Cultural Wars

I came across an article entitled “White evangelicals are the sleeping giant of the 2018 midterms” recently.

The author claimed that conservative evangelical Christians are an important support base for Donald Trump and the Republican Party. In an effort to explain why this is so, despite an overwhelmingly popular view that Trump and the Republicans have been unfair, unjust and unmerciful in their views and policies towards the weak and marginalised, he has tried to look at Trump’s presidency from the point of view of this group of people.

The white evangelical community views the Trump era as a fundamental realignment of American politics, with the Christian right reasserting itself after eight years of Barack Obama. They understand that if Republicans lose the House or, even worse, the House and Senate in the midterm elections, their agenda is at risk. On the surface, the GOP is leaning into a fear-based white identity campaign, but underneath, evangelicals have a whole set of other issues they care very deeply about that have nothing to do with immigration or crime.

Essentially the writer framed the community’s concerns as cultural: abortion, gender, LGBTQ issues, US-Israel relations. The most important is the control over the Supreme Court that rules on many of these issues.

Seen from that point of view, the Trump administration has been wonderful:

  • defining gender as binary (male and female);
  • removing recognition of LGBTQ in the education space;
  • encouraging policies that discourage and restrict abortion;
  • moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem;
  • securing the return of 3 men held prisoner in North Korea, one of whom is a missionary;
  • and most of all, 2 new members of the Supreme Court who are conservative Christians, swinging the balance to the right.

I think it is important to at least note that a cultural war has going on in the US (and exported worldwide), most easily identified by the “battlefield” over LGBTQ. I have placed battlefield in quotes because I think that this battle has been largely lost to the liberals and they now control the narrative. What has once been an issue of homosexuality now includes bisexuality, pan-sexuality and perhaps others as well. There is now no norm and sex has been moved from a moral issue to one of choice. Any attempt to reverse this is now viewed as an act of bigotry, hate and denial of a person’s rights.

This removal of what has been a cultural absolute is but one of many and I do think that all absolutes will be systematically attacked.

The battle against many cultural norms have been sophisticated and nuanced. The narrative has moved away from “wild Roman orgies” to tender love, personal struggle, suffering discrimination and hatred, justice and acceptance. Movies portraying LGBTQ issues have moved to teenaged protagonists.

Unfortunately, Christian response has often been awkward, relying on black and white, this or that, “I must be right because I represent God’s point of view” arguments, and ignoring the liberal’s challenge for us to be able to present our values with integrity, and to articulate these truths in the context of love, hospitality and sacrifice that underlines the Gospel.

And this, I believe is the failure that is behind what we see in the US these days and the Church is in danger of becoming once again, the villain.

Vinoth Ramachandra writes in his article,

A globally renowned American Christian leader told me a few days ago: “You must understand that Americans are largely an ignorant, uneducated people.” That ignorance, he went on to say, is widely prevalent among the white conservatives of suburban as well as rural churches. This perhaps is the largest “unreached peoples’ group” in the world, a people who need to be converted from fear to love, from prejudice to hospitality, from patriotism/civil religion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

In our own context in Malaysia, these challenges confront the Church, especially when we have another religious voice that has strong conservative views. It is important that we do not reflexively take the opposing view and lose the truths that we hold, or unthinkingly support views that discriminate the marginalised. We need to not only articulate the nuances of righteousness and mercy, justice and love, but also to express these truths in our actions, our programs and our institutions.

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