Engaging Culture

When It Comes to Engaging Culture, When Do Christians Draw a Line?

The Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage decision has brought Christian cultural engagement back into the limelight in a big way. There has been the predicted wide range of responses in light of the announcement. But as public policy grows more dismissive of religious faith, and a growing number of groups show outright hostility, here’s some thoughts to consider as the culture continues to shift:

First – I think 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, 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? Don’t 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, 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?   Whenever I read these articles or online posts, they spend most of the time talking about how gracious and humble we should be in our approach (with which I completely agree.) But they never get around to the big question: “What happens if the hostility grows?” Civility 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 where we finally draw a line in the sand?   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 felt so strongly about it, they were willing to be thrown in with lions, tortured, 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. But if history is any teacher, we will one day be forced to ask the question, where is that point? At what place do we 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 this isn’t time to be hysterical, but as I continue to engage on these issues, there’s a question that keeps nagging inside me:

Should our society continue to grow less accommodating to religious freedom and free speech, at what point should we stop all the “conversation” and – with love, respect, and humility – simply say no?

What do you think?

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  1. Saying “no” is meaningless if we are living like the culture. Beyond saying a verbal “no” we need to say a lifestyle “no” and stop being confirmed to the world’s values, media, customs, events, and entertainment.

  2. FNC was reporting yesterday a number of the states who’s bans were overturned including Texas planned at least initially to stick by them; 4 dissenting scotus justices unprecedented; according to SCOTUS, the losing side in the decision has almost 3 weeks to submit a “reconsideration” request;
    perhaps a mass petition should be sent to that legal team to do so also stating why; they apparently insufficiently studied Anthony Kennedy, who everyone knew was the #1 swing vote!! what key info did they leave out of their arguments?!

  3. You know what I agree. I definitely feel like the culture is expecting us to be more tolerant all the while growing more hostile towards our views. Why is it in every sense, that the Christian takes a stand for what they believe in and is immediately vilified and expected to accommodate or back down? Is backing down the Christianly thing to do? I don’t think so. But I think it goes back to that we believe in God and seeking after the things of God. Those who don’t simply think they have a right to do whatever they want. How do you engage a culture that won’t listen, how do you communicate with a people that is obdurate, stiff-necked, and closed-minded to God?

      1. oh please finish it soon. I’m reading through Unique for my graduate thesis. But I may need this book too. I’m trying discover whether branding techniques used by Christians organizations are the best way to reach millennials (postmodern world) today with the message of Christ. I’m encountering some trouble because many people are against what they call the commercialization of churches. They feel some churches are becoming like enterprises and going away from authentic worship. But I’m looking at branding from a communications standpoint. How can we win anyone to Christ if we do not connect with them? Like you say in your book, I see the connection between religions and brands. If branding was first inspired by religion like you, martin lindstrom and hanlon say then why can’t branding and business techniques be used for the things of God? What do you think?

        1. Well, you have my book, and that’s what I think… 🙂
          Actually, branding is simply a compelling story that surrounds a person, product, or organization. That perception is more important than ever when it comes to churches today. We live in the most distracted culture in history, so doing whatever we can to help focus people’s attention on our life-changing message couldn’t be more critical…

          1. I believe the same. Just have to prove it with academic research… But I look forward to your next book. You have any advice for an up in coming communications specialist that wants to merge the sacred and secular?

