Friday, January 16, 2009

Calling for an End to the Culture Wars

If you wanted to sum up the political climate in America in one word, you might call it "divided." Or maybe, "partisan." Or perhaps, "polarized." Each of these descriptions would be optimistic. Over the last 25 or more years, Americans on the left and the right have become deeply entrenched with a "culture war" mentality. Christians are no exception, and in many cases have led the charge. 

Today, however, there are many coming together who consider themselves to be centrists. I consider myself to be a part of this group. We reject the divisive "culture war" mentality, which seeks to demonize and destroy rather than listen and learn. We want to see a unified America made up of people who must sometimes lovingly disagree, but who seek to build bridges of common ground when possible. It was out of this spirit that I met with others yesterday to release the "Come Let Us Reason Together" governing agenda.

This agenda puts forth solutions to some of our country's most pressing issues, and it has been affirmed by many evangelicals and progressives alike. There are four policy points outlined:

1. The abolition of torture. Americans must employ the Golden Rule and never compromise human dignity... starting now!

2. Abortion reduction. While we must still advocate for the abolition of abortion, in the meantime, we can join with pro-choice advocates to employ proven strategies to reduce the number of abortions occurring. This includes supporting pregnant women and new families, providing comprehensive sexual education with an abstinence emphasis and contraception for low-income women, and supporting adoption. 

3. Immigration reform. We must secure our borders ... period. But, we must also abide by the biblical mandate to love the stranger and the "least of these." We need to provide an earned path to citizenship for many who are already in this country and keep families together. 

4. Employment rights for gays and lesbians. While the Bible clearly teaches that heterosexuality is God's ideal, the Church is rarely if ever exercising our obligation to love our gay and lesbian neighbors. No American should be denied the right to earn a living, but this MUST include an exemption for churches and religious organizations. 

This comprehensive governing agenda was released yesterday, and was signed by many progressive and evangelical leaders. I joined others (including Sam Rodriguez, Joel Hunter, David Gushee and Tyler Wigg-Stevenson) in DC for a press conference, a meeting with members of Congress, and a meeting with the Obama Transition Team. It was covered by many news outlets including the following stories:




Hear me clearly: The culture wars must come to an end. The divisiveness produced by people of faith must be rejected. The common good must be pursued through cooperation between people of mutual goodwill. And when we disagree due to deeply held convictions, we must do so with humility, grace and love. 

Your thoughts?

29 comments:

Brandi said...

Great now I am gonna hear how Jonathan is in support of gays and leisbans and how you might even be gay yourself!!

Iam4Jesus said...

This is all great Jonathan. And, really - I stand in support of the motivation behind this...

My first comment, is regarding abortion - which I have stated before. I just hope that the reduction of abortion is for the right reasons. Obama says he wants to see abortion reduced - but he really doesn't show that in his plans. He plans to increase spending federally funded and legislated abortion in the field of scientific study, byu the millions. Sure, he says he wants to see less abortions (clinical)...I just don't think that adds up.

I long to see the day when there are none - because there is no viable reason for an abortion. The reduction of abortion should happen because abortion is killing humans....

My second question is regarding homosexuals - I agree, they have every right to employment - but do they have the right to employment at a church or other organization (Christian or not) that sees homosexuality as immoral? I'm just wondering how that works?

I know you didn't mention it here - but in regard to marriage - they certainly can have that too if the church they get married in is OK with it. Legally, I don't think anyone has the "right" to get married...not even me - that right comes from the Lord, and should a church that claims to serve the Lord perform those marriages - then be it to the God that they claim they serve to pass judgment - not man.

Just my thoughts...

Specifically wondering however what 'come let us reason' says about specific hiring practices for homosexuals? My feeling is - they have every right to work and gain employment - "orientation" shouldn't even be an issue...it's not for a heterosexual - why should it be for homosexual? Just don't draw attention to it...in the workplace - you should suppress "orientation" anyway...hetero or otherwise.

Jim said...

You say that the "golden rule" should be used in lieu of torture. How does that work necessarily when other countries/people do not abide by that rule? Whats the alternative of gaining information we need to save lives if needed? Also, we need to know what your standard of torture is. Me poking you in the arm might seem tortuous to you, but not to others.

Jonathan Merritt said...

Brandi-

Very funny. If by "in support" you mean "love," then yes I do. For far too long we have tattooed "Love the sinner, hate the sin" across the shoulders of our lives. We readily jump on top of anything that expresses how much we despise the sin. We must begin to support, rather than undermine, our claims to love our gay and lesbian neighbors.

