“Culture War.” It’s a term that gets tossed around a lot. Most of the time I hear it from conservative political circles and evangelical theological circles. I’m not really sure about the etymology of the phrase but I suspect the modern incarnation of the “culture war” could be traced back to the late 70s and the “Moral Majority” spearheaded by Jerry Falwell. The whole idea was there was a broadly conservative and evangelical bent in the American culture that was being passed over and needed a voice.
Fast forward to today and it pretty clear that there in no “moral majority” (if there ever was one) and the culture is increasingly moving in a direction that is at odds with orthodox Christianity. There is not even a cultural sheen of supposed Christian values any more. Just look at any survey about the religiosity of the millennial generation. This perfect storm of declining influence and increasing animosity from the larger culture has made the “culture war” language increasingly popular on evangelical circles. But I wonder if that language, no matter how accurate it may feel, does us far more harm than good?
Most of the culture war language today is applied to the demonization of anyone who would oppose “gay marriage.” You have bakers, photographers, florists, and CEOs. It seems like every other day there is a new story of some person being forced to violate their convictions because they are different than the status quo of the larger culture. It sure feels like warfare language is suitable when describing this sort of bombardment. But it’s not.
To have a war you must have an enemy. To win the war you must sufficiently kill, capture or maim the enemy in order to force them to surrender and submit to the terms you spell out for them. To have a “culture war” there must be an enemy to kill, capture, or maim. There must be a group to force into submission through relentless pressure. Often this is accomplished through dehumanizing the enemy. Making them seem like backwards neanderthals who hold back progress. Sound familiar? Those are things that have been said about anyone who opposes “gay marriage” of late. But there is something in the culture war language that is extremely dangerous and unhelpful when Christians use it to apply to those who hold to values outside of Christian orthodoxy.
Imagine that you have a neighbor or a coworker who you find out holds to a different set of cultural values than you do. Maybe they *gasp* voted for a Democrat or attend an open and affirming church or regularly post on social media in celebration of each time a judge orders a state’s laws against “gay marriage” unconstitutional. If the idea of a culture war is deeply embedded into your psyche than this person is no longer your neighbor or coworker but rather your enemy. They are someone who is out to get you. Someone who is responsible for helping push a cultural change in which evangelicals no longer enjoy the ease and comfort they once did.
So now that this neighbor or coworker is your enemy in the culture war does it change how you approach them, if you approach them at all? Can you still be a friend and a good neighbor to someone when you see them as an enemy? Maybe some people can, but I fear that for many of us that is simply not the case. I worry that the language of the culture war only makes it harder for us to fulfill the summary of the law and prophets that Jesus gave us: “26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” (Luke 10:26-28) I worry that the culture war language makes it harder for us to fulfill the Great Commission because we don’t see our neighbors as sinners in need of the abundant grace of God but as purveyors of a worldview that must be crushed and destroyed above all else. This culture war worldview makes people the ones we contend with, wrestle with, and do battle against.
But Paul tells us that our biggest beef is not with people who don’t know Jesus. These are people who have not experienced salvation and who have no sanctifying work taking place in their lives. Those people who the culture war would tell us are our enemies are merely acting normally. The real war is taking place behind the scenes. It is one that Christians are aware of, and it is also the one where we find the real enemy. It is not our neighbor or our coworker. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 6:11-12)
Now, you might be saying, “Hold on here, doesn’t the Bible say something about people who oppose God being our enemy?” You may be thinking of Romans 5:10 which says: 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. Wait, what? So am I saying that if that friend or coworker is not a Christian they are an enemy of God. Yes. But did you catch what else Paul said in that verse? We were once enemies of God too and the only reason we don’t hold that unenviable title now is because Jesus saved us. So, but for the grace of God, we’d be just like our coworkers and neighbors: sinners in need of a Savior.
And that is what it really all boils down to. We need to see those around us through grace colored glasses. See them as people who are as we once were: enemies of God but not our enemies. So maybe we should rethink the language of a “culture war” if it ends up making it more difficult for us to fulfill the commandments of Scripture. Personally, I don’t want to live in a world where everyone around me who has different ideas is my enemy to be silenced and forced to submit. That’s something for people on both sides of “gay marriage” issue to remember.