistent, unchangeable measure of value, purpose, goodness and identity.” It trusts objective authority sources such as the Bible. By contrast, cultural progressivism believes that humans experience the world subjectively as our minds interpret our senses. As a result, it claims, there is “no objective and final revelation from God” since “moral and spiritual truth can only be conditional and relative.”
Take same-sex marriage, an issue that was nowhere on the radar in 1991 but illustrates Hunter’s thesis today. Orthodoxy defines marriage as a monogamous commitment between a man and a woman. This view is grounded in the Bible’s unchanging teachings on the subject. Cultural progressivism adapts what it considers to be human interpretations of Scripture to the changing realities of society. Each side is convinced that its position is most justified by reason and best for the common good.
The culture wars that have resulted from this conflict of worldviews show no signs of ending. To the contrary, as the electorate becomes more divided, our politics are likely to become even more divisive.
Obviously, I side unequivocally with those who believe that truth is objective and the Bible is authoritative. However, it is important for us to understand the other side of the debate. As Solomon noted, “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion” (Proverbs 18:2). He added, “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame” (v. 13).
God loves those who reject his truth as much as those who accept it (Romans 5:8). Now he calls us to exhibit the same spirit of grace. As Methodist leader D. T. Niles noted, Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.
As we stand for God’s unchanging truth in our changing culture, let’s remember that compassion is more persuasive than condemnation.