          2. Yes that’s true. 🙂 so the real question is how to re-merge the two in a society constantly working to separate them?

          3. Bola, speak the truth boldly, and people will listen. Also, tell people, everyone,that you’re praying for them. They will listen if you SHOW you care. No one turns down prayer, regardless of religion. Yes, we must do everything in an excellent manner, including advertising, marketing, etc. But every time you’re online, let love shine through your interactions, through your media presentations, and let them be guided by truth. Then tell people you are praying for them, and the combination will soften the stiff-necked. – Kristen

          4. You’re welcome, Bola! It’s simplistic, I know, but the truth is simple, lol! And I just know that in my personal experience, for example, people respond to God’s Word, since it’s “living and powerful.” I grew up learning a lot of Scripture, and went to a Lutheran college, where I had to learn a lot, so often I find myself quote more Bible verses than the pastors I know, lol, but I often find that people kind of look at me like, “Wow! You’re so smart!” but it’s just me reciting the ultimate Authority 🙂 So, yes, people are hard-wired to respond to God’s Word. Also, my hubby and I are in media, and both do design as well, so on the opposite end of the spectrum it KILLS me that my church body, the Lutheran Church, is painfully stuck back in the ’70’s when it comes to graphic design. Their Dec. cover of The Lutheran Witness looked like an alien baby Jesus in the manger, it was so scary looking I had to put it face-down in the pastor I work for’s bin, lol. He once said to me, “I don’t know where I’m going (meaning moving up in Synod leadership), but I’m taking you with me,” because he and the congregation so appreciate my design skills. So, I’m seeing the flip side of what most evangelicals experience–we’re LACKING in graphic design. But I was pleased to see a new video they just put out yesterday, called “Here We Stand.” It’s the words of the Reformer himself, spoken in the original German. It gives me chills every time I think of it. If you pop over to my Spiritual Warfare Moms fb page, I shared it there. So, no church body is perfect, and we Lutherans are no exception, but when I think about the good aspects of my church, the scene in the Luther movie comes to mind, where the German princes bow their necks before the emperor of Rome. Because there’s one thing you can’t do to us stubborn Germans, lol–and that’s push us around.

  4. So we and when I say we I mean the church or the christians or whoever let a forest grow, now that forest encroaches on us or our church or our land or our kids. Thats where we are at, or atleast thats how I see it. But you can’t just cut a forest down, and we can’t define God because once we are defining Gods Love well then we are no longer talking about Gods Love. And frankly even though you are skirting the issue and speaking in a larger since of time we live in. How big is the resurrection that’s the question we need ask cause Jesus told the guys arguing about marriage you know not the word or the power of the resurrection. No one is married in eternity at least according to Jesus. We are going to have to face that line you spoke of soon enough but we are here right now and in this world at this specific time. We need to find a way of making this work in the church as a whole or we are going to fail in the attempt to share the power of the resurrection.

  5. Well, we are in this world but not of it. I consider the true Church to be an anti-culture and hopefully different enough in a lifestyle discipleship to Christ that others who see my come to believe and be part of the anti-culture with us if they are so drawn by The Holy Spirit. We love as Christ loves which means to me that we tell the truth and nothing but the truth so help us God. I love others so much so as not to be concerned whether they like me or not.

  6. Christians will be put in all kinds of perilous situations, now that “gay marriage” is the law of the land.Let’s remember that Satan comes to steal, kill and destroy. Give Satan an inch and he will take a mile. Now that the devil has leverage, things will in fact get worse for Christians in America. Ms. Clinton has already suggested that “religion” needs to change to accommodate popular culture. Don’t be surprised when Uncle Sam decides to censor what Christians can preach.

  7. “Here We Stand” is the motto just adopted a few hours ago by the MI District of the LCMS, their video gave me chills–the first few seconds shows the shadow of a pastor reading Luther’s words from the Diet of Worms in German–I don’t speak German but it brought tears to my eyes, and they have type so you can see what he’s saying: http://bit.ly/1CHuGr2 The pastor I work for has been there the past two days, so I will look forward to hearing what the other pastor’s have said at this conference, because it started Sunday, after they all had to take their stand. My former college classmate, now my family’s pastor in OH, he was apprehensive, and my dad said two people walked out, but the congregation clapped for him at the end of the Sunday service! Since the blood of the saints is the seed of the church, I know that as the persecution ramps up, those pastors who Sunday felt the exhilaration of standing up for the Living God, and those of us who will do so soon, will only be emboldened as we ALL experience the joy of standing up for Jesus. – Kristen Collier

    1. I don’t see your reply here, Phil, but I’m sorry, I didn’t write accurately enough–my family’s pastor, the people walked out of his sermon about the sin of homosexuality, not the above video.

