Standing on the (Cultural) Promises
Posted on January 29, 2014
2013 was a culturally eventful year for the United States: the Supreme Court upheld principal provisions of the Affordable [sic] Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, just as it overturned principal provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Prop 8, both of which defined marriage as between one man and one woman. This second judicial decision paved the way for the wholesale legitimizing of same-sex co-habitation as marriage (it’s not actually marriage, of course).
It’s not surprising that MSNBC crowed in its web article posted October 23, “The culture wars are over.” It’s only slightly less surprising that some Christians, like prominent Tennessee evangelical pastor Dan Scott, in his widely distributed sermon “Taking Refuge: Reflections on Same-Sex Marriage,” arrived at the same conclusion but from a Christian angle. Christian culture and its grounding in God’s revelation have been rejected by a majority of the population, and they are incrementally enshrining their secular principles into law. It’s time for Christian culturalists to throw in the towel and embrace more modest projects — like being faithful in family and church.
The Failure of Abdication Strategies
While no one should unrealistically deny the recent successes of the enemies of Christian culture, this abdication strategy (= non-strategy) is precisely wrong. To borrow from the inimitable (and very non-Christian) Mark Twain, the reports of Christian culture’s death have been greatly exaggerated. For one thing, as Jonah Goldberg stated this year at the annual banquet for Jennifer Lahl’s The Center for Bioethics and Culture: “No cause is ever truly lost because no cause is ever truly won. Every cause is only one generation from victory — or defeat.” Historical “trends” are only as accurate as the latest data. I’m reminded of useless predictive statistics like this from football announcers: “This team has never lost when leading at halftime.” This is 100% true — until it isn’t.
Second, the seeds of future victory are often sown in present defeat. Out of Barry Goldwater’s 1964 disastrous presidential loss to Lyndon Johnson was forged a conservative political coalition that led to Ronald Reagan’s two victories, one a landslide (1984). We learn critical lessons in defeat that we can never learn in victories. I pity the individual (or cause) that hasn’t yet tasted defeat. He (or it) isn’t sufficiently mature to enjoy and benefit from victory. Setbacks in the issue of the legality of same-sex- “marriage” can prepare us for wiser cultural strategies — just as the loss in Roe v. Wade did.
Finally, and most importantly, Christians live by faith, not sight (2 Cor. 5:7). When God established his covenant with Abraham that included promises of a multitudinous seed and a “land flowing with milk and honey,” Abraham was a childless husband in a pagan culture. It almost seems as though God deliberately chose to launch his covenant nation with a man most unlikely to father it. God often is in the business situating his people in difficult (even impossible) circumstances in order to assure that when he fulfills his will mightily through them, he alone gets the glory.
The biblical promise of Christian culture is clear (Hab. 2:14; Zech. 14:1–20; Rom. 4:9–13). The question isn’t whether the Holy Spirit, in God’s good time, will use the Lord’s people to Christianize the world, but whether the Lord’s people will be faithful and zealous in believing the culture-conquering promises — and acting on them.
Today I urge you to believe — and act on — God’s (cultural) promises.