The Culture Wars’ lies about political solutions:
“The political solutions at play in the culture wars will be the most important changes in our community/country.”
“The best/only way to make an impact on this world is through advocacy and activism around social issues.”
Voting is Both a Right and a Privilege
When you travel internationally, especially to countries that are not democracies, you develop an appreciation for having a voice in government, no matter how small. You begin to realize just how many people live in this world who have no voice whatsoever in their local or national governments. It doesn’t mean any of our democracies have the whole thing down perfectly, or even well at all for that matter. But seeing all the alternative ways of doing government can be eye-opening. Those of us with the right to vote are privileged, at least by global standards.
But if you spend much time digesting our media, you could easily conclude that the political solutions at play in our government are the end-all conversations around any issue. No matter the issue–racism, immigration, abortion, lgbtq+, guns, environmental concerns, even the economy–the message is clear: all the meaningful solutions are political. The logical end to that message, then, is that the very existence of our country or state or community quite literally depends upon the outcome of the next election. Every conversation around every issue, then, feels existential in nature. So, in the words of Dr. Phil: How’s that working for us?
Being Not Conformed to the Ways of this World
Contrary to what you might perceive, the orthodox Christian worldview does not treat the world’s governmental solutions to our various social issues as existential. In fact, Christian worldview has a way of turning it all upside down and framing these important issues very differently than our culture wars frame them. The way we have defined culture wars here, the Christian worldview exists in great tension with how our culture frames up these conversations. This is true because God’s ways are different from our ways…His thoughts are different from our thoughts. And His kingdom perspective turns everything inside out and upside down.
Christ followers are therefore instructed NOT to be conformed to the ways of this world but to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:2). In other words, following Jesus means we are being changed more and more to think about these issues on an entirely different framework than mere political or governmental solutions. That is an important perspective.
Jesus and the Roman Government
The culture of Jesus’ time was highly politicized. The Roman empire’s occupation of Israel was the subject of much tension and cultural divide. As discussed here, entire rabbinical movements arose out of these divisions. The ethnic humiliation of “God’s chosen people” being under the thumb of the Roman empire was simply too much for some to bear. And the burdensome taxation system was central to those feelings. It was at the top of the culture war conversations at that time.
So it is important to see Jesus’ treatment of the issue when certain Pharisees dragged him into it, trying to trap him into decrying the Roman government. They asked him if it was right to pay taxes to Caesar or not. But he declined to fight their culture wars for (or with) them. He answered, “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and give to God what belongs to God.” Matthew 22:21. Make no mistake, decades after his death and resurrection, Jesus’ revolution would turn the Roman empire on its ear. But at the time he walked among them, Jesus of Nazareth was not even a blip on Rome’s radar screen. And most students of his ministry would say that was intentional. Oh, reform and revolution would come…but not by political power and certainly not as quickly as anyone thought it would. Governmental reform was simply not Jesus’ goal.
A Revolution of the Heart
In his discourse to his disciples when he sent them out into the culture with his kingdom principles, he admonished them not to be afraid of the things the culture was afraid of. “Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28. Jesus had a way of keeping a laser focus on the spiritual, prioritizing spiritual solutions and making governmental solutions a lower priority. In this way, He simply did not fit into the culture wars of his time. Neither should his followers today.
The culture wars’ lies about political solutions are lies about priority. It is not that political solutions to these important issues are unimportant. Of course they are important. The lies are much more nuanced than that. The lie is that they are what is MOST important…they are existential. The revolution we call Christianity is, of course, very interested in abortion and immigration and lgbtq+ issues…but the solutions it sees as most important are ones that change hearts, not just behavior. Therein lies the truth about Christianity and the culture wars. The former is about changing hearts and the latter is more about changing behavior.
We Really Need to Get Out More
Let’s come back full circle to where we began this post…traveling internationally. We in the U.S. have our own unique lens through which we see important issues around us. In that regard, we can be a bit of an echo chamber. But when you begin to travel to other places around the world and begin to see this same world (and these same issues) through other cultures’ eyes it changes things for you. This is true even within the world of Christianity. Christians in other parts of the world just shake their heads in wonder at some of the things they see and hear from us Christians here in the U.S. They are right to do so.
For example, when those Christ followers hear one of us say, “My Christian faith tells me I have a right to have a gun in my home to protect my family”, they are completely clueless what that might possibly mean. Likewise, when they hear us say, “My Christian faith tells me I have a right to make my own choices about abortion,” that sounds completely foreign to them. When they hear, “My Christian faith tells me we should build a wall to keep foreigners from crossing our border,” they do not understand what “Christian faith” we are referencing. The truth is, when it comes to the lies the culture wars tell us about political solutions, U.S. Christ followers could learn a great deal from Christians in other places around the world. We could, and we should.
The Corresponding Truths
So, in contrast to the culture wars’ lies about political solutions listed at the top of this post, here are the corresponding truths for Christ followers:
Political solutions do not change people’s hearts and will therefore typically be among the shallower solutions to what is broken among us.
Spiritual problems require spiritual solutions.
Let’s seek the truth. Together.