(Regardless of which side you’re on.)
There is a religious war raging in America today. A kulturkampf (“culture war”), if you will. The war is between supporters and critics of traditional values. It was officially declared at some point between the elections of Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Bill Clinton in 1992.
- The Carter election marks a watershed moment because of the subsequent rise of the “moral majority” and increased identification of white evangelical Christians with the Republican party.
- The election of Bill Clinton marks another watershed because 1. George H. Bush’s campaign focused much of its rhetoric on “family values” and Clinton’s MORAL unfitness for office, and 2. Clinton’s election led to the rise of Newt Gingrich and his brand of combative, scorched earth politics.
(We can, of course, find traces of the same conflict prior to 1976. But the rise of the moral majority, and the hard-and-fast identification of a large religious demographic with one political party over the other–never as pronounced previously–is singularly important for understanding where we are today.)
The supporters of traditional values see themselves as fighting for the Christian or biblical position on issues like abortion, gay rights, church and state, etc. Their opponents see these traditional values as oppressive, and believe that they are fighting for increased freedom and dignity for the oppressed.
The current anger and polarization in America 2020 is but the latest chapter in the Culture War.
And we are losing the war, regardless of which side we’re on, because no one wins this kind of war. Except for the few who profit off large groups of people being at each others’ throats, of course; media companies, politicians. They win. Everyone else loses.
The Culture War keeps us from seeing the people who disagree with us the way Jesus wants us to see them.
- It dehumanizes them in our eyes. We can’t see them as souls, precious to God, created in his image, because we need them to be evil so we can hate them. The recent kerfuffle over Nancy Pelosi’s claim that she prayed for President Trump is a great example of this.
- We see them as enemies to be feared and destroyed, or idiots to be owned.
- It turns them into the enemy. What does Paul say? “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Remember, he wrote this WHILE IN A ROMAN JAIL, of a Roman government that actively persecuted Christians and would within a few years remove his head from his shoulders.
The Culture War keeps us from seeing ourselves the way Jesus wants us to see ourselves.
- It appeals to the worst parts of us: fear, anger, self-righteousness, desire to feel grievance and exact revenge. These are the ugliest parts of human nature. Politicians who are skillful at manipulating them rarely go hungry.
- It manipulates the worst parts of us. It gives us an enemy, an object for our “Two Minutes Hate”, so that we can feel cleansed and empowered by self-righteous anger.
- It puts our confirmation bias on steroids. If the only news we ingest is news that agrees with the opinions we already hold, and if the providers for that news know that we are more likely to watch them when we are inflamed, … You do the math. MSNBC and Fox increase their ratings and profits by keeping their audiences angry.
- If our confirmation bias is inflamed, if our prejudices are being manipulated and played to, then we are increasingly LESS likely to examine our prejudices critically or listen to anyone who disagrees with us about anything.
- It solidifies our tribe instinct, assuring us that there are bad people out there who want to destroy the things we think are valuable, and that our only safety is found in the tribe and the tribe’s definition of out and in, good and bad.
- It makes it impossible for us to listen to those who disagree with us; their very existence is an attack on the tribe, after all. (“Every one of you should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” [James 1.19])
Do you want to win the Culture War? Then fight it the way Jesus would fight it, or the way he says his disciples should fight it:
- Share a meal. Buy a cup of coffee.
- Shut up and listen to someone you disagree with. Reflect on what they say instead of trying to own them or get clicks.
- Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you.
- If someone tries to take your shirt, give them your coat as well. If someone tries to make you go one mile, go a second mile as well.
- Remember that the way you treat the other person is the way you treat Jesus; “As you have done it to the least of these, …” Your love for Jesus is only as pure and deep as the love you show the person you disagree with the most deeply.
Christians today are a lot like Peter in the garden, I think.
Asleep when we should be praying and watching.
And we wake up, we lash out. Remember, when the soldiers came, Peter wanted to save Jesus, so he struck out with his sword … and cut off some poor guy’s ear. And Jesus healed the man, one of those who came to arrest him. And they carried him off anyway, as if Peter hadn’t done anything.
When we wage war with the world’s weapons–anger, fear, self-righteousness, derision, playing to the audience for clicks or lol’s or likes–we miserably fail to reflect the one we claim to be defending.
Jesus doesn’t want you to defend him. He wants you to imitate him.