Confessions of a Culture Warrior

As a young Christian, I was against so much.

Against drunkenness. Against lust. Against abortion. Against “the gays.” And at that time, against democrats, evolutionist professors, and the Los Angeles Raiders.

A mix of ordered and disordered passions, perhaps. Though I still maintain the inherent evil of the now Oakland Raiders, I’d like to have a theologically nuanced conversation with the younger me. I’d want to know what drove his belligerence and how he chose its opponent — some issues receiving its angry ministrations, others overlooked.

Those twenty some years ago, I was a “culture warrior” — theologically motivated (only in part), but defined primarily by a limited number of social issues that I was against in secular culture. Aggressive both in what I opposed and toward those who aligned with those views.

Andy Crouch offers the helpful distinction between a gesture and a posture. A Christian gesture of clear, loving, and public opposition is absolutely necessary at times. But at its extreme, the culture war posture comes across like Westboro Baptist Church, fire-and-brimstone “evangelism” megaphone on the street corner, or angry picketers verbally accosting the staff and clients of abortion clinics.

In 2007, I attended the inaugural Q Conference in Atlanta. I was particularly saddened that year by David Kinnaman’s research capturing the perceptions of Christianity by young adults outside the church: Antihomosexual, 91 percent; Judgmental, 87 percent; Hypocritical, 85 percent; Old-fashioned, 78 percent; Too political, 75 percent. And on, and on.

Fair or not, these were their perceived offenses — “by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

But I also remember my recurring positive impression from those three days — there is a middle way between culture war and theological accommodation. That idea was in no way new, but it was crystalizing for me in a more Christ-like vision of cultural engagement.

New research commissioned by Q Ideas shows that “95% of Americans agree that ‘people on opposite sides of an issue demonize each other so severely that they make finding common ground impossible.’” This is wonderful news, actually, and a fantastic missional opportunity for redemptive Christian opposition of a cultural trend.

Last week while participating in Q Denver, I saw this new kind of cultural war modeled. Not a belligerent one, but a co-belligerent one:

  • A real friendship between gay rights activist Ted Trimpa and Focus on the Family president Jim Daly — forged through working together on human trafficking legislation.
  • Michelle Higgins with Faith for Justice telling Christians to partner with nonbelievers on racial justice issues: “We aren’t the only ones with a good idea.”
  • Greg Thompson prrr-EACH-ing for integrity over exploitation, character over celebrity, and the common over the individualistic — all with the commendation that we must pursue these with our non-believing neighbors.

Francis Schaeffer noted, “A co-belligerent is a person with whom I do not agree on all sorts of vital issues, but who, for whatever reasons of their own, is on the same side in a fight for some specific issue of public justice.”

Today I find myself hopeful of a new Christian cultural war. One against a common enemy. One that postures co-belligerency over belligerency. One that owns more seriously and boldly our theological convictions, but does so with a different commitment to the motivation of love for and with our neighbor, even for and with our enemies.

My sincere prayer is that the service of Denver Institute will continue to help me and others engage the mission of Christ in Denver, for Denver, and with Denver.