The purpose of the Culture War was total annihilation. Its perpetrators wanted a victory so decisive, that the mere defeat of its enemies isn’t enough. Nor would be humiliation. They needed their enemies assimilated or completely destroyed.
And who are their enemies? Everyone.
This is what we get wrong. This “culture war” was never really about Left versus Right but the radical Right against everyone else. And this misunderstanding has got us to this point.
Toward the end of the 20th Century, a political organization of staunch conservative Christians founded a couple of very high-profile organizations, including the Moral Majority and the Institute for Religion and Democracy which served under the banner of The Religious Right. These were not grassroots organizations of Right-leaning centrists. And they aren’t looking for freedom or unity in peace, love, and harmony for all Christians. They had much bigger goals.
The political transformation of the United States.
And this crusade continues.
One battlefront of their declared culture war is the churches. Today the Religious Right isn’t looking to wage war for individuals but in the many churches across the country and against the churches themselves. This includes the various denominations and many branches of Christian faith.
The preferred weapon of choice is disinformation and disruption. They want to create infighting.
What the majority of people have not reckoned with is an agenda so well hidden, they put it in plain sight. The name.
They declared war.
A holy war. A civil war.
Anyone who pays attention to history would never ascribe equality in positions in war. It is never so simple as liberals and conservatives. And it is never a case of equal numbers. Wow! They had identical numbers of soldiers on equal footing! Like every war!
This declared Culture War was a sort of asymmetric warfare like the kind seen in the jungles of Vietnam. There, an inferior army used terrain advantage to defeat the most powerful military in history. In desperation, we began taking extreme measures of our own.
Measures which compromised the war effort at home.
Make no mistake, the intentions of the culture war are political. And the Religious Right sees this as warfare.
But the language they have used from the beginning strikes at the core of moderate sensibilities to keep the peace and to reject political extremes. The defense, coming from the Left, was always silenced in a fit of false equivalence.
This silencing was always the point.
As John Dorhauer, a pastor from the United Church of Christ argues, that silencing of the prophetic voice was the intent:
“What political heavyweights like Coors, Ahmanson, Mellon-Scaife and others are looking for is the guarantee that a new Martin Luther King, Jr. will not emerge.”
The arguments we’ve heard for the last 35 years are calibrated to promote discord for those in the middle. Not just the Left.
When we phrase the controversy as Left vs. Right, we make all those in the middle uncomfortable with the whole deal. This is an intentional political tactic: to get us to frame it that way. To get us to fight with each other. And when we do, it will yield any number of negative results for the targeted church.
- Decreased enthusiasm and membership,
- Decreased power and voice,
- Potential changes in leadership, or
- Increased interest in those places where such matters are “settled,” even if their positions are quite far from the middle (ie: those sympathetic to the aggressors)
Any combination of these is net positive for the culture warriors.
We so want this to be Left vs. Right. But it’s not.
Not really. It’s a particular brand which exists on the Far-Right versus everybody.
And every second of the last 35 years we’ve encouraged this conversation, treating it like a rational, philosophical debate from the middle and not the guerrilla war from the fringe that it is, is another second of validation. Another second that this distortion becomes true. Every second is an inch closer to normal.
A normal which casts the breadth of historical tradition and the wide swath of theological views as the narrow riposte of a supposed fringe Left.
And a normal which casts the bald politics of violence and war as not only necessary but an excusable replacement for theology. Trading the wisdom from theology for the rigidity of a singular free market ideology.
Ultimately transforming the Prince of Peace into a General of (culture) War.
Like trading in the chanting of psalms for the beating of war drums.
Jesus teaches a different view of war
And he offers a third way or a via media for how to approach conflicts. In three successive teachings, he speaks to a still radical understanding of direct confrontation.
- If someone hits you like a slave, offer your other cheek,
- A friend sues you for your coat, give him your clothes, or
- A soldier asks you to carry his pack for a mile, make it two.
The elegant beauty of these three teachings is that they aren’t capitulation or letting the powerful trample over you. Each one is a bold, political action which exposes the violence and inhumane act the other is perpetrating upon you.
You are literally exposing their sin.
Our lizard brains have a built-in fight-or-flight response to conflict. When confronted with violence, abuse, danger, our brains are built to act quickly. To either run away or to go to war.
Jesus invites us to do something else. Do neither.
We activate the more rational part of our brain. There we can find a different solution.
- The person who hits you like a subordinate, stand up to them as an equal.
- The person who sues you for what is yours, prove that he is responsible for your shame, to his shame.
- That Roman soldier who is only allowed to make you carry his stuff for one mile, you get him in trouble by carrying it a second mile, leading to his punishment.
We aren’t actually at war. The Culture War doesn’t exist. It is more like a Cultural Invasion: a party declaring war on society itself, launching an invasion, and pretending it’s self-defense.
The Jesus response is not to go to war. It’s to find another way. To expose their shame. Taking their violence and oppression public.
We must take it public. To show how little this religious conversation some would have us call “The Culture War” actually has to do with theology. It isn’t a dialogue about Jesus, but the radical silencing of the historic dialogues about Jesus.
The purpose then is exactly what they call it.
A declaration of war on our common culture by a small cadre of political groups. And we need to treat it as precisely that.