And about being gay myself, please don't tell my girlfriend. Lol. And reassure all your homophobic friends that being gay isn't contagious, so I don't think I've caught it.

Jm

Iam4Jesus said...

In light of these recent posts, I came across something interesting in my studies, and wrote about it here:

"Burning Coals"

I welcome your thoughts....

Jonathan Merritt said...

IAM4-

On the abortion side, let's just wait and see. For the first time ever in my life time, we have a Democratic President talking meaningfully in moral terms about abortion. Rather than wanting to open the floodgates, he wants to prevent it. Let's give credit where credit is due and wait to see what happens.

Regarding employment rights, there is a clear exemption in our policy for faith-based organizations and churches. As far as marriage, that is something that evangelicals and progressives are not able to find common ground on at this time so we didn't try to tackle it.

Good thoughts.

Jm

Jonathan Merritt said...

Jim-

Good questions. First, as Christ followers we must always do what is right no matter what. As William Penn said, "Right is right even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong even if everyone is for it." As Christians, we believe that everyone is entitled to human dignity-not because they deserve it, but because they are the creation of God and the object of his love. So, it doesn't matter what other countries are doing. We must maintain our moral integrity.

As far as the Golden Rule, it would be applied like this: We must never engage in any action that we would not want allowed for use on a captured American soldier.

Jm

tmamone said...

Amen, Jon! The "culture war" mentality separates us, when we really need to unite. Whether we're gay, straight, liberal, conservative, Christian, agnostic, or whatever, we're all in the same boat. We're all messed up humans trying to figure it all out.

For long we've been divided politically, too. We're faced not faced with "liberal issues" or "conservative issues," but issues that affect all Americans.

I pray that we enter a new political climate, one that is no longer left vs. right, but united.

Marc Andreas said...

Nice post. I'm so glad to see a pretty wide range of endorsement of Third Way's approach from Richard Mouw to NARAL.

I have hope the Obama administration will seriously listen to this thoughtful, centrist approach from Third Way.

Obama's commitment to continue Bush's faith-based office is a good example of applying a moderate perspective. He's planning to rename it to include community partnerships with a focus on effective methods of helping people in great need.

Ginna said...

I'm impressed with this Jonathan. I had no idea you were into things like this.
As far as abortion goes I don't know if I could ever stand beside those who are pro-choice even if just to try to reduce abortions. I truly wish it could just be made illegal as it used to be. In my eyes it is murder plain and simple, and as a mom who has had the ability to have any more children ripped from me, the people that do this make me so angry. Why not give the unwanted child to a family that wants the child? It just seems so selfish and immoral to me.
As far as gay rights, I agree that we can't pass judgment on them and force them to live a different way than we do, but I do not believe they belong in a place of leadership in any church. Now my feelings on gay marriage are pretty cut and dry, God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve.
I look forward to reading more of your blogs!

Hugs,
Ginna... oh and Noah too! See you tomorrow night.

BT said...

Jonathan:

Wasn't it Bill Clinton who said that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare"? It would seem that Obama is following in that line of thought.

But as you point out Bill Clinton was very much trapped in the culture wars paradigm.

I am of the opinion that the Culture War is a generational problem for the Baby Boomers. People who came of age during the 60's had to confront Viet Nam, Drugs, etc. and they were very polarized by it. In many ways, they just keep re-fighting these battle out over and over. Newt and Rush vs. Bill and Whoever. I'm very tired of them, and their obsessions with who inhaled and who didn't.

Obama is the first post-Baby Boom president and that is a plus for him and us, in my opinion. It really is time to move on, the 60's happened 40 years ago.

Zack said...

Jonathan:

Whenever I hear people debating torture, I ask myself: What is torture?

I'm curious, what is your definition of torture?

Jonathan Merritt said...

Zach,

I would probably define torture as something like, "the cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of another human being." That is pretty general and within that definition, there would probably be some disagreement.

Jm

Anonymous said...

It is interesting that you demand to abolish torture but are willing to accept just a reduction in abortion.
I do not see how you could justify this.
Also, concerning your mention of Obama wanting to prevent abortion.............. how can you say that knowing that he will sign FOCA?
Frankly, I'm ashamed of you.

Jonathan Merritt said...

