Thursday, December 9, 2010

Colson's Misplaced Angst

In response to Apple's pulling of the Manhattan Declaration's iPhone app, Chuck Colson has written an op-ed piece for the San Francisco Chronicle. In his editorial, Colson tries to frame his argument for encouraging Apple to reinstate the Manhattan Declaration's app. But in doing so, he betrays some remarkable disconnects between his elite evangelical worldview and the secular worldview of many Apple consumers.

First, Colson claims it was news to him that the Manhattan Declaration would be considered offensive to large groups of people. Yet he can't be serious, since his very motivation for drafting the declaration stemmed from his concern over society's vast abandonment of traditional conservative values such as the sanctity of life, heterosexual marriage, and religious liberty. If Americans hadn't liberalized their opinions on these three signature topics of the declaration, why did Colson feel compelled to write it?

Second, Colson claims that by revoking the declaration's app, Apple "shut down the dialogue over one of the defining cultural issues of our time." Indeed, Apple plays a popular and formidable role in pop culture, and it recently eclipsed Microsoft as the world's most influential technology company, but is their app store so powerful that it actually controls social discourse? If Colson wanted to say that by revoking his app, Apple reduced society's access to the declaration, that would be far more accurate. Apple may be a powerful communications company, but it's not the thought police - yet.

Third, Colson writes, "If the Manhattan Declaration's positions are offensive, then so are those of mainstream Christianity for the past 2,000 years." As if such a concept is surprising to the evangelical community, or the secular world. You mean many people HAVEN'T been offended by Christianity during the past 2,000 years?

Of course they have! How many wars have been fought - however unjustifiably - with Christianity at their core? How many Christians have been martyred by majorities in cultures outraged by their faith? True Christianity has never been widely embraced, valued, and adored by overwhelming margins in any part of the world.

Yes, some basic tenets of our faith have been recognized as beneficial to society at large, and key principles which have proven advantageous for effective governance have been codified into universally-accepted laws. Customs like Christmas are celebrated the world over. But to the extent that all of these proofs of Christianity's influence over world history represent imperfect expressions of actual Biblical teaching, evangelicals should not be surprised that the number of the redeemed faithful has rarely - if ever - represented a super-majority of the Earth's inhabitants.

In other words, just because cultures across the globe know Who Jesus is and observe some form of Christmas doesn't mean most people in these cultures are saved. We all know you don't need to trust Christ as your Savior to enjoy Christmas. Yet Colson sounds like he's scoffing at the idea - or is stunned to consider the possibility - that Christianity is offensive to most people. Shouldn't he know better?

Of course, Colson does hit several nails squarely on their heads. Apple did cave in - and prematurely - to a warped version of political correctness. The declaration's wording carefully enshrines the Biblical concept of every person's intrinsic significance, regardless of their sexual preference. Disagreement is not hate. And Apple's action in this instance foretells a foreboding likelihood that other ideological apps related to other worldviews and faiths could also be just as easily dismissed by Apple in a sort of witch hunt by Apple executives looking to shape consumers' mindsets according to their personal philosophies.

Which, of course, is their right, too. Apple is a private product which, while it can't discriminate against those who buy it, can be discriminating regarding how it looks and works. To the extent that left-wing activists are using the declaration's app as a test run for dictating content in Apple's app store, then Colson and the declaration need to expose the realities of our new technological world, and state their case for preserving the value they - and to a larger extent, conservative theology in general - lend to the information age Apple has a significant role in creating.

But Colson can't rely on disingenuous, old-school, 1980's right-wing Moral Majority blather to get the job done. He can't fall into the prevalent American Christian trap of assuming we should be the popular crowd, when in fact, the Gospel of Christ is foolishness to the world. We shouldn't be surprised when our worldview is scorned by unsaved people. We happen to live in a country which gives us the freedom to stand up for our beliefs and advocate for our faith, but just because we're having to work at that a lot harder now shouldn't surprise us. It can disappoint us, but it shouldn't be surprising.

I don't know where Christians have gotten the idea that we should be mainstream. Maybe it's the popular - albeit misleading - assumption that America is a Christian nation. Maybe it's all of the revisionist, ethnocentric history being promulgated by right wing educators and elite Christian leaders who desperately want to believe the Founding Fathers were all saints. Whatever it is, the Bible makes it clear that if we're the popular crowd, we're doing something wrong. Don't believe me? Read James 4:4, Matthew 10:22, and John 15:19.

Colson and the folks at the Manhattan Declaration have been given a great opportunity to increase their profile at the expense of Apple's bungling of conventional free speech. They shouldn't squander this chance by playing the jilted lover.

America's evangelicals should never have considered ourselves God's gift to the world anyway. In case you've forgotten, that's what Christmas is all about!
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