      1. Got it. Two different issues. The video opening with Luther’s words works very well. On people walking out? Who knows? I’m glad your pastor is making a stand…

  8. I guess I’m the lone dissenter. The state has a compelling interest in preserving equal rights for ALL and not allowing any religion to encroach on that interest. The church has an equally compelling interest in preserving its right to not recognize or perform ceremonies it deems unworthy and not allowing the state to encroach on that interest. Seems to me that’s separation of church and state at its best, which is what just happened.

    This isn’t the Nazis coming for our kids…playing that card is extreme. Luther was objecting to Church issues, not state issues, so the parallels don’t work.

    The measure of our faith is how we treat those we disagree with. Jesus demonstrated radical love toward the unlovable. Are we willing to do that? Or are we going to demand our rights? Are we going to fight and insist on being right?

    Jesus didn’t do those things. I choose to follow.

    1. That would be appropriate in a perfect world, Rich. But media reports from Time Magazine to the Wall Street Journal are reporting that “tolerance” isn’t what we think. Today the WSJ reports that “The same-sex marriage ruling will unleash the legal furies against those who disagree with it.” The lesbian mayor of Houston demanded transcripts from all sermons on LGBT issues from local pastors. Fortunately, they stood against her in unison. Jesus refused to cooperate with the religious leaders and Roman leaders and it led to his execution. Obviously it hasn’t come to that here, but are we ready if it does?

      1. So Jesus just didn’t get how the real world works, right? We sing the songs and speak the words, but in the end He just didn’t get it.

        “In a perfect world?” We’re called to love our enemies in a fallen, broken world. And, yes, that may mean following Jesus into difficult, painful places. He made that very clear, though most Americans haven’t faced that reality. We live a mostly easy version of our faith and freak out at the first sign of trial.

        Personally, I believe this is much ado about nothing. Racist Christians believed the world would end when backs were allowed to vote and marry white people. Near as I can see, we’re still here.

        Ever sit back and seriously ask yourself how Jesus would respond to this circumstance? Panic? Condemnation? Stone-throwing? Politics? Arguments?

        Jesus’ ONLY debate came with religious leaders. He never clashed or “refused to cooperate with” Roman leaders. Don’t twist the story to imply that the government wanted to get rid of Him. Jesus’ execution was entirely instigated and manipulated by religious leaders.

        There’s organized Christianity and there’s following Jesus. You’re right; they’re not the same thing.

        One is a practical, real-world enterprise–same kind that killed Jesus when He got in the way.

        1. Jesus got it, but I’m not sure you do… 🙂
          Actually Rich, you make a good point, but I think you’re looking at it from a different perspective than I wrote. I agree with you on how we should act, but the world doesn’t have the desire to reciprocate. I’m in London right now, where a local Christian pastor has been charged for preaching the truth about Islam. A few months ago, the Lesbian mayor of Houston demanded transcripts of all Houston pastor’s sermons on the LGBT issue. The point isn’t us “pushing back” but how far we’re willing to compromise. You’re correct about Jesus’ conflict with religious leaders, but remember that he was ultimately executed by Pilate, and his disciples got the same treatment by the Roman authorities. So – should they keep moving the line, is there a point where you stop sharing the gospel?

          1. Explain how “sharing the good news” equates to spewing hate speech, which is exactly what that pastor did. His statements were not “truth” in any sense.

            The Houston mayor: aren’t sermons public anyway? Why not hand them to her, smile, and invite her to attend and discuss. What’s to hide? Give her the notes and scripture references and ask for comments.

            The gospel, the good news, has nothing to do with Islam or marriage. I get that, very clearly.

