Christians Should Just Shut-Up!

For the past couple of months I’ve repeatedly posted articles which pertain to cultural transformation.  In these articles I’ve argued that Evangelical Christians should stop investing the majority of their time and money in ‘top-down’ approaches to cultural renewal (i.e. political activism and legislation) and focus their energy on transforming the culture from the ‘bottom-up.”  In the midst of this I also argued that we should break out of our subpar subculture and live as if every aspect of life is sacred–with the understanding that the Christian Worldview has something to say about everything we do.  Unfortunately, some people have taken this to mean that I’m asking Christian voices to be completely removed from the public square; or, to put it more plainly, that Christians should just “shut-up!”

Due to this misconception of what I’m saying, I’d like to go on record as stating that I do not, in fact, believe Christians should shut-up and completely remove themselves from the public square.  Allow me to explain.

First, let me make a crucial distinction.  The topic of discussion has been that of true cultural transformation.  The question has been: how can one truly, effectually, and authentically transform or renew a “Post-Christian” culture?  The answer could not possibly be simply through top-down methods (i.e. political activism) because they do not cultivate virtue, engender faith, or transform hearts; all of which need to happen in order to effectively transform a culture.  This, however, is not equivalent to saying Christians should, therefore, not participate in politics and should remove themselves from the public square.  It is simply to point out that authentic cultural transformation does not occur through legislation–something that Evangelicals seem to believe (even if they do not realize it).

The problem I’m addressing is that with all of our focus being on political activism we have largely lost sight of our own personal responsibility to live virtuous and just lives and to make disciples.  To use one example I made recently, it is not enough to simply shout and scream and stomp our feet about the nature of marriage: we must demonstrate what true marriage is by living it.  The nature of marriage is not determined through a vote, and we are not successfully preserving it within our culture simply by ratifying laws which will be changed by the next generation.

Now, if we were examining the question of whether or not Christians should have a voice in the public square, and participate in politics, my answer would be a resounding and emphatic yes.  This should be clear from my recent post regarding the sacred/secular split.  I consistently argued that we must break out of our subculture and exist and move and have our being within the general culture.  Repeatedly, I argued that the Christian Worldview has something to say about every vocation–this includes being a politician, a political scientist, a lawyer, a judge, a legislator, or even a journalist.  It also has something to say about every academic discipline: and this most certainly includes political philosophy, and matters of human rights and social justice.

Furthermore, I explicitly stated in one of my articles that political involvement is necessary when it comes to matters of human dignity and social justice.  The two biggest issues that come to mind being: abortion and human trafficking.  Both abortion and human trafficking are horrendous evils and laws must be made to help protect the destruction of more innocent lives.  This, by default, assumes that one would need to engage in politics.

Should Christians just shut-up?  Certainly not.  However, Christians should be more shrewd, more tactful, more intelligent, more just, more merciful, and, above all, more loving whenever they lift up their voices within the public square.

Transforming Our Culture From the Bottom Up (Part Two)

In my last post I critiqued what I call ‘Top-Down’ approaches to cultural transformation.  Such approaches can be summed up in one phrase: political activism.  Any attempt to transform the culture through legislation and political cajoling–such as court battles, petitions, electing certain individuals into office, etc–will ultimately be unsuccessful because at the heart of every culture is . . . the human heart.  Thus, true cultural transformation, I argued, could only come from the bottom up.  Because, when individuals are transformed, the culture will be too.

In light of this reasoning, I challenged Evangelical Christians to stop funneling the majority of their time, energy, and money into futile ‘Top-Down‘ methods and to start focusing on making true disciples of Jesus Christ.

This is not to say we should be totally silent in the public square or that Christians should not be involved in politics at all.  It is especially not to say Christians should stop utilizing political approaches when it comes to issues regarding the sanctity of human life or social justice.  Certainly, we must do everything within our power to stop the daily slaughter of innocent children through abortion or to put an end to human sex trafficking.  These issues, almost by necessity, will include political and legal interaction.

It is to say, however, that a ‘total’  or ‘big picture’ approach to cultural transformation should primarily focus on discipleship and not political activism.

The idea here is simple: the more Churches invest time and energy cultivating virtue among their parishioners, engendering and strengthening the faith of their children, helping people grow in the knowledge and understanding of God, engaging in acts of service, and inviting the Holy Spirit to transform the hearts of the lonely and the lost through both the preaching and daily living of the word of God, the more our culture will be renewed.  As individual lives are transformed, individual people will bring their faith to bear on important decisions at the office, or in the laboratory, or at the film studio, or on election day, or walking in the park . . .

After all, true disciples are called to live out their faith, to bear good fruit, in whatever circumstance they find themselves in: whether they are a doctor, a lawyer, an educator, an artist, a filmmaker, a shoemaker, a scientist, a soldier, a plumber, a scrap metal worker, or even homeless.  Whether slave or free or Jew or Gentile, we are all called to view our world through the truth of God’s Word.  We are all called to good works–as St. James states, “faith without works is dead.”  The more we behave like disciples, and the more disciples we make, the greater long term impact we will have on our culture and, indeed, the world.

Transforming Our Culture From the Bottom Up (Part One)

Our culture is changing and many say for the worse.  Studies show that the general population is beginning to change its attitude towards organized religion and Evangelical Protestantism in particular.  Unlike past generations, people are growing increasingly suspicious and even ambivalent towards Christians.  In the mean time, our government and, in fact, all of our social institutions  are becoming increasingly secularized.  Organized prayer has been removed from schools, the Ten Commandments have been taken down from public spaces, and the push for same-sex marriage is growing stronger than ever.

