Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Squawking Pawns, Pump Cranks, and Water
Have we become pawns?
Have conservatives in general, and evangelicals in particular, become pawns in our North American culture?
Left-wing purveyors of unconventional morality yank our chain with impunity, and we reflexively squawk. We evangelicals like to say that even if our squawking doesn't bring us the changes we desire, it still honors God, and His standards for morality and decency. But how God-honoring is our squawking?
Plus, can we champion morality and decency even if we don't model them ourselves? After all, a lot of our squawking is more rancor than redemption.
And since we've become such reliable squawkers, and so ineffective at encouraging our fellow Americans to return with us to purer days, how effective have we become at serving our post-Christian society as reliable agents of free, gushing publicity for the very things we say we oppose?
Maybe it's not that we're pawns, but we're pumps. You know - those old hand-crank pumps, with the long, curved handle, like what they used all the time on Little House on the Prairie and Gunsmoke to get water up from a well. Pump it long enough, and hard enough, and water would splash out.
Only now, instead of the life-giving water that Christ wants to distribute through us, we spew indignant, self-righteous tirades; a pump whose handle our culture has become adept at manipulating for its own benefit.
Consider two very recent stories that have ricocheted through our culture regarding homosexuality. Well, three: first was the spat over HGTV's cancellation of a remodeling show featuring the Benham twins. Then came the kisses between NFL draftee Michael Sam and his boyfriend on live television.
Then yesterday, an openly gay city councilman from Fort Worth, Texas, got into a Twitter tiff with the Weather Channel over photos they use to depict Cowtown on their smartphone app. Joel Burns became something of a poster child for the fight against homophobia when he gave an impassioned speech about "It Gets Better" to encourage gay teenagers facing bullying over their sexual identity. When Burns tweeted a couple of sarcastic digs at the Weather Channel for using photos of downtown Dallas instead of Fort Worth - illustrating the incessant rivalry between the nearby cities - somebody at the Weather Channel tweeted back something sarcastic about bullying. And then all sides were off to the races.
If it wasn't for the squawking by social conservatives from Russell Moore, Matt Walsh, and even me, how many of these incidents would likely have frothed up into such spectacles of new moralism v. dying religiosity? It doesn't help when we act surprised at cable channels like HGTV re-thinking how two publicly evangelical reality TV personalities could offend ardent pro-gay activists. And we forget that network television has been championing unconventional sexuality for years now - usually with the blessing of entertainment-loving evangelicals.
Yes, people like Fort Worth's Councilman Burns talk about bullying from a gay teenager's perspective, mostly because such impressionable, confused kids are being bullied by conservative and religious teens. And then we evangelicals want to claim bullying by pro-gay advocates over the HGTV thing.
When footballer Sam announced his sexual preference earlier this year, it gave him some publicity, but it didn't really compensate for the fact that before his controversial announcement, hardly anybody outside of Missouri had ever really heard about him. If being the first openly gay player in the NFL is as big a precedent as some liberals want it to be, why not just wait and see if he can compete on the field like any other rookie? I know almost nothing about sports, but experts say there's a big difference between college ball and pro ball. People watching the NFL draft on live television knew Sam is gay, and when football players of any sexual preference get good news about their career, what is one of the first things they do? They hug and kiss a loved one. It's not rocket science, folks. What did you expect?
It's one thing to advocate for Biblical truth, and it's another to wander around society constantly criticizing people for the sins they commit. Like we're shocked that people aren't perfect. One of the things I try hard to do on this blog is respond to these incidents in ways that don't sound holier-than-thou, although sometimes, that's easier said than done. When it comes to homosexuality, evangelicals seem to have a particular hatred not just towards the sin, but the sinners. Yet homosexuality existed during Christ's time on our Earth, and He didn't harp on it. Some evangelical scholars say gay prostitutes worked in the temple along with heterosexual ones, yet Christ overturned the tables of... the moneychangers. There are passages in the Bible that clearly define the sin of homosexuality, yet why would they be in the Bible, if homosexuality didn't exist when these books were being written?
Granted, for millennia, homosexuality was a closet sin, and frequently illegal. It hasn't been until the last couple of decades that society has allowed the barriers against public acceptance of homosexuality to so casually disintegrate. And yes, this new age of "tolerance" is unsettling and grim.
But things have been worse. You've heard of the flood, and Noah's ark, right? And Sodom and Gomorrah? Only it wasn't just homosexuality that incited God's wrath in Old Testament days, but sexual perversion of all sorts, including plenty of the kinds heterosexuals get up to all the time. Lusting, innuendo, gratuitous flirting, provocative clothing, adultery... getting uncomfortable yet?
Christianity tolerates a lot of sins, and abhors a select group of sins, of which homosexuality is particularly salacious. The media can't yank our chain - or pump our handle - with obesity, or slander, or lying to the IRS, but get a black NFL draftee on live TV playing kissy-face with his white male lover, and it seems many of evangelicalism's talking heads readily take the bait. We embrace the role towards which secular society has quietly shunted us: that of reactionary ditherers, instead of Christ-like examples of timeless truth.
We began building the coffin for our influence within our culture when Christianity began to look for patterns within our culture to emulate. At first, ingratiating the culture was billed as an effective way to help church-goers still want to attend church. Then we began modeling the world so that new, "unchurched" people would want to attend church. And we stopped calling them "churches," too. We farmed out the raising of Godly teenagers to youth "ministries" with staffmembers who tried to be the friends of teens - a newfangled role in our increasingly casual society that most parents couldn't pull off convincingly. We embraced rock music, because it spoke to new generations. We tolerated divorce, because marriage is hard. Sex before marriage? Well, everybody else was doing it.
Behind the scenes, evangelicals who tried to tow a stricter line towards the Gospel were branded as "fundamentalists" and mocked - even within the Christian community - for their prudishness, and their legalism. And unfortunately, a lot of their prudishness was legalism, as is now being demonstrated with the collapse of several legendary bastions of fundamentalist ideology, including those of Bill Gothard, C.J. Mahaney, and Doug Phillips.
Meanwhile, I think we'd probably be better imitators of Christ if we let Him pump our wells instead. In Isaiah 44:3, God promises that He "...will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants."
How are we nourishing our parched and weary land with what we say, and write, and promote? The basic message we have to share within our spheres of influence is the same as it ever was, and frankly, the way we should share it hasn't changed, either. Even though the seeker-sensitive folks told us it had, and now our easily-riled social media mavens say it has changed, too, so they can get more clicks, pageviews, and Facebook "likes."
The longer I write this blog, the stronger I believe the timeless truths of the Gospel are best shared by the timeless truth of the Fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.
The more we model the Fruit of the Spirit, the less anybody can yank our chain. The less reflexive our stance within our society becomes. And the more Christ can be honored in our society.
In His perfect sovereignty, God has called you and me to be His salt and light in this specific place and time. Geographically, and historically. For His glory, and our good, and the good of our neighbors. This should give us confidence, but not a confidence that bullies. This should give us purpose, but not as people who have to play catch-up with culture.
Bull horns and pulpits command attention, but how we say and live the things we believe will validate our integrity.
He [Who was seated on the throne] said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life." Revelation 21:6