I am sure I don’t have to tell you that, out there, there is a conversation going on about your faith. It isn’t a pleasant conversation – in fact, the term most often used to describe it is a culture war. This is taking place in your country’s legislature, media, and online comment sections. My question is, why do Christian people think it is valuable to participate in the so-called culture wars?
My answer is, I don’t know – to me, participating in the culture wars is not worth anyone’s time. There is some nuance as I get further into the article, but for now please give me a hand with propping up these two straw men.
As far as I can tell, there are two brands of Christian culture warriors. The first person attempts to defend the faith against some obtuse force, let’s say “the world.” The second person I am thinking of is standing up to engage “the world” in a sensitive, compassionate, and tolerant discourse.
I have a suggestion. These people are both in error; and their error is not in the substance of their position, but in their posture. They are standing up. I am suggesting they sit down. Both the first and second person have identified a social phenomena: “the world” is in enmity with Christianity. The Bible seems to support as much. The question is how does one respond to this enmity phenomena?
My suggestion, to sit down, is the position of a third person. This third person also acknowledges the same enmity, but she responds to it with a sort of extreme humility, followed by patience and a shrewd, cunning preparedness. I’ll explain.
Like the first and second person, the third person also observes the socio-spiritual world-versus-Christians phenomena playing out in politics and media, but, in his humility, refuses to directly engage in either perpetuating or alleviating this enmity. Instead of standing up for his faith, he remains seated.
In the political realm, the third person remains seated about his views on abortion, the definition of marriage, and who gets to use what bathroom. In the social realm, he remains seated about his view on R-rated movies, sex outside of marriage, and recreational use of drugs and alcohol. Of course, he has an opinion on these things – who doesn’t? and why shouldn’t he? – but he makes the intentional, often difficult choice to keep it to himself. Why?
The third person puts an extreme premium on humility. And while I wouldn’t doubt that humility does play a part in the first and second persons’ approach to their engagement with the culture wars, the third person goes further. He finds that humility is required not only in the substance of his beliefs and the form of his communication, but that humility applies to his right to even speak.
Yes, the third person believes that humility can trump his freedom of speech. You may have heard humility described as a posture before – this is not a new idea – but the third person takes it literally. He does not stand up to fight the culture wars, even if freedom of speech suggests he could do so. You might say that the third person is acutely aware of another important right – the right to remain silent. And given “the world” appears to be putting religion on trial, there may be good reason to practice silence. Even so, the third person does not understand humility to dictate an eternal vow of silence.
There are at least two important exceptions: The first is that the third person does not apply this posture in her church. Suffice to say that in her own Christian community, the third person may discuss the culture wars not in order to win (by any definition), but in order to keep each her community accountable for their personal positions on the issues of the day.
The third person is not naive – she has an opinion on the headlines – but the third person keeps it to herself, unless she can help a brother or sister refine their opinion and have hers refined in turn.(Incidentally, this is the exception under which this article is written and published – this magazine is, after all, an extension of the writer’s Christian community). The second exception is that the third person, comfortably seated, is in the uncomfortable position of considering her non-negotiables. How does she distinguish what aspects of her faith are negotiable and what aspects are not? There is no formula for this. However, there is a handy rule of thumb, which is this: if it isn’t about the person of God, then it is probably not a non-negotiable.
Why is this rule helpful? It brings the focus to the eternal and universal. The only variable on God’s existence is our individual capacity to comprehend it. But whether you are witty or dull, capable or incapable, self-sufficient or needy, you can know God. This in itself is a mystery that requires humility to comprehend. But in terms of public discourse – which is what this article is about – the rule of focusing on the eternal gives you a guidepost of what is worth defending. You could think of it in another way: what humility is there in permitting a person to go on believing that Jesus was merely a good man? None. The third person must stand up for Christ. The Bible suggests that if he doesn’t, Christ will not stand up for him on the last day.
I’m serious – look it up!
If you are a Christian, maybe you are catching on now. The third person thinks her opinions on an issue are not worth standing up for unless they are both the things to live for and to die for. Comprehending this takes up our last ounce of humility. I won’t ask that you humble yourself any further. I certainly can’t bare to myself. Let’s talk about patience.
The first and second person might rightfully criticize the third person on one particular point: if we all sit, how will anyone ever know about the truth in Christ? How can you fulfill the Great Commission? How will people know about the straight and narrow way? The third person’s answer is one he can only give by experience: those opportunities will simply come to you. Indeed, because you are sitting quietly instead of standing to speak, you maintain an approachable posture for those who might want to cross the floor. The third person might go as far as to say that it is God who will bring these people to you in his time. It is something of a mystery, but the third person has experienced it and it is, to his surprise, strangely effective.
So if the third person is sitting and not speaking, what should she do with her time? She should not lay idle – for what is the point in that? She should, as the third person sees it, be listening, looking, and waiting on God through a sort of shrewd preparation: Guard her feelings. Learn through study. Grown through contemplation. Reject what is evil. Live in faith. Hope against hope. Pray for her family. Pray for her friends. Pray for her enemies. Consult the scriptures. Bear witness to Christ in her words and actions. Keep up with her campus Christian club. Serve everyone with her skills. Contemplate existence. Excel in her field of work. Remove the plank from her own eye. Carry others’ burdens. Chew on Ravi Zacharias videos on YouTube. Raise her children in the way they should walk. Share her wealth freely. Give her tunic as well. Seek out just resolutions. Assist in crises. Consult her elders for advice. Forgive her debtors. (Refer to Ephesians 4 for more, if you can handle it).
This is the shrewd and cunning preparedness I mentioned at the top. You may prefer to think of it as being “innocent as a dove and wise as a serpent.” People who are standing can accomplish some of this, but not all of it. People who are sitting have the advantage of not being led astray by the sound of their own voice.
C.S. Lewis said that humility is a uniquely Christian virtue. It is not likely that you will see a non-Christian practice it convincingly. With a commitment to humility, you will be different. Everyone will know. They will admire you and seek you out. With patience and shrewd anticipation, you will be ready to give them what they need when they find you. If you’re reading this magazine, you are probably the third person or, with a little effort, you could be. And you’re very well wondering, everything you’ve said here is all good and fine, but if someone asks me a direct question, should I sit and stay silent? The third person shouldn’t consult another third person on this – he should consult the spirit of God with that question both now and then again when it occurs in real time. My suggestion is, right now, you’re sitting and reading. Keep sitting. There are more pages in this magazine.
The author is a graduate student in Canada. Like the third person, the author prefers to keep a low profile.