Let’s Discuss: Some IM Statements about Culture
Here are some thoughts about Christians and their relationships with the culture(s) around them, especially here in the U.S. We eagerly await your responses and discussion.
Does the gospel change the way you look at the people the culture war tells you to fear and dislike?
• MS – 2009
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We will never get this right. We can’t really understand what our culture is any more than a fish can understand what water is. We can only pray to have our eyes opened, study a far wider world than we experience, and stop thinking our way of doing things is the only way.
So the challenge becomes humility and discernment. I have to know what it is I don’t know, see differences I didn’t even know could exist. I have to be wise about what in my culture is truly Christian, merely neutral, or demonic. I have to learn from people of other backgrounds, both Christian and non-Christian, and see what aspect of God shines through them. I have to consider which unthinking, deeply held beliefs are in fact leading me farther from God and my true nature, even if they seem to me to be the only obvious way. My religion will be cultural, but may that culture be more and more the culture of the Kingdom of God.
• DZ, from a 2010 post – Religion and Culture
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We are seemingly obsessed with protecting ourselves and others (especially others) from sin in any art form. You do know that the rating system we use for movies today was developed by Father Daniel Lord, a Jesuit priest, who based it firmly on Catholic theology. This was an attempt to keep movies “safe” for families as well as promote religion. The promotion of religion has gone by the wayside for the most part, but we still cling to the safety factor, setting limits on the rating level our kids can watch. We feel better about ourselves when we keep our kids from seeing things that might make them think about sin.
The same goes for books, music and visual art, like paintings we allow in our homes. We expect them to present to us a “safe” view of life, one where if sin is committed, it is punished swiftly. Where crime does not pay. Where we think only on nice things. Where the sun always shines, birds always sing in tune, and life is always wrapped in a neat red ribbon. We demand that our artists conform to this vision of safety. They cannot explore issues of life like sexuality or doubt about faith, because that might make the consumer of the art uncomfortable or, heaven forbid, lead them to sin themselves.
And as you might imagine, safe art is no art at all. For art to reach into one’s soul, it must address four issues:
- Who are we?
- What makes us unique—what is our purpose in life?
- What has gone wrong?
- How can we get back?
• JD, from a 2010 post – Selling Jesus By the Pound
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Culture war Christianity is as wrong-headed and off-center on the left as it is on the right. Working for “justice” can be as much an exercise of works-righteousness and self-righteousness as any promulgation of rules enforcing traditional moral frameworks. Groups like this, which develop their own constituencies, strategies, and rhetoric can be as unloving, aggressive, and even militaristic as any group touting “traditional values.”
The agenda of a church and denomination should be Christ. When Jesus is removed from the center, it becomes a free-for-all. And it doesn’t matter whether you replace Jesus with “family values” or “justice.” No matter which side of the debate you’re on, you’re missing the point.
• CM, from a 2018 post – Culture War Christianity…from the Left
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So now I’m going to make someone really mad, but I don’t care: While you are allowed to have your convictions on the morality of human conduct, you are to keep your nose out of your neighbor’s business. What your neighbor is doing may be immoral, but it’s not your problem and it’s not your responsibility. “Love your neighbor as yourself” does not have fine print giving you permission to be a moral policeman in the bedrooms of people whose choices about sex differ from yours and mine.
…I don’t have to accept or endorse anything to be his friend, neighbor or fellow human being. I don’t have to oppose everything a homosexual does in life to say I believe the Bible is clear on this subject. But what he does, in his life, and how he lives before God is not my business. I respect his right to live before God and his own conscience. I am not (normally) called to violate the sanctity of another person’s moral competency, especially if their behavior is outside of my immediate family and children, and isn’t illegal.
• MS, from a 2006 post – The Nosey Evangelical Neighborhood
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I think that the practice of “vulnerability” as personal transparency may have gone to seed. Just take one flip around the TV channels and you can see that. What are all of these confessional talk shows, reality shows, and religious testimonial programs if not examples of “letting it all hang out” to an extreme? And don’t even get me started on social media! I could find more than enough examples on one screen shot from Facebook or Twitter to make my points. The information age has led in many cases to “TMI.” “No secrets” has become “no limits” on the personal information some will share.
Is it possible we no longer know how to value virtues like privacy, modesty, or restraint?
• CM, from a 2013 post – Virtue and the Limits of Vulnerability
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Whether we understand it or not, the Civil War has shaped each and every one of us who is an American. I am still learning to appreciate this as I grow older and reflect upon my own sheltered life. I am particularly moved when I consider the state of racial relationships in our country. Though measurable progress has been made, we have far to go.
As a privileged white man in America, I take so much for granted and far too often ignore the ongoing plight of those whose lives have continued to be difficult and discouraging since our greatest national conflict. And yet the circumstances have been all around me, crying out, every day of my life. My youth was salted with television news accounts of the Civil Rights movement, my heart stirred by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s dream. Members of my family were part of the “white flight” from Chicago’s city neighborhoods to the suburbs, as the descendants of slaves whose families had traveled north in the Great Migrations moved in.
I now live in the city where Bobby Kennedy calmed the crowds after Dr. King’s assassination, a city that ironically once housed the headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan, whose mission was to stir up racial hatred and violence. I visit her neighborhoods in my work; neighborhoods that remain largely segregated by race and class. I still wince when I have to speak of “the black church” after attending a service in the city for one of my patients of African-American heritage. Why not simply “the church”?
Returning to my small town residence south of the city, I drive past homes where Confederate flags still fly, where people of color remain few and far between, and where prejudice still speaks, albeit in quieter tones. Even in recent years, a few schools in our region have been penalized for overt demonstrations of racism at sporting events. You won’t find African-Americans in the local congregation where I worship, I’m ashamed to say. For the most part, black is black and white is white, and we maintain our distance.
Biblically, tolerance of this state of affairs is unacceptable.
• CM, from a 2011 post – 150 Years Ago, Today