The culture war continues.
The latest salvo in the fight is over the current segregation of public restrooms. The proponents of change and traditionalists battle it out for control on social media and in the public arena.
Both argue the moral inferiority of the other side. Both claim to be defending the security of their loved ones. Both threaten to take punitive measures against those who do not comply with their demands.
It is a fight where nobody seems to win and everyone comes out a loser. But what if this two sided debate is actually false dichotomy? Could there be a third option solution where all could win?
Perhaps, if all sides of this struggle for control could put down their rhetorical and political weapons for a moment, there is a better example to follow?
I believe there is a better ‘third’ way that is neither dogmatically religious nor demandingly progressive. I believe there is an alternative where all can win and none lose.
However, before I can get to the solution I need to discuss where the other options fall short and to do this I have defined a few categories.
(Please understand in advance that there is overlap between my categories and many people may not fall neatly into one or another.)
1) Liberal ‘progressive’ or secular values are marketed as love, tolerance, inclusion and open-mindedness. The promise is a more fair or high-minded society, but the result is often as petty and even more divisive than what it seeks to replace. It is morally incoherent, in one breath claiming to be non-judgmental and making more allowance for free expression, but in the next moment enforcing strict dogmas of politically correct language and behavior.
Those who do not comply with the moral edicts of progressives should be prepare to be shamed, belittled and bullied into silence. Those who fall away, question or challenge the new orthodoxy will be labeled as a bigot, racist, homophobe, misogynist, hateful or insensitive. The shouts of “don’t judge me” are often only a tool to drown out dissent and not a consistently applied principle. These bleeding hearts are out for blood as much as those they accuse of lacking understanding or compassion.
2) Conservative ‘nationalistic’ or established values are the present cultural norms and current notions of common sense. This is the flag waving proud patriotic perspective held by those who believe their own values (football, freedom and frequent beer consumption) represent the greatness of the American past, present and future. These are the biggest defenders of the status quo, their status quo, and never minding that their current cherished culture was formed yesterday.
These are the people who complain about outsourced jobs while simultaneously shopping at Walmart and criticizing as lazy those who aren’t as successful as them. This is the moral majority of the moment that sees their own privileges and preferences as fundamental rights without respect or consideration of those who see differently. They have also abandoned the traditional values of their parents and grandparents yet still condemn those who go a step further than them.
In their eyes America was almost always right. Historic injustice is white washed with a brush of romanticism. Slavery, racial inequality, segregation of schools, massacres and other abuses against native people are forgotten. The sins of our modern imperialistic aggression and global hegemony are downplayed. “It’s ‘merica, baby, land of the free, home of the brave!”
3) Religious ‘fundamentalist’ or traditional values are those out of the mainstream who claim to represent God’s will and freely judge all people—especially those outside of their own sub-cultural group. These self-proclaimed sanctimonious gatekeepers to the realm of moral truth annoy everyone who doesn’t share their own interpretations. People call them the “Bible-thumpers” and they come with a “holier then thou” attitude that is a major turn off to those outside their own cult.
They pose as authorities on spiritual matters. However, their knowledge doen’t seem to know much beyond their proof-texting and dogmas. They use “the Bible says” and selectively quote the Old Testament when it suits their own agenda. But gloss over and don’t deal honestly with other culturally inconvenient Biblical realities like captured brides, naked prophets and daughters sacrificed in God’s name.
They make fun of the sensitivity of the progressives and then cry “persecution” when they themselves are opposed. They feel entitled to a special privileged position in society as God’s favorites. They use grace as a cover for their own sins without extending the same to those who sin differently or disagree.
4) Faithful ‘Spirit And In Truth’ followers are those who pick up the cross and live to be a consistent example of self-sacrificial love. These are those who seek to be the literal embodiment of Jesus Christ. This means they follow his commandments to love their neighbors as themselves, to do unto others as they would have them do for us and, while seeking to purify themselves of evil, leave judgment outside to God.
It is a way that doesn’t seek power to impose on others and instead is committed to self-sacrificial love and leadership by example. It is the beautiful alternative to the endless cycles of reaction, retaliation and repeat again. It forgives and frees others of their sin debt to us. It builds a new identity in Jesus and is a truth that is lived more than preached.
How are Christian values different from progressive values?
There are some similarities. Jesus broke from the established religious and cultural standard. He identified with the societal outcasts and was full of compassion for hurting people.