Conservative Evangelicals look upon these changes, along with the atheism and skepticism pervasive among our universities and the rampant materialism and immorality propagated by the media, in horror.  Filled with indignation and fueled by fear they have, for years, waged a ‘cultural war‘ in an effort to stem the rising tide of secularization.  Through political maneuvering, legal battles, boycotts, public demonstrations, radio shows, and a host of other devices, Evangelicals have attempted to reclaim American culture for Christ.  It seems, however, that no matter how loud they cry or how forcefully they push, the tide will not be pushed back.

Young Evangelicals are growing dissatisfied with the religion of their parents.  Many are leaving the church and embracing the plethora of experimental, ‘post-modern’ expressions, of Christianity which are far more liberal and, therefore, less resistant to the political and ethical stances of secularism.  Some are rejecting religion outright, joining the ever increasing ranks of the ‘New Atheists.’  On top of this, advocates for Gay-Rights are growing increasingly more powerful and influential.  Mortified by this, Evangelicals are pushing back even harder–continuing to utilize the same political/social methods to “save America from moral decay” as they have for the past thirty years.

The tragedy in all of this is that these ‘Top-Down’ methods–the political maneuvering, the legal battles, the boycotts, the public demonstrations, the petitions-will never transform our culture.  You simply can’t transform a culture from the top down.  You can’t cultivate virtue, engender faith, or change hearts, through legislation; but these are precisely the things that need to happen in order for our culture to change.  Cultures develop within communities which are, in turn, built upon individuals.  When individuals change, the community will change, and eventually, so will the culture.  Cultures are transformed from the bottom up.

Before his Ascension Jesus told his followers to, “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  This Great Commission is the key to real cultural transformation and is, coincidentally, the very mission of the Church.  Until Evangelicals begin to take this seriously, they shall continue to wage a futile battle for our culture.

Religious Liberty Exemptions Aren’t Necessary (According to the NYT)

The people on the New York Times editorial staff have either tipped their hand or are simply bad writers. In a recent editorial, the NYT stated that the religious exemption clauses in the new Gay Marriage law were unnecessary because of “Constitutional protection,” yet they go on to say in the next paragraph, “…we are deeply troubled by their discriminatory intent. The whole purpose of this law should be to expand civil rights without shedding other protections in the process.”

They are troubled by religious organizations and not-for-profit organizations affiliated being exempted from the process? If the Constitution protects religious liberty, then why would they bring up the “discriminatory intent” of allowing such provisions in the law? Obviously those provisions were added into the law so the issue wouldn’t be left to some court, where the court could rule that churches are obligated to marry homosexual couples. And there’s the rub – by putting the provisions into the law, no one can sue a church for refusing to marry a same-gender couple, nor can they sue a not-for-profit organization that refuses the same couple to use their buildings or for other reasons (for instance, adoption agencies and the Boy Scouts).

The idea is that if one were allowed to sue such religious organizations then there is a possibility that a court could uphold such beliefs and actions on those beliefs as discrimination. It’s not enough to have had gay marriage past, rather some feel they must force others to act and think in a certain way. Even if the religious organizations are wrong and hurtful in their stances, certainly a freedom-loving nation is willing to allow people the freedom to be wrong, at least to a certain degree.

I’m not saying anything about the gay marriage law or gay marriage in general. I’m simply saying that I support religious liberty. If a non-muslim man chose to marry a muslim woman, a mosque wouldn’t recognize the marriage or perform the ceremony until he converted. That mosque has the right to act in such a way. So long as a religious organization doesn’t explicitly call for violence against a particular group, they are within their religious rights to act as they please (and only the most ignorant or radical liberal would say that simply being against homosexual marriage is an explicit call for violence). But in our Orwellian world the law must also act against thoughts, not just actions, because we must force everyone to conform to one way of thinking. It’s the Secular Borg – resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.

Prayer and Public School

Fox News reported that U.S. District Judge Fred Biery has ruled that participants in Medina Valley High School’s graduation ceremony cannot pray, invoke the name of God, say “amen,” and that the program itself must change certain words on its program that may give off religious connotations. Of course, being Fox News, the entire story isn’t being told. Perhaps the truth is somewhere in between the two:

Or we could turn to the local San Antonio news, which directly contradicts the claims that Fox News makes. So what’s a Christian to make of all of this?

If it’s true that the judge ordered individuals to not even say the name of God or invoke any religious symbols in their speech, then he is wrong (though I somehow doubt this is the case and suspect that Fox News is embellishing the story…I know, shocking). After all, while I may not believe in Allah, or accept atheism, or believe in any one of the Hindu gods, if a graduate wants to thank one of those gods, or Allah, or thank himself and say, “because God doesn’t exist,” then so be it. It’s his right to do so and if it offends me, then tough.

When it becomes wrong is when the act of prayer (or the cessation of prayer) is compulsory. If the school were forcing others to participate in the prayer then this would be a direct violation of their rights. But so is preventing students from praying in public, so long as they do not force others to bow their heads or join in.

But aside from all of the legal aspects of the case, from a Christian perspective why would we want prayer to be compulsory at a graduation ceremony or even in schools? Yes, there is power in prayer, but that power comes from the faith behind the prayer. Forcing people to pray to a God they don’t believe in accomplishes nothing except alienation. While it makes us look like a spiritual nation, it doesn’t make us spiritual. Prayer is a product of faith, so why would we force those who lack faith to engage in prayer when this will only ostracize them even more and possibly make them bitter towards Christianity?

In the end, while we should hope for a culture that is closer to God, we should hope that those in our culture voluntarily come to Christ, not through legal pressure. We can’t force a culture to act virtuous or to fall in love with Christ; they must choose these things.