Anonymous,

Normally, I won't respond to comments from people who won't leave their name, however, I want to encourage you to read the piece I published in the AJC regarding Obama and FOCA. After that, read all my comments over the last year about my stance on abortion. I abhor it and hope to see it abolished. You really should do your homework before making strong statements.

Jm

Seth Odom said...

I would agree with your comments that we need to love our homosexual neighbors.

Far too long have Christians been arrogant, and downright mean toward those who are in bondage to sin. We must refine our approach to be humble and loving, but never at the expense of gospel truth. We must call sin for what it is. And encourage those in bondage to same-sex attraction to resist the flesh and remain abstinent, and pray that God would change their desires to pursue that which honors Him, namely a Christ Centered heterosexual marriage life (for the unwed, a heterosexual courtship).

I know your post was more geared toward employment related issues, but hopefully what I have said will have relevance as well.

I must say that I am skeptical of Obama's intentions. He appears to be a different kind of liberal, but not necessarily a better one.
(I would elaborate if I had more time)

As for your response to a comment on loving the sinner but hating the sin. I am not so sure.

"The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (Ps. 5:5-6 ESV)

"The Lord tests the righteous,
but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence." (Ps. 11:5 ESV)

I know this opens up a whole new debate on the old and new covenant. Except the text appears to be describing an innate part of God's character. And although we are under the new covenant. The new covenant tells us, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." (Heb. 13:8)

B.T.W. I sat under your Dad at Snellville First Baptist for years when I was a kid. He truly is gifted.

Jonathan Merritt said...

Seth-

I remember you, and it is good to reconnect with you. I appreciate your comments and agree with much of them. Regarding your statement about hating evildoers, but we should keep that in context. Aren't we all evildoers? I know I am. I am no better than my gay and lesbian neighbors. I have impure thoughts and speak in anger and am greedy and gossip. I find it interesting that we are ready to picket and write letters when a gay person goes to get "married" but when our fellow church members go to get divorced we do not do likewise. Sin is abundant in the church, but I think we have grown tolerant at those sins we find tolerant (gossip, divorce, gluttony, unrighteous anger, etc), yet we are explosively abhorrent of those sins that we have chosen to elevate. Do you agree or disagree?

Jm

Seth Odom said...

I agree that we are all evildoers, I also know I am. I am just curious how people go around saying hate the sin, but love the sinner, when God says in those passages that he HATES/ABHORS the man. How should we as Christians treat these verses in a new covenant context?

As for the "tolerable" sins. I would commend Jerry Bridges' book "Respectable Sins" for a treatment of that subject. I agree that the church has been very quick to protest something "gay" but not against divorce or other sins within or without the Church. An example would be when many Christians protested the use of the homosexual actor who played one of the missionaries in the movie " The End of the Spear", yet did not protest at all to Jim Caveizel playing Jesus in "The Passion of the Christ" who, I am told by a trustworthy friend, was or is living with his girlfriend. The hypocrisy has to stop and we need to preach what the Apostle Paul preached, that God now commands all men everywhere to repent. Pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.

One last thing. What do you mean that heterosexual marriage is God's ideal? Why the word ideal? Isn't it commanded? Are you suggesting God just has hopes for heterosexual marriage because that is his preference, or are you using ideal and command synonomously?

Thanks.

Jonathan Merritt said...

Seth-

I would be very careful with what scripture attributes descriptively to God and applying it prescriptively to man. God can justly abhor sinful man because He created us and is holy. We do not have the right to do so becuase we are all fallen and sinful. To do so would be both sinful and the ultimate hypocrisy.

Heterosexual marriage is ideal. It is not commanded for the NT clearly states that not all will or should get married. Homosexual relationships are not within God's plan and would therefore be sinful. ANY sexual relationship outside of a man and woman in marriage is sin and violates God's ideal. Therefore, adultery, cohabitation, divorce and homosexuality would all into the same category.

On a personal note, we as Christians should NEVER speak of any sin like homosexuality unless we can do so with a broken heart as equally sinful and fallen people who know that it would be you or me if it were not for the grace of God.

Jm

robert fortner said...

Great piece Jonathan. Can't argue with a word.

Re-read point #2. Didn't you mean to write "...advocate for the abolition of abortion...", instead of "...advocate for the abolition of torture"?

Jonathan Merritt said...

Robert-

Good eye. I changed it.

Jm

Anonymous said...

From another Blog - this pretty much sums it up.

