Wednesday, May 25, 2005

 

The Culture Wars: Rules of Engagement

I’ll say right upfront that I have mixed feelings on the so-called “Culture Wars”. On the one hand, I think the divide is very real and the struggle between “secularists” and “traditionalists” is an extremely important one. (To that end, I am of the belief that Democrats are losing the culture wars and will continue to do so as long as they fail to repudiate those on the far left who are hostile toward Christianity and traditional values.) On the other hand, I am weary of the ramifications of espousing military analogies to represent the causes of the Church.

We need to ask ourselves “what is the primary goal?” If the objective is to win – period - then, yes, I believe that waging a “war” is the best way to fire up the troops and accomplish the mission of achieving political victories (at least in the short term). But if the primary mission is to change hearts and minds, then the war analogies are perhaps the worst possible method. Rather than eschewing labels and opening a dialogue, we would be reinforcing the stereotypes and further entrenching the armies on both sides.

Another issue to keep in mind is that not even all Christians are in agreement with conservative policies. So this is where it gets tricky. As Expat Teacher points out: “I can still be a committed Christian and vote for a Democrat”.

He makes a valid differentiation between principle and policy by providing examples wherein agreement on a general (Christian) principle can still result in different policies being advocated to achieve them. While I would hope that there are certain things that are repulsive to every Christian, I can also sympathise with a divergence when it comes to determining which specific policy approaches best address our primary concerns.

His blogging partner, gurufrisbee, asked this question, which I would consider to be a necessary corollary: “…is there a theologically sound way to determine which issues are more important than others or perhaps which issues are the ones to focus on and compare for selection purposes?”

To that end, a blog like Evangelical Update is performing a great service in trying to moderate the discussion and really get to know all sides of the debate. It is billed as “a website for lefties who want to understand Christian Evangelicals”. It seems to me that any hope for a true transformation of morality in the U.S. lies in the implementation of proactive, compassionate visions involving attempts to understand differing viewpoints rather than offering only reactionary condemnations of opposing worldviews and, subsequently, declaring “war” on them.

Catez at AllThings2All points out an astute observation by Nancy Pearcey, in which she addresses the disillusionment felt by many evangelicals regarding the political realm:
This heightened activism has yielded good results in many areas of public life, yet the impact remains far less than most had hoped. Why? Because evangelicals often put all their eggs in one basket: They leaped into political activism as the quickest, surest way to make a difference in the public arena - failing to realize that politics tends to reflect culture, not the other way around.(emphasis mine)

In an excellent post from a while back, JollyBlogger offered some important insights as to how we should go about trying to answer the question above:
Culture warriors tend to think in binary terms. There are two kinds of people - those who fight the culture wars and those who don't. I say there is a third way - influencing the culture from the inside, rather than fighting it from the outside.

Influencing the culture from the inside means that, rather than positioning ourselves as outsiders at war with the culture, we do the hard work necessary to earn a hearing in the "marketplace of ideas."...we've got to excel in school, this means we've got to write books and articles that thoughtfully engage the issues of the day, rather than screeds which merely denounce.

This means we go and sit down and talk to "secularists," "liberals," "atheists," "homosexuals," rather than always talking at them from afar. This means that, instead of merely criticizing the "secular news media" and Hollywood, we become broadcasters and actors and producers ourselves. This means that we become politicians who learn the finer points of rhetoric and political science that can somehow enable us to cast a vision that sounds more like a vision for the common good of all, than just a vision to protect our own rights.

A recent USA Today Editorial made an assessment worth pondering:

As religious leaders become more involved in politics, they risk making religion more a vehicle for exerting power over non-believers than for persuading skeptics to join the faith. (Hat tip: Whymrhymer)

Certainly, there are no easy answers and I definitely don't mean to be dismissive of culture warriors who care passionately about the moral direction of this country. But some of these concerns should at least give us pause to question the effectiveness of the tactics and language currently being pursued.

