Friday, March 13, 2015

In Full Retreat

As someone who spends an inordinate and probably unhealthy amount of time and effort reading and trying to interpret the shifting culture, especially via social media platforms, I occasionally see a trend developing slowly over time. Once in a while I see one happen almost overnight and I am seeing that today in the retreat of the culture warriors. This is not a strategic re-positioning or an advance to the rear. This is a full scale, every man for himself, retreat that makes the Highway of Death in the first Gulf "War" look like a fairly even engagement. It is well within recent memory to recall the powerful leaders of the Religious Right strutting around Washington D.C., extorting concessions from any politician outside of deep blue districts who didn't want to be seen as being insufficiently pious with the promise and threat of reliable, devoted legions of religious voters who would march to the polls on command.

These days? Well it is hard to look at social media without hearing the message "Please just leave us alone". It is stunning to see the retreat of the culture warriors, from "The Moral Majority" to "Take Back America!" to "This Far And No Farther!" to "Stand For Religious Liberty!" to "Please Just Leave Us Alone!". We have been so long in this abusive relationship with the political powers that be, or at least the Republican flavor, that we now find ourselves just hoping to avoid being noticed like an oft kicked dog cowering in the corner. Rod Dreher writing for the American Conservative points out an article that describes "social conservatives" as moving from "useful idiots" to "political liability" for  the GOP. As Rod says "The social liberals have won decisively. Let there be no more illusions.". Here is a dirty little secret, they were always winning. Sure they used to make the right soothing noises to calm down the cranky religious nuts that they secretly disdained but these days they are pretty much not even bothering with that anymore. In spite of the ludicrous putative "campaigns" by Mike Huckabee (coinciding with a new book, go figure) and the social conservative pining for a Ben Carson candidacy like a middle-school girl swooning over the hunky high school quarterback, it is far more likely that we end up with a Jeb Bush type establishment candidate to be offered up as a sacrificial lamb against Hillary.

Then there is the odd essay from Russ Moore. Left Behind In America, that makes the case I have been clamoring about for some time, specifically that there have always been a lot fewer actual Christians in America than was assumed. Dr. Moore is a champion of cultural and even political engagement but sounds a lot less militant these days.
The problem was that, from the beginning, Christian values were always more popular than the Christian gospel in American culture. That’s why one could speak with great acclaim, in almost any era of the nation’s history, of “God and country,” but then create cultural distance as soon as one mentioned “Christ and him crucified.” God was always welcome in American culture as the deity charged with blessing America. But the God who must be approached through the mediation of the blood of Christ was much more difficult to set to patriotic music or to “amen” in a prayer at the Rotary Club.
That is completely true but a lot of religious people in America, including some bright and Scripturally fluent Christians, don't get it. The "god" of America, the one invoked in "God Bless America", is not the God of the Bible but a god of our own nationalistic imagination, a god of war and prosperity. It is a pretty good essay but it just doesn't seem to jive with even recent statements from Dr. Moore. Even as he states that we should not look to this very different climate with clenched fists or wringing hands, he doesn't really seem to know how it should look.

Social conservatives have really brought this on themselves. It is not because their positions, at least most them, are wrong. They are actually right. Marriage is indeed only valid when consecrated between one man and one woman for life. Abortion is absolutely state sanctioned infanticide. Being a drunk or drug addict is bad. It is the method that was wrong. Why they bear the fault is that rather than being a prophetic voice in the wilderness in sharp contrast to the prevailing culture we have tried to force the unregenerate to be moral people. Absent the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit making life anew in dead sinners this is impossible without the coercive power of the state and the coercive power of the state is the anathema of  the power of the Holy Spirit.

As for me, I will stay out of the path of the culture warriors charging in full retreat to avoid being trampled (or strafed by the gleeful and vindictive victors on the libertine Left). The mission of the church in America has not changed nor is it any different than our mission in any nation that does, has or ever will exist. In fact with the culture warriors out of the way it should be a lot clearer who is standing for the Gospel and who is not. In my eyes that is great news for the church. Sure it is horrible news for the institutional religion of America that depends on people to fill the offering plate each week but that was never a legitimate part of the church anyway. It was just a sad blip on the radar and one that I am cheerfully  waving good-bye to in my rear view mirror.

1 comment:

Curt Day said...

This is a good post, especially where it lays the blame on cultural warriors for their current plight. But I would like to add one revision. Rather than looking at the problem as one of trying to force morality on those who don't share our faith, perhaps we should look at the problem as one where we tried to share society as superiors over others.

The difference between the two perspectives is this: one assumes that we are always morally superior while the other looks to work with those who are different as peers.