Here's the ugly, brutal truth of it: The "young evangelicals" have abandoned the unborn because they're "tired" of having to deal with the issue of ending murder. They are the most disgusting segment of the populace. Better to be honestly deceived into rationalizing that the unborn are not people than to acknowledge that abortion is murder but be so apathetic as to abandon the effort to end it.

BT said...

Doesn't anyone have a comment that is in reference to the culture wars?

Or are we all too busy fighting them?

Seth Odom said...

I agree that we should speak of a sin like homosexuality with humility and a broken heart. I apologize if I came across harsh or demeaning. That was not my intention.

Regarding the texts of God speaking about God hating the evildoer. If it needs to be clarified I am not saying that WE need to hate the sinner. But what do we say that GOD does? Just curious.

Anonymous said...

"Abortion reduction." ...FAIL

I offer my sincere thanks to you sell-out, clueless Christians who helped get Obama elected.

Especially you, Jonathan. You confused, young man.

Now we can truly have more abortions. Yay!

-Pro-Abortion Guy

Luke Hudson said...

Come let us reason together. Did you guys read all of Isaiah 1 before you named your initiative? You do realize that the only reasoning going on in that chapter was God telling Israel that it was His way or else, don't you?

The only way for a Christian to approach sin is to call it what it is and to treat it like God does. God doesn't deal in gray areas. In the areas of murder and homosexuality, it’s abundantly clear that God deals in black and white.

What has been proven time and again throughout history is that appeasement doesn't work. Read through the Old Testament. How many times did God tell Israel to totally and completely destroy her enemies? What happened when she didn't?

Obviously, those stories are there as parallels between God's righteousness and sin.

I'm definitely not saying we should hate the sinner - God doesn't and neither should we. I am saying that the idea of agreeing to compromise on sin in the name of trying to get along, will never work.

For instance, saying that you can agree to a reduction in abortions is really saying that you'll look the other way while some abortions are going on in order to get along with those who are pro-abortion. Or, more bluntly; you're really saying it's OK to sacrifice a few lives in the name of peace and harmony. I don't find that kind of reasoning anywhere in the Bible.

If you need more proof that the culture wars that you are trying to end will never be settled, I refer you to two quotes that have recently made the news:

1. Nancy Pelosi and George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week discussing abortion funding in the latest stimulus package:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hundreds of millions of dollars to expand family planning services. How is that stimulus?

PELOSI: Well, the family planning services reduce cost. They reduce cost. The states are in terrible fiscal budget crises now and part of what we do for children's health, education and some of those elements are to help the states meet their financial needs. One of those - one of the initiatives you mentioned, the contraception, will reduce costs to the states and to the federal government.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So no apologies for that?

PELOSI: No apologies. No. we have to deal with the consequences of the downturn in our economy.

2. During his private meeting with congressional Democrats and Republicans on Friday (January 23, 2009), President Obama ended a philosophical debate over tax policy with the simple declaration that his opinion prevailed because "I won."

With the liberal majority in Congress and a liberal in the White House, now is the absolute worst time for this type of initiative. Liberals don’t need you and will never negotiate to get along. You guys are being duped by those with which you seek to make peace.

I encourage your readers to read the agenda that you signed.

Jonathan Merritt said...

Luke-

I encourage you to re-read Isaiah 1. When the Lord says, "Come now, let us reason together," He is asking the sinful people to unite around justice and the defense of the fatherless, widowed, and oppressed. I would go encourage you to go back through some of your comments and think about / develop the theology found therein.

I also want to ask: If we as Christians, seek FIRST and FOREMOST to mirror and model Jesus Christ in our actions and exchanges, where is Jesus in your system of belief?

Remember that we should never compromise our moral stances on any of the issues about which scripture speaks clearly. This includes, but is not limited to, abortion and marriage issues. Yet, I believe that as we disagree, opposing sides can talk WITH each other rather than AT each other. This is the crux of the movement to end the culture wars. It is not the end of disagreement; it is the end of disagreeableness.

Jm

Luke Hudson said...

Jonathan,

You're taking the "reason together" part out of context in Isaiah 1. To say that the chapter is about caring for widows, fatherless and the oppressed is to miss the point of the chapter. God was using the fact that those groups were being mistreated to point out the self-centered lifestyle that had become the norm in Israel.