But Jesus did not turn to more law or greater regulation of offending behavior as the solution. He did not urge a political fight or demand his voice be heard by government authorities. He did not lead massive protests against the privileged and powerful. Instead Jesus showed the example to follow, he offered his own life as atonement for the sins of others and forgave offenses.
How are Christian values different from ‘traditional’ American values?
There are many who characterize America as a ‘Christian’ nation and really do a disservice to the truth in this. America does have some ‘Christian’ values reflected in its history and did certainly provide a haven of religious freedom.
However, this conveniently glosses over the fact that founding fathers were not faithful. Thomas Jefferson, for example, cut out portions of the Bible he found disagreeable. Ben Franklin lived immorally according to a Christian standard.
The individualism, materialism and entitlement mentality of modern America is not in the least bit reflective of the teachings of Jesus.
How are Christian values different from religious and Biblical fundamentalist values?
Oftentimes it seems those who are closest to the truth who are the furthest away. Or, at least, this was the case with those who inherited the Scripture in Jesus day and thought of themselves as experts in morality. But human efforts, even the most diligent of human efforts, cannot bring anyone a step closer to the truth.
The truth, as found in Jesus, is not an accumulation of knowledge and careful application that leads to moral superiority. No, the way of Jesus is acknowledgement of our inability—it is humble, repentant and is fully dependent on the grace of God.
Putting down Peter’s sword…
We could have everyone forced to use the ‘right’ restroom without accomplishing anything more than Peter’s sword:
“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) Jesus commanded Peter, ‘Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?'” (John 18:10-11)
Peter thought he was defending the truth and mission of Jesus, but actually stood in the way of God’s plan. Peter, who was rebuked on several occasions for his lack of understanding and overzealousness, treated the servant as sword practice.
By contrast, the John’s account treats the man Peter wounded as a unique individual with a name: Malchus. And, in a parallel account (Luke 22:51) Jesus demonstrates a different way, he heals the ear of Malchus—a man sent to bring him to his death—and showed the true Christian value.
Peter was fighting a losing battle. He had his own vision different from that of Jesus. He thought he was defending truth when in reality he was a part of the problem. He thought his act was one of total commitment to the cause when it was in fact the opposite.
Peter’s act is perfect a metaphor of what happens when those of us who claim faith in Jesus go out militantly defending our own religious values with political force—we cut off ears.
And picking up the cross to follow Jesus…
“From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. ‘Never, Lord!’ he said. ‘This shall never happen to you!’ Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.'” (Matthew 16:21-23)
Here Peter was completely willing to fight for the kingdom of God, but for his enthusiasm is called small minded, a stumbling block and mouthpiece for Satan.
Can you imagine how Peter felt?
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?'” (Matthew 16:24-26)
This was not what Peter or the other disciples had in mind. They pictured themselves as co-rulers of a worldly kingdom and had been arguing things like who would sit on the right hand of Jesus on his earthly throne when they finally defeated Rome.
But Jesus paints a picture entirely different. He’s predicting his death, a painful and humiliating death on a Roman cross, while urging them to follow the same path of self-sacrificial love. He was trying to explain a reality bigger than their worldly political visions and values.
What are Christian values?
Jesus, after being baptized, after receiving the Spirit’s anointing and being tempted in the wilderness, announced the start of his ministry by quoting the prophet Isaiah:
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19)
That is where we start. That is Christian values in a nutshell.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already…” (John 3:17-18)
That’s the good news. Jesus didn’t come to condemn anyone, but to heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, forgive impossible debts, reconcile relationships with God and bring freedom to those condemned to death. It was a message of restoration and hope, not condemnation.
Christian values begin and end in living out the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus was not a progressive, not a defender of cultural status quo nor a religious fundamentalist, his values were higher and spiritual. He was not seeking legal power or political advantage so he could impose on others, that wasn’t his fight.
“Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.'” (John 18:36)
Having Christian values means one shares the same priorities as Jesus. It means talking up the cross of self-sacrificial love and showing the way of grace. Jesus was not a cultural warrior seeking to impose values by force of law or a sword, instead he is an advocate for those lost in sin.
Ultimately it doesn’t matter what restroom your neighbor uses, that is an argument where both sides lose and a distraction. What matters is how our own attitudes and actions reflect those of Jesus Christ.
We must put our rhetorical swords down. We must love our (political) enemies and heal rather than cut off ears.