The Caring Christian: A Culture War Casualty?

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In a recent interview on a “secular” radio station I was asked a simple question:

“Do evangelicals have any room for the irreligious, or doubters?”

It reminded me that in today’s polarized culture, in which Christians are viewed as combatants in a culture war, many irreligious people don’t think Christians love or care about them.”

Which brings me to today’s lesson about the thoughtful creative for whom God is of central importance–we care deeply about people.

This was certainly true of Jesus who was moved with compassion when he saw seekers wandering about and directionless, like sheep without a shepherd.

When Paul visited Athens he saw irreligious, yet spiritually hungry people worshipping a myriad of idols, which were kept and displayed in Athenian homes and temples.

We are told he was deeply distressed and the Greek word translated as “deep distress” is paroxysm, or an intense attack or spasm.

Like Jesus, who was moved to compassion when he saw the spiritually confused crowds, Paul saw spiritually hungry people seeking the restoration of their souls in places where it could never be found.

Today Christians are often quick to criticize the moral deterioration of our nation and to attack the irreligious political activists and media producers who they blame for polluting our spiritual environment, but our first response to the fallen culture should not be a derisive attack–our first response should be a mixture of distress and compassion.

My friend the late Dwight Ozard once wrote in Prism magazine:

“The greatest mission field we face is not in some faraway land. The strange and foreign culture most Americans fear is not across the ocean, it’s barely across the street. The culture most lost to the gospel is our own, our children and our neighbors. It’s a culture that can’t say two sentences without referring to a TV show or a pop song. It’s a culture more likely to have a body part pierced than to know why Sarah laughed. It’s a culture that we stopped loving and declared a culture war on.”

The recent death of Jerry Falwell reminds us of conservative Christians steady move into the political process. Rev. Falwell did a service by reminding Christians of their rights and responsibilities in a democracy, but he also became a polarizing fixture as he routinely demonized his political opponents. Two days after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, in an interview with Pat Robertson, Rev. Falwell said, “I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians … all of them who have tried to secularize America, I point the finger in their face and say, ‘You helped this happen.'”

Throughout the 1980’s and 1990’s, as Rev. Falwell and Pat Robertson became the go-to media spokesman for the conservative Christian movement, the labels fundamentalist, religious right and evangelical became interchangeable in the public mind, this to the detriment of evangelicals according to many.

Likewise, in their embrace of today’s polarizing, demonizing politics with its culture war mentality, many Christians have come to see themselves as combatants in a culture war against lost people instead of compassionate followers of Jesus who see the intrinsic value of each person they meet and who treats them with respect.

Unlike the fundamentalist, who wants a fight with culture (and often other Christians), the early evangelicals set out to engage the culture spiritually and intellectually. They saw evangelicalism as the alternative to fundamentalism’s narrowness and combativeness. Theirs was a spiritual and intellectual movement with societal implications not a political movement aimed at cultural dominance.

They would answer in the affirmative the question “Do evangelicals have any room for the irreligious, or doubters?”

The thoughtful creative for whom God is of central importance cares deeply about people, and in the words of Jesus, “they will know us by our love.”

Yours for the pursuit of God in the company of friends, Dick Staub.

PS. And remember, “these are the best of times and the worst of times, but they are the only times we have.” (For Now).

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    Posted in Staublog in May 18, 2007 by | No Comments »

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