Rethinking Politics and Cultural Change
Today I was invited to pray on the floor of the Kentucky Senate. Not unexpectedly, the prayer seemed to be a mere formality to most in the room. I was brought into the chamber, prayed for their legislative work, shook some hands, took some pictures, and that was it.
I don’t want to sound disinterested or ungrateful, it was indeed an honor to be asked to pray, but driving home I found myself lamenting the fact that so many Christians in our state are asking that room to bear their hopes of cultural change.
Something tragic has happened to the American Church. Our visions of power have been exclusively relegated to the political arena. James Hunter calls it America’s politicization, “Politicization means that the final arbiter of social life is the coercive power of the state.” Simply put, we in American find it difficult to envision any way of addressing public problems outside the political arena.
Sadly American Christianity (particularly American Evangelicalism) has uncritically aligned itself with this politicization. Cultural change is dependent upon the Church’s ability to influence politics in America. We write our congressmen and congresswomen, we resource and organize lobby efforts, we attend rally’s in Washington, we share partisan blogs on social media, we shout really loudly at the opposing party, and most of all we elect Christians politicians who can overturn current policies and introduce new policies—that, in a nutshell, is the American Church’s strategy to bring about cultural change, and I think it’s really sad.
It’s sad that we have entrusted the Church’s calling to be the agent of cultural change to political systems. It’s sad that we have delegated to politicians our Christ appointed duty to be the light of the world and salt of the earth. Not only is that thoroughly unbiblical, it has, and will continue to be, a staggeringly ineffective strategy.
The reason why I sense such fear and angst in the Church today is because I think we know this strategy is failing. The moral decline and rising secularization of our culture feels unstoppable. And the bitter truth is that it probably is…unless we rethink cultural change.
What if we came together to imagine other ways? What if all our resources, creativity, influence, and passion were leveraged for new strategies? After all, that’s what the Church has always done.
There was rampant immorality and injustices within the Roman culture of the early Church. So what did these early Christians do? Did they dig in to fight a culture war with the Roman Empire? Did they try to coerce the Roman Empire to change its ways? No. They humbly walked in peace and submission to the Roman authorities (Romans 13), and in costly ways labored for the change they longed to see.
For example, the Roman state approved and even encouraged infanticide. Early Christians rightfully saw this as a gross atrocity that needed to come to an end. But what could this small persecuted group do about it? They certainly didn’t place their hopes upon changing Rome’s policy and making it illegal to discard babies. Instead, they went and picked up the discarded babies!
And by the way, after generations of striving to embody and practice the world they longed to see, it eventually changed the politics and policies of the west. And that is the important distinction. From this perspective, politics are the fruit of cultural change not the instigator of cultural change.
So let’s take this out of theory and get practical. Though in our country it is illegal to discard newborn babies, it is not illegal to discard babies in the womb. Without a doubt, this is a gross injustice that needs to change. How? Seriously Christians, how?
Is our only answer to overturn Roe Vs. Wade? Is it legislation like HB575 currently being debated in Frankfort that would make ultrasounds mandatory for those seeking an abortion? These are wonderful endeavors, but if they remain our exclusive endeavors, or even if they remain our main endeavors, I don’t think we will see the change we long to see.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m thankful for Christian politicians and their legislative efforts. But there has to be other ways to address this issue beyond legislation. What would that look like? I don’t know, Church, figure it out. The Church has always been able to stand against injustice without the aid of the state. Here is one example that’s happening right now from our brother overseas…
Every Sunday morning at TCPC I look out at a sanctuary filled with unbridled potential. I see the zeal, passion, and creativity of all these college students and young professionals. I see the resources, experience, and leadership capital of all these middle aged adults. Every week at TCPC the leaders and future leaders of the Bluegrass assemble together, and to me that crowd is more impressive and dare I say more powerful than the room I stood before today in the KY Senate chamber.
I truly believe that. The Church is a far more powerful institution than we realize; it’s just that our power has been rendered impotent by our politicization.
It was an honor and privilege to meet our state legislators and to pray for their noble and important work. I’m just not asking (certainly not expecting) them to give me the Bluegrass I long to see. That calling belongs to the most powerful institution this world will ever know, the Church of Jesus Christ.