A man once ordained priest in Rome writes on CNN’s Belief Blog of “knee-jerk” Christianity, too bigoted and irrational to recognize our own Scripture’s approval of homosexuality.
An influential advocate against bullying in schools drives dozens of students from the room, some of them in tears, calling out obscenities on the Bible’s moral backwardness about slavery and sexuality.
And a sitting President of the United States comes out in favor of gay “marriage.”
Do you feel the world tipping sideways on you?
I was driving home from work some fifteen or twenty years ago, listening to the news, when I heard that Boy Scouts in Pennsylvania were being denied use of public meeting space, because of their discriminatory stance toward homosexuals. I had the eeriest feeling at that moment, as if the farmland around me were lurching, almost about to turn upside down on top of me. The Boy Scouts were always the good guys, almost too good for some people’s tastes, when I was a kid. When did they become the bad guys?!
Today that question almost seems quaint. Now it’s not just the Boy Scouts. Christians have become the bad guys. We’re fighting (so it is said) against gays’ civil rights, women’s right to choose, life-saving embryonic stem cell research. We’re the backward ones, the stupid ones, the bad ones.
Am I overstating it? I don’t think so. Daniel Helminiak, writing in the above-mentioned CNN Belief Blog, says the President’s support for gay “marriage”
has conservative sharks circling for a kill. . . . We now face religious jingoism, the imposition of personal beliefs on the whole pluralistic society. Worse still, these beliefs are irrational, just a fiction of blind conviction. Nowhere does the Bible actually oppose homosexuality.
He later adds, “Were God-given reason to prevail, rather than knee-jerk religion, we would not be having a heated debate over gay marriage.”
He is too polite, or perhaps too sophisticated, to use the words bad and stupid, but his intent is exactly that. CNN gave him the platform to say so. The ground around us has tilted.
Granted, we Christians, who measure our lives and practices too much by the world’s standards rather than God’s, are indeed somewhat askew. We have been not always been good, and we have not always been wise. God help us; God forgive us.
But it is not Christianity that is tilted. It is not Jesus Christ who is lurching. He is our rock, the solid, level place on which we can find sure footing. If the world is twisting and rocking and diving, it is doing so around a fixed and stable plane. We need not be dismayed by its gyrations. We need not let them cause us to stumble drunkenly, as on a ship tossed by waves.
Yet we must be wise; for in its twisted way the world is wise. As far back as Aristotle, it has been known that persuasive credibility (ethos, in the philosopher’s terms) depends on one’s intellectual competence and ethical trustworthiness. That’s precisely where the world is aiming its attack on Christianity. It’s good strategy.
How shall we respond? I’ve stated the opposition strategy in simple language: making us out to be bad and stupid. The answer, of course, is to be knowledgeable and wise and good. On one level it’s really that simple, and when it comes to strategies, simplicity is a virtue. If ever the church were to come together to strategize for the life of our culture and our nation, we ought to do so asking, “How can we combat the lie that we are bad and stupid? How can we show that the faith is wise and good? How can we demonstrate that in our own lives?”
I don’t know if we’ll ever have that strategic conversation, but that doesn’t mean we can’t mount a strategic response. I have four recommendations to offer. I present them here in an order that seems easiest for me to communicate, not in order of importance. They are all crucial.
First, we must answer the lies spoken against us. Take for example the charge, mentioned above, that the Bible’s position on slavery is morally backward. The fact is that the Bible’s position was always well advanced by comparison to surrounding culture, and down through history its demonstrated effect has been to reduce and then eliminate slavery. This charge against the Bible is false.
Or consider the common charge that biblical Christianity is oppressive toward women. This too is false with respect to Christianity in its original cultural context, and also in its historic effect on women’s rights. Compare Islam’s treatment of women, or the former practice of sati in India, in which widows were required by law and/or custom to immolate themselves on their husband’s funeral pyres. This practice was put to an end mostly through the efforts of the Christian missionary William Carey.
Secondly, we must immerse ourselves in the truth so we can speak it clearly and well. Does that seem too obvious? Are we not doing that in our churches already? Here’s one way to assess that: How equipped are we to explain that the Bible’s position on slavery is good, not bad? How ready are we to show that Christianity has been the best thing that has happened to women throughout history? We need to know the Bible that well. We need to know Christian history that well. We need to know it specifically as it relates to the lies being promulgated against us.
Thirdly, we must be knowledgeable. This includes knowledge of our own revealed Scriptures and our history, as I have just said, but it extends beyond that. The world says Christians are anti-science; we need more Christian Ph.D.s in the sciences. The world says Christians have little or nothing to offer to the great ethical debates of the day; we need to develop and deploy the intellectual firepower fitting the great truth with which God has entrusted us. These are strategic moves the church needs to support.
Finally, we must be genuinely good. We are called (for example) to love those who oppose us. What kind of conduct best fits us that calling? The pagan Roman Emperor known as Julian the Apostate complained fiercely about “those impious Galileans” (Christians) practicing compassion toward pagans more lovingly than the pagans did among themselves. Christians’ record of goodness is considerably better than our opponents would have us think, but it seems to me the Lord is calling us, and the times are also calling us, to deeper, more sacrificial acts of goodness.
My fear is that these four recommendations will seem too painfully obvious, things the church is doing already. Really, though, how effectively are we responding to the lie? How much effort do we put into this in our churches? How strongly do we encourage our young people to pursue their education—secular or otherwise? How aggressively are we pursuing acts of sacrificial compassion? How clearly do we see that our credibility in the world hangs on this?
We live in a tilted world. For the sake of the glory of Christ, we must show that Christianity—that Christ Himself, and His revealed Word—is good and true and desperately crucial for today’s world.
To do this we are going to have to aim higher than we have done. We are going to have to equip ourselves more strategically than we have done before, to meet the opposition’s strategies head on. Barring an unforeseen (but not un-prayed for!) work of God, we will not win this battle unless we raise the raise the church’s conversation and practice to a level at which the world will no longer be able to say we are bad and stupid.
Tom Gilson is a Campus Crusade for Christ/Cru writer and strategist currently on assignment to BreakPoint. He blogs at ThinkingChristian.net. His new e-book, True Reason, is available here.
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