            There are many people who love Jesus deeply and have studied the issue of gay marriage in scripture and concluded that it’s not the black-and-white conclusion evangelicals seem to believe. I’ve read the interpretations and hermeneutics and I certainly can’t claim total understanding. But some very smart, wise men I trust, men with lots of credentials behind their names, assure me that there’s ample reason to at least be open to differences.

            I’ve decided that when people of good will differ in areas that aren’t central to my theology, I’ll allow for for that. And gay marriage isn’t central to my theology. It’s not central to the good news. It’s not an issue on which I’m willing to be divisive.

            As for Pilate…I sincerely hope I’d be willing to follow Jesus to the cross for the sake of the gospel. For gay marriage? No. I’m happy it happened. I’m all in favor of equal rights for everyone under the law FOR THE STATE.

            I personally think you’re just awfullizing to rally the troops. You don’t really expect to suffer any adverse consequences from sharing the gospel, but this issue gets the base all fired up.

            Either that, or you and I know a completely different Jesus. My Jesus isn’t American or Republican and His good news is about The Kingdom of God, right here, right now. Kinda impractical.

            Got Him killed by the church. If He showed up today, I wonder if the result would be any different.

          2. For the record, “spewing hate speech” should be protected, as all speech should be protected. The neo-Nazi’s in Skokie, Illinois were protected (the ACLU defended them). Enjoy your life and ministry Rich. Sounds like you’re doing great. Good for you. Hope you never lose that ability to disagree with me or anyone else – but that’s not what I’m seeing coming on the horizon…

  9. Great post! Are people really willing to give up everything? In the UK at the moment, a prominent evangelical pastor is being prosecuted for a sermon he gave. He was given the option of a lesser punishment (presumably he had to apologise) but refused and the case is now going to trial. At 79, he could go to prison…that’s how it works; http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-27501839

  10. As a Makeup Artist (key for Thou Shall Laugh 4) I have a wide range of friends from Christians to Gay Activists whom I love very much. I posted this link on my wall a few days ago http://thelibertarianrepublic.com/millionaire-gay-couple-suing-force-church-hold-wedding/ which is old yes but I posed this question. Right or Wrong? What was interesting is that even the ones actively working on the front lines for gay rights said it was an embarrassment and wrong. But it was an eye opener for me to see those on the fringe of that movement post pure hate for Christians and anything perceived as christian. Two thoughts came to mind, one is that we as a church have not done a very good job of giving them any reason to want what we have. Second is that we as a church have become a milk toast people, allowing others to walk all over the majority. Few get out and vote, and few actively support christian film or the making of them. So many are caught up in their own little bubble we have effectively given our rights of Freedom of Religion away to the much louder minority.

      1. As I understand it: A pastor is not required to perform a marriage for a same-sex couple, or interracial couples, inter-faith couples, non-Christian couples, young couples, previously divorced couples, and any other marriage they choose.

        The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States guarantees this. It promises that the government will not interfere with a person’s right to freely practice his or her religion.

        But a wedding chapel registered as a for-profit business not as a church or place of worship must comply with a local nondiscrimination ordinance. Under the law, businesses don’t have the special privileges given to religious groups.

    1. That is SO WRONG! I would guess that, with Idaho hardly being a ‘liberal’ bastion, that this is a work to undermine the decision, not a sincere attempt to interpret and ‘enforce’ the SCOTUS ruling. Sad.

  11. Many of my Gay friends have been bombarded with negative messages on social media. Many of these messages have come from family members. My friends may perceive these messages as “Hate Speech” of “Cyber Bullying”. Perception is reality. If they confront the family members the relatives respond with, “Hey I’m just speaking the truth. What do you have against the truth?” My point is that neither side is changing hearts and minds. There is an old saying: “You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” People can grow. People can change views. People have changed churches. I am disturbed that these relatives are pushing away their family members. SCOTUS can take responsibility for their decision. We have to take responsibility for how we react to it.


    This was an actual event that took place several years ago. We were reminded of this story in light of recent events.

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