The Supreme Court’s decision in the Hobby Lobby case has brought Christian cultural engagement back into the limelight. There have been some wild blog posts and other responses in light of the announcement – a shocking number completely hysterical. But we need to remember that while the Supreme Court sided with Hobby Lobby, the wider culture is moving in a different direction. As Ed Stetzer reported after the ruling, “A LifeWay Research study conducted in November of 2012, shows most Americans support mandatory contraception coverage through ObamaCare. In other words, the Supreme Court has seen a religious freedom issue where Americans do not. [This] tells us that the majority of Americans were on the other side of today’s ruling.”
So as public policy and the general public grows more dismissive of religious freedom, and some politicians show outright hostility, here’s some thoughts to consider:
First – It’s time to stop apologizing for the past and move forward. There’s no question that some prominent (and some not so prominent) Christian leaders said and did unfortunate things in the past when it came to engaging the culture. Nearly every magazine article, blog post, or news story by a Christian ends up acknowledging past mistakes and some even wallow in it. OK, we get it. Most of those past leaders were well intentioned, a few were totally off-base, and some were outright boneheads. But name an organization without their share of screw-ups. Republicans, Democrats, atheists, reporters, PTA members, MSNBC, Fox, whatever. Everybody has a “crazy uncle Bob” in their family, but that doesn’t undermine the credibility or authority of our principles. So let’s move past apologizing for poorly executed strategies of yesterday, and focus more on what matters now.
Second – A comprehensive Christian response to the culture includes every issue. We hear a lot about the next generation being concerned about more than just abortion and sexual orientation. That’s great, but so what? Do abortion and sexual orientation still matter? They won’t go away just by diverting your energy into other subjects. I’m thrilled that we’re also fighting sex trafficking, pornography, poverty, and other important issues. But shifting our priorities doesn’t distract us from the fact that it all matters, and we still need to engage on those issues as well.
Third – What’s really at stake here? We need to stop being hysterical ourselves and have an accurate understanding of where we are at any given moment. So many articles and posts by Christians spend most of the time talking about how gracious and humble we should be in our approach (with which I completely agree). But they rarely get around to the big question: “What actually matters, what are the stakes, and how firmly should we respond?” Etiquette is important, but if my house is on fire, I don’t care if the firemen are nice – just get me out.
Finally – Is there a place in the future where we draw the line? Sure, let’s be humble and gracious. Absolutely, let’s engage in a spirit of love and respect. But is there a point were we say enough is enough? At some point, the early church decided further cultural accommodation wasn’t possible. They didn’t fight back, but they felt so strongly about it, they were willing to be thrown in with lions, or crucified. German Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer drew the line in Germany during World War II and paid for it with his life. Christians around the world today suffer because of their principles.
Obviously, the Church in America hasn’t faced that challenge, and in spite of flare-ups our level of religious freedom is still remarkable. But if history is any teacher, we one day may be forced to decide that Biblical principles can no longer be compromised.
Martin Luther fearfully, but courageously told the leaders of his day:
“Here I stand. I can do no other.”
I certainly haven’t given up on changing this culture, and it will continue to be the focus of my life. But as I continue to engage on these issues, there’s a question that keeps nagging inside me:
Should society continue to grow less accommodating to religious freedom, at what point should we stop all the “conversation” and – with love, respect, and humility – simply say “No”?