Church and Culture Encounters of the 2021 Kind
By Ed Delph
June 28, 2021
Cartoonist Gary Larsen inked quite a word picture in a cartoon. It is a picture of a big male deer with a target on his belly. Another deer looks at the target and says, “Bummer of a birthmark, Hal.”
While we all feel like Hal from time to time, think of those in the church. It seems like Christians these days are on everyone's radar scope outside of the church. Mainline media (95% of the time) is condescending to anyone or anything that has to do with Christianity, faster than a speeding bullet.
Many educators accuse churched people of being irrelevant and judgmental. In some cases, these accusations are true. However, one bad example is not all examples. The truth is that 95% (my guesstimate) of pastors and churched people are trying to make the world a better place. Are they perfect? No. Are they going to make the right decision every time? No. Do they walk on water? Hardly. Are some of these criticisms deserved? Yes.
Englishman Phil Hines tells this story about Jesus. Jesus was walking along the road one day and seeing a person crying. When asked what was wrong, they replied, "I'm blind," so Jesus healed them. Further along, He met another person in tears and asked them the same question. They replied, "I'm lame," so Jesus healed them. Then Jesus encountered a third person weeping. In response to Jesus' question, the person replied, "I go to church in today's world." So, Jesus sat down and wept right along with them.
Here’s an example of a one-way conversation with our current pop culture and the church. It’s called Every Conversation with the Modern World.
Secular Society: We want to do “X.” The Church: You are free to do it. Secular Society: But you think “X” is wrong. The Church: Yes. Secular Society: Because you want to control us. The Church: No. You are free to do what you want. Secular Society: But you think “X” is wrong. The Church: Yes, but only because we want your ultimate good, which is the definition of God’s love for you. Secular Society: But we want to do “X.” The Church: You are free to do it. Secular Society: But we want you to say “X” is good. The Church: We cannot say that. Secular Society: Why do you hate us?
Well, where does one go with "Why do you hate us?" If the church doesn't say "X" is good, then it becomes personal, “You hate us." That's what you call a closed-end, one-way conversation. One voice controls the dialogue. I'm sure the church at times has come across the same way and hated for it. But now, the current culture mind-molders are doing to the church what it hated about the church. We’re going sideways. People are speaking at people, not to people, no matter which side they are on.
Here are a few thoughts to consider today for church and culture in dealing with the ‘Hal’ in each other.
1). There is prejudice on both sides, the current pop culture and the church. Prejudice is being down on what you're not up on. Narrow-minded people are like narrow-necked bottles; the less they have in them, the more noise they make in pouring it out. It's like having bad breath. Everyone knows you have it, but you. Tone down the rhetoric. Civility, not hostility.
2). "A proud person is always looking down on things and people, and, of course, as long as you're looking down, you can't see something that's above you." C. S. Lewis. Imagining yourself on the higher moral ground blinds you to better ways above you. It also takes people to ‘the end justifies the means’ behavior that is toxic to a functioning society.
3). “Never let me fall into the vulgar mistake of dreaming that I am persecuted whenever I am contradicted.” Ralph Waldo Emerson. There may be genuine victims but playing a victim when you are contradicted closes the conversation. Eric Hoffer says, “Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil or the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there.”
4). Activism, taken to extremes, becomes toxic and one way. Activism means keeping your foot on the gas even when it’s time to step on the brake. It’s more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Don’t mistake impatient activity for real achievement.
5). To our current culture, I say, don't expect the church to embrace your "X" when God's Word warns us about "X" and its detrimental effects on people and society. God wants us to have freedom from "X," not just for "X." It's not about control. God is for you, not against you. You would do well to listen to a biblically based church. They're here to be the guide by your side, not the sage on the stage.
6). Read this quote from William Ward carefully. It’s a great strategy for us in these tense times. “Before you speak, listen. Before you write, think. Before you spend, earn. Before you invest, investigate. Before you criticize, wait. Before you pray, forgive. Before you quit, try. Before you retire, save. Before you die, give.” Doing the above will move you from rhetoric to reality and away from hyper pretenses that tear down, not build up.
Maybe, if we glean some wisdom and tone down the rhetoric, we could even erase that birthmark on the two Hal’s of current culture and the church in 2021 and beyond.
Ed Delph is a leader in church-community connections.
Visit Ed Delph's website at www.nationstrategy.com