By John Pierce
Caution: Those who stir up culture wars in the name of Jesus create the perception that American Christians are fearful and spoiled. Such overreactions, self-pity and doomsday gloom are not consistent with nor do they advance the Gospel in any way.
Many of us have never lived in a cultural context where our particular religious faith was not the majority influence — and, in many cases, overwhelmingly dominant. Our particular religious perspectives infiltrated civic life at every level — from Bible lessons in public schools to sectarian prayers at civic gathering to youth sports never being scheduled on Wednesday nights or Sundays.
Times and culture have changed, and they will continue to change. However, our best response is not to fight or fret. Such reactions are both unbecoming and unhelpful.
We have the growing opportunity, like so many Christians in other times and places, to embrace a clearer and surer faith that is undiluted — or at least less diluted — by a kind of nationalistic or civic-based religion that settles for allegiance to some vague “ceremonial deity” which resembles Uncle Sam as well as Moses.
Jesus calls individuals, not governments, to follow him. Authentic faith requires honest, personal confession. It is never the result of coercion.
When challenges to civil religion are seen as threats to our personal faith, something important is lost. That something is an appreciation for religious freedom that has weathered more than two centuries of struggles — and the willingness to live out the Christian faith without the “helping” and shaping hands of the broader culture.
Never do American Christians look and sound more petty, fearful and insecure than when whining about the threats to one’s own religious liberty (meaning loss of cultural dominance) rather than defending the religious freedoms of minorities who lack political influence and may indeed experience forms of persecution.
There were some outcries and claims of victimization, for example, over the Air Force Academy’s recent decision to make optional the phrase “so help me God” at the end of the cadets’ Honor Oath.
But what benefit comes from forcing others to swear allegiance to One to whom they have no allegiance? Does doing so make their promises to not lie, steal or cheat more valid than West Point cadets who don’t include a reference to God in their oath?
Or the bigger question: Can we as followers of Christ live faithfully in a changing cultural setting where our beliefs may not be as widely shared as before — and where everyone is not required to affirm our favored civic references to God?
Many faithful Christians have done so through the centuries — even at high costs that most Americans can’t imagine.
Rather than fearing the loss of cultural dominance, we would do well to give fuller attention to what it means personally, and for our communities of faith, to be faithful followers of Jesus Christ — who calls us to lives of unconditional love and self-giving service, not seeking outside favors for ourselves and those like us.
And when we do so, the larger culture might give us a better hearing as well as the faith we profess.