Fight or flight?

Culture | Have Christians lost the culture wars?

Issue: "Remember Los Alamos," March 27, 1999

There is no moral majority. Most Americans adore their president, even if he turns out to be a rapist. Television and movies are getting more and more decadent, while video and the Internet have made pornography mainstream. Homosexuality is in. Traditional morality is out. Those who stand up for virtue are portrayed as the bad guys, intolerant enemies of freedom, while the morally corrupt are hailed as cultural heroes. Clearly, Christians and cultural conservatives have lost the culture war.

So reasons conservative tactician Paul Weyrich, and he makes a good, sobering point. He recommends that conservatives face up to these facts, separate from a corrupt culture, and wait for a better time.

But maybe we should ask whether Christians and cultural conservatives have actually been fighting a culture war. We have fought political wars. We have waged moral arguments. However important these are, they are not culture-making activities. For the most part, Christians have uncritically capitulated to the secular culture, hardly even putting up a fight.

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If Christians were serious about waging a cultural war, they would get involved in the arts. They would crowd into journalism schools, film institutes, and graduate programs. Local churches, instead of telling its artists to get a real job, would lay hands on them and send them into the fray. Instead of condemning Christian writers and musicians who cross over into the secular market where they might actually exert an influence, they would support them with prayer and patronage.

If Christians, on the whole, are exerting almost no influence on the culture-despite their large numbers-it is because they have already separated themselves from the mainstream. To be sure, the Bible does tell Christians to separate from ungodliness (2 Corinthians 6:17). The problem is that Christians have tended to separate physically from the culture-thus insulating it from a Christian influence. And yet, many of these Christians in separated little worlds still persist in conforming to the secular culture, bringing worldliness into the church. The influence is all one way.

There is thus a separate Christian entertainment industry. But, while remaining separated, it follows the same fashions introduced by the secular entertainment industry. Though the words might be more wholesome, the art forms themselves-rock, rap, heavy metal-are set by the dominant culture. A truly original, culture-making contemporary Christian musician would try to create a new sound.

Even churches are capitulating to the secular culture, changing their practice, their worship, and their teaching so that they conform to cultural expectations. They imagine that by downplaying doctrine, soft-pedaling morality, and appealing to the subjectivity, relativism, and consumerist expectations of America today, they can bring more people into the church. The danger is that instead of evangelizing the culture, the culture evangelizes the church.

Actually, Christians have made inroads into many culture-making professions, but they are often too timid and too eager to be liked to be waging a war. Christian colleges have the potential to be a powerful resource for the church in the intellectual battles against unbelief. And yet, Christian academicians are often so eager to seem intellectually respectable to their non-Christian peers that they capitulate at the first sign of blood. Instead of entering into intellectual combat by trying to refute the untruths of today's intellectual establishment, many evangelical theologians are busy trying to find a way to make them compatible with a revised version of Christianity.

Many Christian artists, writers, and others in culturally influential vocations are so eager to be accepted by their secular peers that they keep their faith a secret, assuming that they must be a good influence by their presence alone, while slavishly conforming to the dictates of the secular establishment. Christians who cower in the closet, of course, exercise no specifically Christian influence at all.

So before striking our colors in the culture wars, Christians should at least put up a fight. In fact, the enemy is vulnerable on several fronts. Here are two specific battles that Christians have a good chance of winning:

0The family. The basis of every culture is the family. Christians have, in fact, been waking up to the importance of families, with fathers and mothers devoting more attention to their children-and to each other-than was common a few decades ago. Christian families are raising some good kids. They should have an emotional stability and a moral center beyond their peers from wrecked families. The next generation of Christian young people may well grow up to be effective, culture-leading adults.

Of course, to win this cultural battle, Christian couples will have to stay together and stop getting divorced.


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