Comments:
Dated, but still has some good points.

Christianity and the Presidential Election
 
Thanks for the link to Evangelical Update. I think you have a valid point about the so-called culture war. The media thrives on pointing out the extremes which tends to make the culture war feed on itself through these gross examples. I can think of examples from both sides: Bill Moyers environment-Christians speech outraged the left, yet it ends up it was filled with a lot of misunderstanding. On the other side you have some stupid preacher in N.C. with a church sign saying there should be more Koran flushings. These two examples are outside the range of normal "conservative" and "liberal" thought, yet they serve to widen the gap between the two by outraging moderates who lean one way or another.
 
Excellent post, Chad.
 
You're right. The extremist views make for much more exciting news stories so the media is all over those kinds of stories. Unfortunately, it effectively reinforces the worst fears of those on each side of the fence. That's why I think what you and some others are doing is so important. Some humility and respect for other people's views is much needed.
 
Chad-

Thanks for the link. Writing my post was very therapeutic and it seems has been helpful for others. Can I just point out one thing...

In the 4th paragraph, it feels like you imply that I would somehow support serial abortions. I certainly do not and in my original post I did declare a universally accepted "Christian principle: Life is God's gift and only God may give or take life"

Abortion is a tragedy and a complete failure of social and personal responsibilities. That is without question. Please don't mistake my post to say anything but that.

The real problem becomes what type of policies Christians want to adopt to reduce the number of abortions annually. Some say teach abstinence only, while others say teach correct condom usage, while a third will say improve economic conditions and health care for poor women. We will have honest disagreement on these policies, but all people involved wish to meet that overarching principle about the value of life.
 
Expat, just a clarification, I did not at all mean to link the abortion reference to your own views. After looking at the original post, I could see how you thought I might have been implying a connection but I was not since I had no idea of your views on the issue.

However, it is good to know that you recognize it to be the horrible tragedy that it is. I cringe everytime I hear the life-ending procedure being minimized as the elimination of a mere clump of cells and that sort of thing.
 
Glad to hear it. :-)

Again, please don't assume because I support the Democratic Party that I'm for everyone of their policies.

Cheers,
 
No, I wouldn't assume that. Actually, I've always gotten the impression you are intellectually honest and not a mere partisan. That's a big reason why I like reading your blog.
 
I am totally with you on the Total Truth idea of working for Christ from within the culture. My signature is "Christian World-view Warrior" for a reason! On the other hand, the Spiritual Warfare is going hot and heavy in this era, and words, or rather the Word, is our sword. How we use it, as skilled warriors, is another matter. It seriously bothers me that Christians are divided, cause there is only one Truth, and we are to be united and of one mind (1Cor.1:10). Relativists, get over it. Some say this just means the Cross. I believe it is the Word which would unite us if we put our worldview to the test.
 
Funny, I was recently wondering what the CWV stood for - thanks for clearing that up! I, too, have a big problem with relativism and I think it's at the root of the divide between "blue" and "red" states, but also, unfortunately, between Christians.

Of course, there is a whole debate as to whether "relativism" is even the right word... But at any rate, I think we're troubled by the same fundamental issue, which is a denial of the very existence of Truth.
 
Happy to oblige!
That's BIG...closing the gap on the existence of Truth. Now let's figure out what precisely the Christian worldview is! Well, maybe not right this minute. I'm glad we have common ground to bounce off of...nice to meet ya.
 
The term culture wars was first introduced by James Davidson Hunter, a sociology professor here in Charlottesville. He got interested in it because he saw people from different denominations lining up on the same side of political issues - and denominations being divided along political lines. For some more background and links, see my blog entry from April 23, 2004 .
 
I don't think it would be a good idea to give up on the military analogy. After all, it's all through Paul. The only problem with it is that the culture war people have picked the wrong enemy. Our enemy is not flesh and blood but spiritual! The people they call the enemy are merely victims of the enemy.
 
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