I suppose if I were to be pressed on the one theme that dominates my blog writing over any other, it would be along the lines that we are in a culture war (whether we like it or not; choose to acknowledge it or not; resolve to fight in it or not) and this has profound implications, especially if one is a Christian with conservative / traditional views that wishes to participate in the public square and do community activism. I make no apology for the fact that my world view is influenced by the Bible and my own Christian beliefs, although I recognize many do not hold those same beliefs, even though I try, often with a degree of success, to respectfully agree to disagree and find common ground. Yet when it comes to culture wars, unlike many of my fellow Christians, I choose to be more than an ambivalent onlooker but rather an active battler.
My first hit for an Internet definition of “culture war” seemed to hit the nail on the head: “In the United States and the United Kingdom, culture war refers to a conflict between traditionalist or conservative values and progressive or liberal values”. As I have argued several times in my blog postings, one’s values and how one chooses to express them (or not) have important consequences and too often we find those whose views do not conform to societies norms can be ostracized and penalized with the result that not only are good people done down and squeezed out of public life, but wrong values are too often allowed to influence what goes on, and the net result is a bad one. It seems to me, not a week goes by when we don’t read of yet another casualty in the culture wars. More often than not this is a good person who happens to have expressed a view that is disapproved of by the liberal elite that run the country.
A few days ago, I came across an article with the rather alarming title: “We’ve lost culture war over gay marriage, says James Dobson”. It is alarming as far as I am concerned because being defeated in a cause that I feel passionate about grates to say the least and the person making the claim is someone I have a great deal of respect for, who long before I got thinking along the lines of challenging wrong trends in our culture Dr Dobson has been doing so with great verve and some success. It is to do with the recent US Supreme Court decision to allow gay marriage. One of his profound statements was “And [as] I was contemplating this foreboding, this black cloud, it hit me like a ton of bricks… That decision is not really about gay marriage. It’s not. It’s about everything else. It’s about the entire culture war. It’s about control of the public schools and it’s what happens in universities. It’s about the economy and it’s about business and it’s about the military and it’s about medicine. It’s about everything. We lost the entire culture war with that one decision. The gay marriage thing was just part of it, but it’s going to touch every dimension.”
As is my want, when I read something I believe to be significant, a few days ago I posted a link to the article on my Facebook page, mindful not all will agree. Two of my Christian friends made comments to the effect that fundamentalist bigotry has done a good deal of disservice to gay folk and we should be about love. I half bit my tongue when I pointed out that if loving God is the first commandment then we need to concur with what God says on all matters, including homosexual activity. But that was not the point of this particular posting, and regarding the rights and wrongs of homosexuality I have posted on this previously. The point I wanted to convey but was missed by my two friends was that Dr. Dobson had made an important point that was more to do with how Christian witness is being undermined now, more than ever, and we need to wake up to the consequences, especially if we are going to be intent on maintaining a biblical witness. These may well lead to us and those we serve becoming further casualties, and in more ways than one, as a result of being on the “wrong” side of the culture war.
The second stand out culture war related article was received yesterday and had the title: “The worst report I’ve ever read” (see here and here). The report that was referred to has the plausible title: “Living with Difference: Community, Diversity and the Common Good” and was commissioned by a private body “the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life” and involved a wide cross section of the “good and the great” deemed to be expert in such areas in producing its findings. The work was done against a rapidly changing religious landscape, with increasing numbers turning away from Christianity in favour of other religions or no religion at all. It recommends changes in society that will reflect those changes and a “national conversation” with the different players that help to shape societal culture and belief working together, coming up with common principles all can agree to.
The author of the report on the Report, as one might expect from the title, was not supportive of the conclusions made, arguing “we have solid foundations for our society, built on a Judeo-Christian understanding of law: “Dieu et mon droit”. Our society needs to recover its confidence in the value of the Ten Commandments. It needs to return to the truth of teachings such as the Sermon on the Mount, to propagate the centuries of deeply-thought through wisdom of monks and mystics, rabbis and scribes” and concluding the report “is an exercise in flawed thinking and misunderstanding, a wasted opportunity and a terrible, terrible shame”. She quotes Andrea Williams, CEO of Christian Concern, whose reaction was equally scathing, for example: “it destroys a solid foundation for strong values and defence against evil and replaces it with a foundation of sand that could swept away in a moment” and “Pluralism can only ever deliver greater fragmentation and confusion, as the last few decades should have taught us. We need a coherent narrative that is sufficiently robust to give us direction and real British values. For good reason, it’s Christianity that has provided that for centuries and it’s only Christianity that can provide it for the future. It is Christianity that has given Britain a strong sense of identity, purpose and direction whilst simultaneously making us hospitable and welcoming to others. Without Christianity we will lose both”. And it is not just conservative leaning Christians who object, including the responsible minister, Nicky Morgan. An article in today’s Sun is just as critical, arguing for the Christian status quo and those who come to the UK from different cultures should either accept what they find or leave the country and find somewhere else more compatible.
Going back to Dr. Dobson, I do not believe we (i.e. those who like him and me have taken a traditional, orthodox, conservative Christian stance on what constitutes correct belief and action) have lost the war. I agree the war often doesn’t appear to be going well when it comes to shaping the hearts and minds and the cultural norms of the present generation. I also believe there have been extremist elements that have made Christians special targets and arguing the case that more difficult. The war is not yet over. My theological understanding is that it will be won for the cause of God in Christ, when Christ comes again and reigns, and the results of all our praying “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done” will be made abundantly manifest. The big question is how do we conduct ourselves in the war, in the time leading up to His return? We all have to answer individually that question and according to our conscience, but if we do see loving God and our neighbor as our guiding principles, which each have multitudinous implications and ramifications, the afore-mentioned considerations cannot be ignored. While wisdom is called for – after all there is a time to be beaten up as a result of challenging cultural norms and a time not to be, we are still called to be salt to preserve what is good in the culture and light to shine into it and expose the many dark places.