Recently I have been thinking a lot about the anti-Christian path that our nation is on. As I interact within the Christian community, the concern about and awareness of this phenomenon is acknowledged to some degree, but there seems to be very little effort to actually confront it. The manifestations of this concern and awareness tend to be just verbal expressions of disapproval – and most of that only in private conversations.
But to actually make a difference, what is required is to actually mix it up with those who hold and promote the anti-Christian views. This does not necessarily require that we “get in people’s faces.” But it does require that we not shy away from expressing our belief in, and commitment to, the truth of the gospel in the public square. One of the problems, though, is that most Christians don’t know the real extent of the problems we are facing, nor how to advocate for the Christian alternative.
Recently I was listening to Rush Limbaugh talk about the “partisan divide” that we see in the country. Now, his interest in this is primarily political. But in his discussion about the political ramifications, I recognized some implications that also relate to our faith.
Basically he asked the question, “Why do so many very intelligent business owners support president Obama when his policies are working against their business interests. Rush’s conclusion was that their motivations cannot be political because Obama’s redistributive fiscal policy is not compatible with the economic interests of these business owners. There has to be some other reason.
Rush’s reasoning about this was supported in a poll conducted by the Rasmussen organization. In this poll, it was found that among those who rarely, or never, attend church or other religious services, Obama leads by 22 percentage points. Among those who attend services weekly, Romney leads by 24 points. Among people who go to church now and then, the results were pretty much equal. His conclusion was that the reason for the political divide was cultural more than political – that the huge discrepancy in the poll is a cultural marker, not a political one. He went on to speculate that Obama supporters are more highly motivated to be accepted by their peers (who tend to be socially liberal) than by the financial interests of their companies. In pointing this out to his audience, Rush was making the point that trying to convince opponents that one’s own beliefs are right requires a cultural argument, not a political one.
In my view, Rush got it partially right. What he got right was that people’s deepest motivations are something other than political. What he got wrong was the actual cause itself. This is not nearly so much an issue of culture as it is of worldview.
The reason I have used this illustration is to point out to Christians that in attempting to express our Christian faith with people in today’s world, we run into a kind of opposition that we don’t generally understand. What Rush observed in the political arena, we also see in the arena of faith. In trying to share Christ, most Christians tend to go for emotional or intellectual arguments rather than addressing the foundational worldview issues.
Consider for a moment these headlines:
University of Tennessee Refuses to Ban Pre-Game Prayers
Pastors Pledge to Defy IRS, Preach Politics from the Pulpit Ahead of Election
In the first story, the Freedom From Religion Foundation sent a cease and desist letter to the University of Tennessee in an attempt to get them to stop their long-standing tradition of having a prayer before the beginning of home football games. When most people see this story, they see a political or legal fight. But that is only the outward manifestation. The real fight is in the arena of worldview. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is an atheist group (naturalistic worldview) which is trying to assert their religious belief (that there is no supernatural existence) on the majority who believe in God (theistic worldview). The problem is, the Atheists don’t generally understand that the so called “secular” agenda they are pushing is actually a religious point of view. And most Christians don’t realize this either. When seen as a political or legal issue, the arguments can be about “fairness” or about “Christians pushing their religion on everyone.” But the real arguments are about how to fairly represent faith in the culture. The fact is, ultimately some faith is the culture’s default religion – whether it is a Christian one or the Secular Humanist one pushed by the Freedom from Religion Foundation.
The second story has much the same underlying theme. In this one, however, it is the federal government which is trying to manage the expression of faith. Back in 1954, a tax code amendment was adopted by the IRS prohibiting tax-exempt organizations (such as churches) from making political endorsements. This was not a problematic issue before that time. Those supporting this rule believe it is a way to maintain separation between the church and the state. Those opposed to the rule say it is nothing more than the government telling churches what they can and cannot talk about.
Again, while the argument seems to be about legal issues, it is really about worldview beliefs. Those on the one side believe faith can be kept out of the public square, while those on the other recognize that what is really happening is that a different faith (one that believes the supernatural does not exist) is trying to exclude the Christian faith and thus become, itself, the default religion of the nation.
These headlines represent two very recent events, but there are scores more that I could have chosen from. They range from stories dealing with the reasons for increased suicides in the military, to pastors being prevented from officiating civil ceremonies because they refuse to perform weddings for homosexual couples, to people being arrested for preaching on public sidewalks.
While many of the issues under dispute fall into the arena of politics, this is not the only place where we see this playing out. It is also quite prominent in the entertainment industry. For example (and this is just one of many possible illustrations), when the C.S. Lewis story, Chronicles of Narnia, was being made into a movie, the early drafts of the screenplay included the children uttering profanities (along with numerous other additions to the storyline) in an attempt to appeal to “modern” audiences. The writers truly believed that by making these kinds of changes, they would make the movie more attractive to the masses. This attempt to make it a little more vulgar demonstrated that the writers were totally clueless about the audience they hoped would support the film. They couldn’t imagine there being large numbers of people who actually do believe in God and who will not support movies which contain gratuitous sex and profanity. Again, we have an illustration of a worldview divide.
We could go on and on with illustrations in different elements of the culture – news media, medicine, marriage, gun ownership, and so on. My point in all of this is that there is a massive divide within American culture, and the root of it lies in differences between worldview foundations. And as Christians, if we want to impact our culture, we are going to have to understand worldview and its implications. In our current society, political, legal and religious arguments will not be convincing in and of themselves. We will have to add to that worldview arguments. People who have different worldview foundations literally understand reality in different ways and we have to know where they are coming from in order to craft an argument which even makes sense to them.
There was a day when Christians could simply pull out the Bible, share the gospel message and virtually everyone understood what they were talking about. Not that all would respond positively, but at least pretty much everyone understood. Not so anymore. In fact, in our day, maybe 50% would understand. And even that might be generous as the fastest growing segment of contemporary American society are those who claim no religious affiliation. The other 50% are operating from a different understanding of reality (different worldview) and require a starting point somewhere other than the gospel message itself. In order for a person to accept the gospel, he or she must first accept that God exists and that he is, specifically, the God of the Bible. For those who don’t have that worldview starting point, we must give more background before the gospel message will even make sense to them.
When we are interacting with people who literally view reality differently than we do, it is impossible to communicate on the deepest levels until we can at least understand each other’s realities. In our pluralistic world, Christians must master this. And until we do, we will do no better than limp along in our ability to express our faith in the public square.
© 2012 Freddy Davis