Has the culture war been lost? Is bare-knuckle politics the only option left if we are to “save America?” And is the Church so tame as to be complicit in the moral decay of America?
In a provocative article published recently in American Greatness, Josiah Lippincott argues that America has already lost the culture war and there is barely a country left to fight for. While the broader theme of the piece is to advocate for Donald Trump’s 2016 priorities, there are some devastating critiques of the Church and a sober assessment of America that is really at the heart of the essay.
The Waning of Christianity in America
As a pastor who may have been too comfortable dealing in “a few metaphysical niceties and theological quibbles,” it is people like me who are, in Lippincott’s view, to blame. In spite of my desire to exempt myself, it is hard not to agree with the author’s assessment of the Church at large, as I have made many of the same criticisms. It is not hard to see the vapid weakness within a lot of Evangelical culture and the leftism that is shining brightly at Catholic universities and in the hierarchy.
There is no denying that we have seen tremendous social, moral, and cultural movement to the liberal/progressive/libertine “Left,” all while still holding to the now-nascent belief that America is a “Christian nation.” He writes, “From blasphemy laws to pornography, school prayer to abortion, gay marriage to biological men using women’s bathrooms, conservatives and Christians have suffered a nearly unmitigated series of losses.”
That is undeniable. And the effect it has had on the culture is toxic. Children are ubiquitously exposed to pornography. How else would children have learned how to abuse this six-year-old girl? Are there any pastors who even advocate that pornography should become illegal? Or are we all too afraid of sounding like the Moral Majority’s Jerry Falwell or disgraced pastors like Jim Bakker or Jimmy Swaggart?
Other examples abound. Though my own congregation never closed its doors during the first days of Covid lockdowns, many churches did not allow any worshipers for months. Lippincott writes, “COVID-19 made the weakness of American Christianity painfully clear. Protestant and Catholic churches alike overwhelmingly declared themselves nonessential during the spring of 2020. That was, sadly, merely an acknowledgement of a longstanding reality.”
Ouch! But is he wrong? When confronted with the wide gap between what is said in churches and what is going on in the culture, it’s like the Church has officially adopted the “see no evil, hear no evil” policy. Meanwhile, they still love to strain at gnats. For example, there is a raging debate in Reformed Baptist circles about how much Roman Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas’ advancement of God’s divine simplicity demands that all three persons of the Godhead equally perform inseparable operations. Or consider that most megachurches basically preach self-empowerment, some version of the Prosperity Gospel, or the bizarre claims of the New Apostolic Reformation. The Lutherans, who aren’t championing transgender pastors, are holed up in a bunker preserving their rare 18th century copies of the Smalcald Articles.
Remastering the Church’s Influence
In defense of pastors, however, let me try to offer a few counterpoints. For starters, while pastors would be wise to observe the context in which their parishioners live, becoming part of the media’s “outrage machine” will only exhaust parishioners. As bad as it is that preachers offer little more than sophomoric bromides, they also should not rush to the pulpit with Conservative Inc.’s latest talking points. In truth, neither feeds the soul or offers solutions.
Second, it is the job of the pastor to “feed the sheep.” If we only ever argue about the surface-level issues of the day, we won’t produce the bulwark to form coherent opposition. Christians need to be offered a robust and theologically-informed vision of a world that could and would be the result of fealty to God. But that requires really knowing who God is, which further involves setting aside the issues of the day and understanding what the Bible says. Therefore, not every sermon can be Tucker Carlson-esque haymakers.
Third, the pastor is ultimately preparing Christians to die well. That is not an excuse for refusing to exercise dominion now or working towards a better world (though I admit, it can become such an excuse). But as our eternal lives are our ultimate aim, and the forgiveness of our own sins is the way we get to enjoy that aim, it is not always wrong to set the proverbial newspaper aside and reflect on “metaphysical niceties and theological quibbles.”
Whether or not it is wise politically to abandon the culture war is harder to say. On the one hand, political movements need clear talking points, so a “both/and” approach to political and cultural issues may not work. On the other hand, ignoring these issues would only alienate those voters that do care about moral decay, abortion, and the abuse of children. Why choose? How about a robust political movement that addresses the national debt, illegal immigration, tariffs, the protection of children, sanity around gender, and more. We can still handle, say, a 10-plank political platform, yes?
No Matter What, Remain in the Fight
In defense of still fighting the culture war, it is still a fight worth having. Preserving an abstract Republic without moral clarity is a hollow victory. The state exists to defend our freedom to pursue virtue. And without virtue, a free state falls apart.
This is the paradox of focusing on one or the other. Freedom and virtue absolutely demand one another. And while voters are sadly blasé about issues of the culture war, to abandon it is to kill the heartbeat of the conservative movement and ensure electoral defeat.
We definitely agree on one thing: a change in strategy among cultural warriors is needed. As Lippincott writes, “Conservatives and Christians today simply lack the force of will to impose their social morality on the Left. That is why they lose cultural battles and the Left wins.”
What is needed is courage from within the Church, specifically the courage to say that the God of the Bible has the authority to speak anywhere and everywhere. Instead of being ashamed or embarrassed by God and His Law, we need to say it applies to every area of life. We need to endorse a maximalist approach to applying God’s Law, rather than what seems to be a minimalist approach, where good news abounds but obedience has become optional.
It is hard to see many Christians adopting that framework en masse. There is money to be made in charlatanry, after all. But at least you can be a voice for moral sanity and you can withdraw from schools, businesses, and cultural “norms” that celebrate moral insanity. For while this may end up being mere “copium,” it is only a matter of time before the current culture does die of its futility and darkness. We’ll be there to pick up the pieces.
Photo Credit- The American Prospect.