Bad for America, Good for the Church

Though I cannot recall the title of the sermon I was listening to at the time, I once heard pastor and author John Piper refer to Christians in the United States as being “like little kids living in Disneyland.” His point at the time was to highlight the fact that all around the rest of the world, Christians were (and are) being persecuted “big-time.”

We’re not talking about an Americanized version of “persecution” such as not being invited to go out with the guys to a Saturday football tailgate, but rather persecution that looks a lot more like frenzied mob violence, homes and churches burned, trumped-up charges, unjust imprisonment, torture and summary execution. In fact, more Christians suffered martyrdom in the 20th century than in all of the previous 19 centuries…combined., the website for
Voice of the Martyrs.

Through the courageous work of Voice of the Martyrs, I have become acutely aware that my Christian brothers and sisters are regularly being put to death around the globe. This awareness has, in turn, fostered an enhanced appreciation for how much hatred Jesus endured during His life and ministry…and how much His followers should expect to endure as we seek to follow Him (John 15:18-25). Nothing makes a piece of Scripture come alive quite like personal suffering.

And yet…we American Christians are still capable of expressing shock and disbelief when the culture around us does not readily embrace biblical values.

How is that possible? How can we drift so far away from the global Christian church that we are yet amazed and upset that the United States is progressively enacting laws and enforcing codes of conduct that are moving the culture further and further away from the Judeo-Christian worldview? Why does it surprise us when our government regularly “encourages” its citizens toward a position of accepting – no, celebrating – specific conduct and lifestyles that the Bible has spoken so clearly against? Perhaps it might help us to revisit Daniel 6 frequently as we scan today’s headlines.

Russell Moore

In the Wall Street Journal’s “Weekend Interview” from Aug. 16, Naomi Schaefer Riley conducted an insightful interview with Russell Moore, the incoming president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, former dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and cultural contributor to Christianity Today magazine (W.W. Jay-Z?). The WSJ article – Russell Moore: From Moral Majority to ‘Prophetic Minority’ – is well worth reading in its entirety, but particularly if you feel as though you are watching in helpless despair as our nation “drifts away” from traditional values.

Moore’s overall point? Faithful Christians have always been in the minority. The least-surprised of all is Jesus Himself (Matthew 7:21-23). Perhaps John Piper was right; any angst we may feel nowadays is something akin to that small child being led away from Disneyland and back to the hard realities of the parking lot and the family mini-van. Americans have had ample opportunity to accept Christ – and feel no noticeable social repercussions – for decades.

A few quick excerpts from the WSJ article can help us get a larger sense of where Moore is coming from:

  • Mr. Moore is among the leaders of a new generation who think that evangelicals need to recognize that their values no longer define mainstream American culture the way they did 50 or even 20 years ago.
  • Christians must return to the days when they were a moral example and vanguard – defenders of belief in a larger unbelieving culture. [Moore] views this less as a defeat than as an opportunity.
  • “We were never promised that the culture would embrace us.”
  • There are a couple of reasons why Christians are losing the debate over gay marriage, Mr. Moore says. One is that even many Christians don’t have a real understanding of what marriage is. “We have embraced certain aspects of the sexual revolution,” he says, like the “divorce culture.”

As a former skeptic, living out a worldly lifestyle and suffering the natural consequences of ignoring God for decades, Moore’s take on modern Christians in America makes perfect sense to me. Believers who stood up for sexual purity were mocked as outdated prudes – and far worse – when I was in college over 30 years ago. In the 1980s, the few college students who chose a lifestyle of sexual purity were clearly in the minority, and they typically suffered all manner of ridicule.

Moore asserts his belief that the battle for our culture will not be won in Washington, and I echo that sentiment. As Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously said, “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart.” We will never legislate our way into the Kingdom of God; we were never intended to. Maybe Moore is very gently trying to tell American Christians that we simply need to get over our political losses and set about the hard work of cooperating with God as He does His work in the hearts of those over whom we might still have a bit of influence.

Jeremiah 29:4-7 (ESV)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

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