The majority of the chapter is God saying telling Israel that He is sick of their self-centered approach to life and really sick and tired of them ignoring Him and replacing Him with idols. He’s warning that if they don’t straighten out, the full weight of their sin is about to drop right on their heads. (Luke paraphrase) Reasoning together was predicated on the standard that God had set for sin. The only reasoning going on in Isaiah 1:18 is God saying, you better get your reasoning in line with mine.

To me, this is a very potent description of where God stands on the matter of sin. It's just not tolerated.

To answer your question about where is Jesus in my belief system - He's at the center. You see, I believe Jesus would say to the abortionist, the adulterer, the homosexual and any other sinner, "Hey, I love you because My Father created you. I don't need any other reason to love you. But, I do not love your sin and I will not participate in it. You cannot serve two masters. You can’t keep sinning and be right with God. I’m not going to look the other way."

I try to think that way too. Sure I sin just like everyone else. God still loves me just like I am. Though He won't turn a blind eye to my sins, He will forgive them. How can I do any less for my fellow human beings?

If you really love or care about someone, wouldn't you tell them where you saw them messing up? Are you doing them any favors by allowing them to continue in sin without pointing it out to them?

What I see happening in popular culture is that name calling is becoming reality. When I point out something that God calls sin, I'm labeled as "anti-choice" or "homophobic" or “intolerant”. When I actively say “hey, that’s not right” I become the bad guy. And the guy who is sinning? He becomes the victim of my intolerance! If that’s not Satan calling what’s right, wrong and what’s wrong, right, then what is it?

The person who wrote the "Reason Together" document for Third Way, Rachel Laser, is a lawyer who previously served as senior counsel for the National Women's Law Center and as general counsel for the DC office of Planned Parenthood. It is very difficult for me to believe that she has suddenly had a change of heart concerning abortion and is extending an olive branch to Christians.

Groups like Third Way who promote the "oh, can't we just get along" mentality are really kicking the legs out from under the church. Once they get Christians to agree that they've been un-Christ-like for pointing out sin, then there is no more discussion. They've won. The church loses and sinful ways keep moving on.

To quote you “It is not the end of disagreement; it is the end of disagreeableness.” That’s a noble idea. But, make no mistake; there will be no compromise from the other side. The give is all on your side. Don’t sell out the church in the name of peace and harmony.

(Please forgive the length. I don't have time to make it shorter.)

Jonathan Merritt said...

Luke-

First off, the paper was not authored exclusively by Rachel Laser. She was a co-author with several others including about a half dozen committed evangelicals.

Regarding your point about the context of that verse with regard that chapter of Isaiah:

Let us remember that in Hebrew there are neither verses nor chapters. Chapters were not added until centuries later. When we look at this verse, we have to take into consideration the entire verse, the verses around it, the chapter at large, the chapters around it, the book itself, and then the bible narrative as a whole. The co-opt of this phrase is sound for this purpose. You may think I miss the point of the chapter, but I think you might be elevating the chapter at the expense of a greater understanding of what this verse is saying with regard to what we know is true about God in a much larger sense. Regardless of whether or not you agree with me (and the PhD-level Bible scholars who selected it to begin with) about the context of this phrasing, the larger point remains sound.

Let us take a look at what one person--perhaps the greatest cultural witness of all time--did in his greatest bout with the thinkers and policymakers of his day. His name was Paul, and when he spoke in the book of Acts to the Greek authorities in Athens at Mars Hill and at the Aereopagus, he maintained his convictions while speaking in love and with thoughtful reason. That is the way we must engage culture in my opinion. More conversation and less condemnation.

The approach you take--the rigorous, dogmatic, hardlined, culture war, win-loss mentality that seems to seek only to destroy those who disagree with a particular brand of Christianity--isn't something I think honors Christ or changes life. It is, however, found in the NT. It was espoused by the religious people of that day. People who were certainly not friends of our Savior. It was the Pharisees who looked at Jesus--a man who advocated for, defended, hung out with, and spoke truth in love to the sexual sinner, the reprobate, the prostitute, the tax collector, the cheat, and the adulterer--and responded much like I think you seem to be. They thought Jesus was was a compromising, back-slidden, capitulating, tolerance-loving, friend of sinners who didn't have the guts to cast the first stone.

Jesus said we should put down our stones and begin to exchange While the homosexual sins sexually, I sin in other ways. I believe putting words in Jesus' mouth as you seem to do in your last post is to ignore the full body of Jesus' teachings and ministry.

Perhaps this is just one place where we have to agree to disagree.

Jm