Culture “war” lies just beneath the surface

In general, most of us would like to think that the church is finding ways to coexist with the contemporary culture. It’s a common sentiment to believe that the church can be in the world, yet not of it, and that we can serve an imperfect world, insomuch as we are an imperfect church made up of imperfect people.

Unfortunately, there are those who see the church’s role as one of waging war on a secular culture, positioned to swallow whole the kingdom of God on Earth.

“It is impossible to deny that we are in a culture war in our nation, as well as the rest of the world” says Becca Anderson of ASSIST news service, a right-wing purveyor of manifestos disguised as news, “What we believe as Christians is diametrically opposed to what we see around us daily.”

She goes on to argue that the church’s indifference to the impingement of the rest of the world on “God’s territory” is comparable to surrender on the battlefield. Tim Ewing, founder of Rare Jewel Magazine, a publication “designed to inform, equip and inspire those who desire to see America’s Christian foundation restored,” sees the conflict in starkly black-and-white terms.

“We tend to talk about a Left/Right dichotomy,” Ewing says. “In such an argument, a middle position is deemed as ‘best’. But compromise is bad.”

Ewing goes on to contend that theological and political moderates are the biggest part of the problem. He explains that imagining liberal-conservative ideology along a linear sort of spectrum is not only inaccurate, but also damaging to the values of organized religion. He argues that one should imagine instead moral and social views more like a circle, with what is true and right on the inside, and then everything else beyond the perimeter.

“There is no middle position when you think of it that way,” says Ewing.

So the evangelical position in framing the so-called culture war is clear; but what are they planning to do about it? Send Christians to boot camp, of course, to arm themselves for the coming war.

The focus of quasi-military trainers for the Lord such as Ewing and his partner, Rick Marschall, is first and foremost on writers. Their goal is to engender in Christian writers a “mature sense of outrage,” and to train them in how to counteract what they perceive as an overwhelming wave of secularism infecting “the church.”

From “The Da Vinci Code” to atheist polemicist Richard Dawkins, their army of Christian writers sets out to refute anything in mainstream media that they see as counter to biblical teaching. Further, they are intent on equipping congregations at the local level to do battle with their fellow citizens, teaching them talking points and strategies for winning debates about key moral issues.

“Even if you’re not a writer,” says Anderson, “Ewing and Marschall’s ‘America at the Crossroads’ (training) could be a turning point in your life. Who knows? It could cause you to pick up your pen and charge into the fray.”

At least their crusade is bloodless so far. While a respectful, passionate exchange of words and ideas is at the cornerstone of our democratic heritage, the militaristic context within which the debate is being framed raises violent ghosts from the not-too-distant past. Christianity, after all, has been known to replace the pen with a shield and sword when it is perceived that the stakes are high enough.

Both the most empowering and the most potentially dangerous element of faith is the phenomenon of embracing ideas for which you are prepared to either kill or be killed. This sort of fundamentalism already pervades a radical branch of Islam, the results of which we have seen in palpable terms.

The prospect of taking up a similar bloodthirsty battle cry is as much a distortion of Christian values as has been achieved by jihadists in co-opting the otherwise peaceful Muslim religion.

Let’s pray we don’t repeat history.

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