Beyond the Culture Wars

We live in a world that is divided between ideological poles: Left and right, liberal and conservative, red states and blue states. This dynamic plays out not only in popular culture, but also within the Church. Our congregations endure vicious arguments over hot button issues like gay marriage, the ministry of women and abortion – yet both sides in these debates lack a compelling and positive vision of what the Church is called to be. Both extreme liberals and extreme conservatives are more interested in ideological purity than in building up the Body of Christ and seeing real, practical changes in the way that we live as a community. If this were not so, we would spend less time on theological debates (important as these are) and much more time on outreach and service to our neighbors.

The most profound division in our society is not between left and right. Rather, it is between those who want to preserve the status quo and those who seek radical change in the way we live and see the world. Despite appearances to the contrary, both sides in the culture wars are wedded to a fearful, uncreative view of the world. While conservatives want to “go back” to an imagined golden age of prosperity, liberals have projected their own prejudices into an utopian future, in which everyone will become as enlightened as they themselves already are. Both camps of culture warriors are stuck in the same place: fighting yesterdays battles, clawing desperately to preserve their own comfort and privilege.

But there is an alternative. We do not have to pick a side in this false battle for the heart and soul of our society. Rather than getting caught up in these bipolar disputes, many of us are being called into an engagement with the real problems that confront our culture and our churches today.

This is a challenging path. It requires us to recognize how we participate in a world that values wealth and security more than the Truth. Rather than blaming others, we must confess that the ills of our culture stem in our own failure to lead lives of humility, trust and love. Looking within, we must recognize that all the world’s problems are present in microcosmwithin our own hearts. Acknowleding this, we are empowered to humbly work for change in the world, recognizing that we are all responsible. Our call for heart-change within the Church and the wider culture begins with the recognition that we ourselves must be transformed.

We know that the culture wars are not from God. These debates are fueled by a smug sense of self-righteousness and superiority more in keeping with the spirit of the Pharisees than with the Spirit of Christ. Any ideology is false that calls for others to change without first confessing our own shortcomings and need for transformation. God calls us to lives of humility, endurance and self sacrifice; and when we live in Christ, we experience love and compassion for others – not a bristling sense of superiority.

How can we move beyond the false dichotomies of red versus blue? Is there a third way that we can live into? Is there a way that seeking the truth together could become more important than winning? Opening ourselves to the living presence of God, can we receive the surprising answers that the Spirit will give us?