Christians face two dilemmas each day: one, I call the “In the World/Not of the World” dilemma. This comes from John chapter 17 in the midst of Jesus’ prayer. He talks to his heavenly Father about the fact that human beings exist in the world, because he has created us for this purpose. We exist in a culture, and we live out our lives in a physical and social space. But Jesus also mentions that he has commanded us to be not of the world, meaning that we are to think and act differently from those around us. We are to live out our lives based upon a biblical philosophy of life. So every day, living in the world, we make innumerable choices based upon Christian values or non-Christian values—not of the world or conformed to the world.
Christians in the United States also live every day with another dilemma: how to live out God’s mandate to influence our culture with Christian values, while at the same time acknowledging that we live in a free and pluralistic democracy wherein many people do not agree with our Christian values. This is the “Faith and Culture” dilemma.
As culture has become increasingly morally relativistic in the past three or four decades this dilemma has become especially evident and increasingly volatile. Many Christians feel pressured, “put upon,” overwhelmed, pushed to the limit, or “persecuted.” We hear discussions about the “Culture War,” a phrase I have frequently used to describe the ongoing “battle” between those who affirm some form of biblical morality for our culture and those who affirm what might be called a libertarian morality, which is to say they want to leave moral choices up to each individual. Christians want to recognize a divine moral code. Libertarians want their own code or maybe no code at all.
Clearly, in terms of publicly affirmed Christian morality, this is not your grandfather’s culture anymore. Where at one time in the 1950s the biggest problems in public schools were chewing gum and tardiness, now many public schools, especially in urban areas, have become their own version of war zones—drugs, violence, guns and other weapons, sexual harassment or even rape, alcohol abuse, and little or no academic progress.
What happened, and are Christians supposed to stand around and watch all this, doing nothing in the name of “freedom”? There may not be a “war on Christians” as USA Today recently called it, but there is certainly a disjunction between what the Bible says morality should be and what American culture says it should be.
I do not advocate a “Christian Right” takeover of government. I do not advocate Christian theocracy. I do not advocate government establishing my religion to the exclusion or oppression of all others. I do advocate a public moral consensus capable of sustaining a thriving culture and society into future generations. With this in mind, I call for more religious content in public discourse even while I call for institutional separation of church and state.
I live in the world, and I try to live in a manner not of the world. I am privileged to do this in a free society. I affirm that freedom for others who may disagree with my faith and values, and I affirm their civil liberties and rights as I ask them to affirm mine.
Our nation can not avoid disagreement, debate, and sometimes dissension. That’s the special privilege and special burden, a sort of divine dilemma, of a free society. American can no more side-step this dilemma than I can side-step the two dilemmas I face every day. They are part of life in this thing we call a democracy.
© Rex M. Rogers - All Rights Reserved, 2006
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