A surprising way to win the culture wars

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A surprising way to win the culture wars

May 31, 2022 -

© zimmytws /stock.adobe.com

© zimmytws /stock.adobe.com

© zimmytws /stock.adobe.com

Several months ago, I ran into a neighbor on one of my daily walks. I didn’t know him very well, but I knew he was a Christian.

As we began to talk, it quickly became clear that we disagreed about many things. I had just written a story about relating to people with different views, so the subject was on my mind. Without revealing my politics, I said that I believed in establishing common ground.

He didn’t.

His speech grew more animated, his eyes flashed, and our conversation went downhill from there.

Sadly, our little chat revealed a lot about the state of cultural discourse in America. Extremists on both sides have become so entrenched in their views that seeking to find common ground—even just agreeing to disagree—seems like a moral compromise. They will accept nothing short of total victory.

And Christians shouldn’t expect that, not in this fallen world.

How do we grant liberty within plurality?

Andrew T. Walker, an associate professor of Christian ethics at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, foresees a period of “ups and downs, successes and failures” for the church.

“The Western church in the twenty-first century should remember that history belongs to the Lord and not to our triumphs,” he wrote in Liberty for All.

Walker pointed out a benefit of the guarantee of religious freedom in the First Amendment that’s easy to miss.

“We Christians should extend religious liberty to everyone, because everyone is pursuing truth, even if incorrectly,” he wrote. “In a secular and increasingly pluralistic age, we need to allow falsehood a space to be wrong in hopes that individuals will ‘come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).”

Certainly, we should stand up for biblical values. Yet we also must realize that this country was founded as a pluralistic society. The Latin phrase E pluribus unum, inscribed on the Great Seal of the United States, means “out of many, one.”

James Madison, the principal author of the Constitution and Bill of Rights, envisioned a country where groups with competing interests would have to work together for the common good.

But he also warned of the “violence of faction” in the Federalist Papers, a warning that resonates today after last year’s riot at the Capitol.

“Democracy, in my view, is an agreement that we will not kill each other over our differences, but instead we’ll talk through those differences,” James Davison Hunter, the author of Culture Wars, told Politico. “And part of what’s troubling is that I’m beginning to see signs of the justification for violence on both sides.”

Conflict has escalated since Hunter popularized the term culture wars with his groundbreaking 1991 book. David French, author of Divided We Fall, has noticed a new source of strife between people who believe in the Constitution and democratic values and others who have adopted “anything-goes, end-justifies-the-means tactics.”

“The ethos of our modern political culture can be summed up in a single sentence: ‘Do unto others more than they have done unto us,’’’ he wrote for The Dispatch.

Cultural missionaries

Yet the Bible offers a better way in Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well. Rather than ignore her because she was a Samaritan woman, as most Jewish men of that era would have done, he struck up a conversation.

It’s easy to miss how radical that was.

But remember also that Jesus was celibate and without sin. She had been married five times, and the man she lived with was not her husband.

Jesus embodied grace and truth. He didn’t gloss over her failings; he named them. But he offered her the gift of eternal life in spite of them.

Excited, the woman left her water jar at the well and went into town. “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did,” she said. “Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29 ESV)

Many Samaritans believed because of her testimony, and even more believed after Jesus spent two days in the town.

Jesus extended grace to the Samaritan woman, and we can do the same with people today.

“This is one of the hallmarks of grace: to not see people as the sum total of their mistakes, bad decisions, or even bad beliefs,” Kirsten Powers wrote in Saving Grace. “It’s recognizing that others are multidimensional beings who can likely do better if given the chance.”

Christians shouldn’t treat people with opposing views like enemies, or they will lose their ability to influence them. Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (NIV).

“Rather than seeking to be cultural warriors, we should seek to be cultural missionaries,” Dr. Jim Denison wrote recently in his Daily Article.

Cultural commentator Cap Stewart put it this way in an article for The Gospel Coalition titled “If You’re Fighting the Culture War, You’re Losing:”

“To engage with our culture in a militant and hostile manner is to forsake our role as ambassadors. It’s trading our diplomatic visas for military dog tags. It’s trading the armor of God for the fig leaves of human striving. It’s a capitulation to earthly wisdom—attempting to fight for the kingdom of God on the world’s terms.”

Instead, we should love our neighbors, even if they’re like the one I encountered on my walk.

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