Mention the term “culture war” and listen for the names that come up. James Dobson. Francis Schaeffer. Jerry Falwell. The “religious right.” All of these names are part of the culture war. We all would like a more stable, civil society. While it is not necessary, socially anyway, that all come to Christ in order to have a stable culture, the influence of Christian morality is accepted by most secularists even if they do not admit it.
We (as a society) want certain liberties but not to excess. Do what you wish but do not hurt others or yourself. Go out and have a drink but do not drive under the influence. This liberty and others like it find constraint in the historic morality of Christian influence. Though the restraint does not reflect a Christian doctrine and only a portion of a Christian ethic the influence remains.
The culture war does not belong to the conservative. Liberals are also engaged in a culture war of their own. All of us want a better world. We just differ on what it is and how to get there. There was a time when the progressive idea of women having the right to vote came into conflict with the liberty to enjoy alcohol. We all know where that led.
Other culture war battles are seen in the war on smoking and obesity. These are real issues and areas where our culture needs to change. One might also identify media preoccupation and peer pressure problems as more causal issues related to these matters.
So the war goes on and on. Each side, whether liberal/leftist or conservative, remains engaged in a war for the hearts and minds of the population. This persistent tension is characteristic of any society. Even police states and other totalitarian systems have this tension else there would be no call for persistent policing of the population.
But cultures are more about ideas – theology – than they are about than shared behavior. All culture is built around ideas, people’s perceptions about value and truth. It’s not about the bread they bake or the meat they fry or boil. Those are peripherals to who people are inside. Values are expressed in ethical behavior. Many of these are common among the nations but are not global. There is no universal morality. As Paul Harvey used to say, “We are not one world.”
Some nations cut off the hands of thieves. Others, in the past, have burned children alive on altars to appease a deity in the pursuit of prosperity. Today we just inject them with saline or dismember them in the womb to cure personal economic woes. Some nations allow free speech; others do not. Some worship their leaders as demi-gods. Others just give them the equivalent authority without questioning their motives.
The differences are many. All nations are not the same and there is no functional categorical imperative in this world.
Ann Coulter recently expressed her concern about Christian mission. She gives an interesting perspective on church outreach around the world. She says:
America is the most consequential nation on Earth, and in desperate need of God at the moment. If America falls, it will be a thousand years of darkness for the entire planet.Not only that, but it’s our country. Your country is like your family. We’re supposed to take care of our own first. The same Bible that commands us to “go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel” also says:
”For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”
In one sense she is correct: Our evangelism might prove far more effective should we first make a concerted effort here to correct the direction of this nation. This nation’s moral consensus has gone through a radical shift over the past century (and not just during the Obama and Clinton administrations). We can see this shift in current social and corporate police as well as public pressure being placed on private corporations to conform to the party line.
In her classic understatement approach she identifies the condition of this nation.
America, the most powerful, influential nation on Earth, is merely in a pitched battle for its soul.
About 15,000 people are murdered in the U.S. every year. More than 38,000 die of drug overdoses, half of them from prescription drugs. More than 40 percent of babies are born out of wedlock. Despite the runaway success of “midnight basketball,” a healthy chunk of those children go on to murder other children, rape grandmothers, bury little girls alive — and then eat a sandwich. A power-mad president has thrown approximately 10 percent of all Americans off their health insurance — the rest of you to come! All our elite cultural institutions laugh at virginity and celebrate promiscuity.
So no, there’s nothing for a Christian to do here.
That is the case for which there is little dispute. The follow-up question here is whether or not this perspective is just a bit provincial. That’s a serious issue but no one that has a broadly applicable answer. Some churches do their work locally. Others concentrate on the global issue. Given the fragmented nature of the church in the United States it seems we will never work together.
We are all familiar with the reasons for this. Our views of each other as evangelical groups are not always as generous as they might be.
It seems that, in the US, having any anticipation of churches of the various theological stripes actually work together is a naïve notion. We would rather divide than work together. There seems to be no cooperative pathway to effectiveness.
Within the various groups there is the problem of independence. I call it “cowboy theology.” The local church answers to no higher authority than herself. We’ve seen the fruit of that problems many times over.
A current cultural battle is over how we treat Israel. And not only Israel but the Jewish people in general. Some try to separate the two but, as I see things, to most supporters and most opponents they are difficult to separate.
Let’s go back just a few years to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. He apparently made a statement that he wanted to wipe Israel “off the map.” This was reported by many news sources. A quick google search will give all the results necessary.
Among the results you will see a Washington Post. In what appears to be an attempt to correct a misunderstanding of Ahmadinejad’s word. Perhaps so. The article says:
Cole said this week that in the 1980s Khomeini gave a speech in which he said in Persian “Een rezhim-i eshghalgar-i Quds bayad az sahneh-i ruzgar mahv shaved.” This means, “This occupation regime over Jerusalem must vanish from the arena of time.” But then anonymous wire service translators rendered Khomeini as saying that Israel “must be wiped off the face of the map,” which Cole and Nourouzi say is inaccurate.
Ahmadinejad slightly misquoted Khomeini, substituting “safheh-i ruzgar,” or “page of time” for “sahneh-i ruzgar” or “arena of time.” But in any case, the old translation was dug up and used again by the Iranian news agency, Cole says. In fact, that’s how it was presented for years on Ahmadinejad’s English-language Web site, as the Times noted in a somewhat defensive article on the translation debate.
Here we see two things. The first is to note that there seems to be a misattribution of the quote. Those things happen. (After all, it was not Sarah Palin who spoke of seeing Russia from her house but Tina Fey. But popular knowledge is difficult to defeat.)
But there is something else here that worries me. In excusing the “wipe off” statement there is no outrage at the suggestion of a needed regime change. I read that as effectively the same thing – get rid of the government and you get rid of the nation. Install a government which will submit to Islam and the nation would no longer be a free Israel. Though not seemingly as harsh sounding as the original attribution it serves the same function.
It seems the Washington Post took an anti-Israel position, siding with those who would destroy her.
Today’s periodic anti-Israel activity sometimes reflects an anti-Jewish flavor. There is a reason that the pro-Hamas protesters in NYC did not choose a political location but the strongly Jewish diamond district. They were not just targeting Israel but the Jewish people. A situation bearing this same framework occurred in France.
Culture wars never end. That is why the gospel of redemption in Christ must be taken everywhere. It transforms the lost and the world in which they live.
 See Noll, Mark, “The Civil War as a Theological Crisis” for a treatment of the fragmented character of the church in the U.S.