I heard it said that Garrison Keillor has a face for radio. Some things don't come across well on all media. Let us see if I can put over the following visual illustration.
I was on a personal tour of the Capitol building in D.C. last year when my well-connected guide collared Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf as he was rushing past. She introduced the congressman to me and my friend Heidi, and the man (God love him) dispensed with the usual niceties and looked us square in the face and said:
"Where are all the great men?"
I, on the spot, and still more prepared for schmoozing than for Pauline sincerity, answered something bland about Washington and Jefferson. To his credit, Mr. Wolf ignored my shallowness and proceeded to pantomime a profundity using the air space around him. He raised both hands to about shoulder-level, roughly 12 inches apart, and called one hand "the church" and the other "the world." He said that morally speaking the world stands here and the church stands there. He posited that this is always a constant distance of separation.
Where the thing gets scary, explained Wolf, is that as the world moves toward greater immorality, the church continues to keep the same distance from it. That is to say, the church (according to Mr. Wolf's observation) is sliding into debauchery along with the world, just at a slower rate. What is important to note is that this slippage from God is not so easily detected because the gap between church and world remains the same, and so we seem, to ourselves, to be doing OK.
The phenomenon is the reason why the Lord told Israel not to mingle with the Canaanites because the Canaanites would pull them down (Deuteronomy 20:16-18). You and I might want to quarrel from pure logic that the moral influence must surely flow in the opposite direction. But then we would be quarreling with God.
There is a little thing called the "Overton Window." It is the term for an insight by a Joseph P. Overton that at any given point in the stream of a population's public life there is a "window" that contains or frames a range of opinion that is currently acceptable. Outside that window lie the ideas considered wacko. The intriguing thing is that what is "acceptable" and what is "wacko" can (and does) shift. The window itself moves-and clever and diabolical forces have an interest in moving it.
Yesterday's "radical" is today's "acceptable." Yesterday's "unthinkable" is today's merely "radical"-and, with a little deft manipulation, will be tomorrow's "acceptable." Given more time and massaging, "unthinkable" can go all the way to "popular" and then "policy." Once, Communists in America lurked in the shadows; now the Communist Party USA is an unabashed presence at the Oct. 2 "One Nation Working Together" rally.
Do you remember how you felt the first time you saw a movie or TV show that broke the gay "taboo"? We Christians knew what was going on then. This was the opening salvo of a long-range strategy of the savvy gay lobby to make homosexuality less disgusting, and then acceptable, and finally mainstream. When Brokeback Mountain came, CNN headlined approvingly, "Gay Cowboy Movie Shatters Stereotypes."
It is clear to me that the order of the day for Christians is no longer to stay our ground but to push back-with the weapons of purity, politeness, decent behavior. To stand still is to be lost. When you were a kid at the beach you had to dig in your heels to keep the undertow from sucking you into the deep. "If you are not firm in faith, you will not be firm at all" (Isaiah 7:9).
As civil discourse becomes more rude, unloving, and lacking in gentleness and generosity, as road manners become deplorable, and television fare is in the gutter, we must be intentionally polite and kind and pure. Politeness will no doubt look like dorkiness to some. But for others, the light will shine more brightly as the dark gets darker.