Flying Against the Winds of Culture
American evangelicals are often accused of being hateful and bigoted, of being politically power-hungry, and subverting the Gospel for the sake of political victory.
Let’s stipulate that not all of us hit the right note all the time; I certainly have not. Sometimes our indignation lacks any righteousness, and our aggravation surmounts the union of grace and truth so fully displayed in the person and work of Jesus (John 1:14,17). We sometimes call those with whom we disagree all manner of names. Some of our leaders use the Name of the One we serve to justify extreme statements and political assertions with no biblical foundation. And, in desperation to end the evils we see gaining ground, some of us suspend our good judgment and believe the assurances of false prophets, things that are dubious at best and demonstrably false at worst.
With that said, evangelicals are often castigated simply because we are unwilling to bend to the demands of a culture that increasingly opposes Judeo-Christian morality and the claims of exclusivity made by Jesus. He said of Himself, “I am the way” to the Father; this declaration is unambiguous and absolute. To a fallen world, it is also onerous and offensive.
It’s for these reasons that we need to abandon the idea that if only we were kinder and more understanding, opposition to our convictions would vanish. There is no question that our speech must be “seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6), an ancient metaphor for winsomeness and wit. Paul writes that Christians are to “persuade” others to come to the Savior (II Corinthians 5:11). The word he uses for “persuasion” comes from a Greek term meaning to move another to a decision or feeling.
However, refusing to budge from culturally unpopular convictions brings antagonism. Kindness of demeanor, prudence in speech, and carefulness in expression might be used by the Holy Spirit to defuse hostility, but there is no scriptural guarantee that sweet reason will always win the day. This is why a major part of the history of the early church is of martyrdom.
In his fine book, “Theological Ethics: The Church’s Integrity in Contemporary Context,” theologian L. Ross Hastings writes, “If there is no moral content to love … then how can limits be applied to love’s expression? What criteria do we use for saying adultery is wrong if two people say they fell in love and it just feels right? There is no love without morality. … Love cannot be separated from holiness.” This is true not only of individuals but of such things as marriage as the union of one man and one woman, for life. Of the sacredness of human life in the womb. Of religious liberty as the underpinning of all other liberties. Of understanding the Constitution as a text with a clear and defined meaning, not literary putty to be stretched to fit the demands of the Left. Without proper limits, without the ability to draw clear and unmovable moral lines, we invite fallen human nature to hemorrhage destructively all through our society.
In other words, not to oppose things that bring harm is both cowardice and complicity. Refusing to herald, defend, and advance culturally inconvenient truths shows a lack of compassion and also a lack of faith.
We should not seek to squash dissent from our beliefs any more than we should abandon the field to those forces that would corrode our society. We should seek common ground whenever and wherever possible but not pretend that everything is a matter of negotiation, friendship, or goodwill.
Thomas Aquinas captured well the necessity of challenging those forming their own destruction. Hating “the sin and lack of goodness in our brother is part of our love for our brother, since loving someone’s good is of the same nature as hating what is bad in him.” This is true not only for individuals but for cultures.
We should always “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), but speak we must, knowing that we will be misunderstood and often attacked simply for refusing to accept what culture might demand. This can be bracing and difficult, but the stakes are too high for our silence. We can guarantee no earthly outcome, but eternity requires more than temporal submission to falsehood. And, who knows, God might use our commitment to the right to bring about much needed social change. After all, as Winston Churchill said, “Kites fly highest against the wind, not with it.”
Rob Schwarzwalder is Senior Lecturer in Regent University's Honors College.