Unraveling Culture?

Don Johnson

Current headlines are very troubling. Riots. Extremism. Mobs. Demands. Social justice. Race. Racism. Diversity. Tolerance. Intolerance.

All of these words come to mind.

Several younger fundamentalists offer some insight. I’d like to commend their blogs to you.

Joel Arnold at Rooted Thinking offers, “From whence come these wars and fightings?” His subject in general is an analysis of racism, especially in light of recent riots and violent incidents in the headlines. He say:

Scripture certainly does speak to racism, even if not in those exact terms. I would suggest that the simplest, clearest biblical answer to racism is in the great commandment—”love your neighbor as yourself.” Racism is nothing more than a group expression of pride and selfishness. It’s the supposition that my type of people (whatever that means) is superior, deserves more, has a right to do things other kinds of people don’t get to do, or ought to be treated in a special way.

  • He notes how racism only produces more racism.
  • He notes how secularism is incapable of answering racism.

Like it or not, we live in a broken world, and our response has to be more than condemning that brokenness and hoping for a change. How should Christians respond in this morass of selfishness at war? Our society’s solution will be a mountain of rage, political posturing, monuments torn down, more rallies, and yes, way too many blog posts. But those responses are not enough.

  • Instead of following the world’s way, he suggests, how about actually going out of your way to love your neighbour as yourself. Any neighbour. Pick a neighbour. Act in harmony with the revelation we say we believe.

Mark Ward at By Faith We Understand tackles “Social Justice’s Warrior Children

Mark talks about the absolute moralism our society displays, especially with respect to certain topics. Illustrative of this moralism is the recent Google firing of engineer James Damore. Mark picks up on a comment by David Brooks in the New York Times where Brooks notes that moral absolutism is a means of validating one’s own belief system, “Some people embrace moral absolutism in a desperate effort to find solid ground. They feel a rare and comforting sense of moral certainty when they are purging an evil person who has violated one of their sacred taboos.” (quoting Brooks)

Mark notes that our current social justice warriors are a new kind of fundamentalists in their embrace of moral absolutes. This absolutism is producing implacable confrontation by mobs on “many sides” of the political spectrum. That includes, I would observe, our hysterical media.

Mark contrasts “social justice warriors” and their moral absolutism with the absolutism of Christian fundamentalism:

But let me observe something about the Christian fundamentalists I have known: the mature ones have thought carefully, over years, about where to stand under pressure and where to give a little. Or even a lot. It is precisely my access to an ultimate standard in Scripture that gives me that freedom, because that standard is not equally specific regarding every moral question: men are told not to lust after women (I’d say that’s specific), but they are given pretty wide latitude as to which women they can marry (following certain general principles).

He suggests that cultural absolutists display spiritual insecurity in their rabid denunciation of all who dare disagree. They aren’t thinking through the implications of their stands, rather, they must vigorously pursue their self-righteousness in order to maintain their self-validation.

they are desperate to find a group, a cause which will give them identity and purpose. In place of Christianity in America has arisen not a world of light and freedom but of rival religions.

Michael Conn at Pursuing the Pursuer also writes on racism in “What Is Your Race?” He comments:

There are still two distinctions that remain: you are either a child of God through faith in Christ, or you are of the children of this world. Ultimately, the conflict we see in the world that find their cause in “racial” differences are just a picture of our hostility towards God in our sin. With every label we seek to hide our identity in other than in Christ, we contribute to the tailspin of human depravity which has sought to further divide itself over and over again.

A few final thoughts:

Every culture, it seems, has some kind of racism or other “ism” that feeds pride. Individuals congratulate themselves that they are “not as other men are.” In my country, there is a sense that we are superior to our nearest neighbours because we aren’t racist like them. Yet at the same time, we have divisions in our population over the “First Nations” as we call them, and over French vs. English. There are those who think themselves superior to the other “races” and then those who think themselves superior to those who hold that attitude. Recently, there have been some of the same kinds of disturbances here as in the USA, motivated by racial tension. We have little justification for holding up our heads in this regard. We are no better than anywhere else in the world.

I don’t hope to propose a solution to the troubles facing our culture. May our leaders have wisdom and insight to end these troubles. However, my concern is for Christians. Many Christian friends of mine seem full of anxiety about the current troubles. They are siding with one side or another in the endless public controversy. There is a time and place for us to exert our influence on public affairs (hint: the ballot box); it is important to be well informed; but!!! But the mission of the church has not changed because our political climate is in turmoil!

I recently preached a message on the three “Great Commission” passages of the Synoptic Gospels. There is plenty of work to do in the mission of the church. The commands of Christ are explicitly clear regarding this mission. Yet it seems that we spend little personal effort towards fulfilling it. We are “careful and troubled about many things.” The ups and downs of our political leaders preoccupy us. We wring our hands and share news stories on the internet (often from dubious sources). Yet what is next on our agenda to touch the soul of another person? Let’s get back to the Bible and keep the Lord’s main thing our main thing.

Don Johnson is the pastor of Grace Baptist Church of Victoria, Victoria, BC, Canada.