Make Love, Not Culture Wars
Until further notice, please assume I am actively trying to lose the culture wars.
There was a time I interpreted my peaceable tendencies—balling up my fists and shoving them in my pockets anytime a moment grew too hot to touch—as cowardice, the expression of a weak stomach. After all, I devote considerable energy to steering away from or around confrontation and hard conversations. Maybe I broker inner treaties, I reasoned, to satisfy my timidity rather than appreciate the value of a given fight.
My personal perceptions evolved, even if my feet stayed fixed. A self-styled lover, not a fighter, I credited any calm to personality and instinct. Playing it cool and staying far from the fray was all a matter of wiring, and so a matter of quiet pride.
Now I really know why I wear the badge of conscientious objector. The longer I observe people who pick fights with pop lyrics, car commercials, or theories they never studied, the more I see people with their verbs out of order.
In a recent sermon clip, Charlotte-area pastor Derwin Gray donned a pair of boxing gloves; the props enveloping his fists illustrated the folly of fighting. Gray described—then exposed—a class of Christians compelled to put up their dukes and defend God from the latest political movement or social trend.
The culture warrior's God is too small, too weak, too needy. He cannot help anyone because he cannot help himself in the shadow of a new Number One hit or powerhouse politician.
Gray’s point came through at just the right volume: these culture warriors, contrary to their own beliefs, diminish God rather than lift him high. Their God is too small, too weak, too needy. He cannot help anyone because he cannot help himself in the shadow of a new Number One hit or powerhouse politician.
If true culture wars exist, we deny their one-sidedness. The powerful wage war against the vulnerable. The certain wage war on mystery. The simplistic battle nuance. The business-like take up arms against beauty.
And so, in our fighting, we skip steps and disorder our operations. Out of a need to defend God, cultural warriors almost always wind up protecting their power, their own way of life. Calling everything “culture” but what rattles around within, they shame survivors, miss the wisdom of poets, fence off common grace and their neighbors.
They close their eyes and stop their ears to divine reality. Preserving the way of God in the world means defending sensitivity and softness, goodness and beauty wherever it exists.
This pursuit requires the rhythms of farmers, not fighters. We grow into our true form as cultivators, not culture warriors. If Abraham Kuyper was right about anything, every square inch of this world belongs to God. We take up the tools of tilling and tending until the soil is dark and rich and yields fruit of startling taste.
We make a habit of sowing. Scattering seed, we exercise reckless, God-given imaginations about what we might reap. We sow story to reap wisdom and empathy. We sow music to grow wonder. We bury the insights of history deep for the sake of harvesting God’s design for our collective future. Then we take our sandals off, stretching and wiggling our toes along fertile, holy ground.
Beware the true believer with no interest in a garden. They cannot tell you where they are headed. They make out the shape of a sword in every plowshare. They hear the preaching of the Beatitudes like music from a distant past; sure, they might be able to hum a few bars, but can’t identify the name of the song or tell you how to live inside it.
If the lion really will lie down with the lamb, then winning is losing and losing means sticking around long enough to loose more mercy into the world.
Sowing art and activism, despite what the warriors might say, leads us ever closer to the imperishable inheritance God promises. These cultural goods and means of good trouble house trace elements of the timeless. Loving rather than leaving them, working with and not against them, prepares us to do justly, love mercy and forever walk humbly with our God.
Rather than find ourselves in an endless cycle of action and reaction, we unearth pieces of eternity at the right time and place. Our creativity, vision and justice seem like next logical steps, part of a life cycle, rather than random responses to life as it happens around us. What we share with our neighbors inches us all toward “on Earth as it is in heaven.”
If you call yourself by Jesus’ name, put down your gloves. No more boxing shadows or bloodying noses. Lay aside your arms—the world needs nothing of your warfare.
Sending up the white flag has little to do with cowardice or disposition. Surrender recognizes and reverses our disordered verbs; if the lion really will lie down with the lamb, then winning is losing and losing means sticking around long enough to loose more mercy into the world.
Throwing the culture wars doesn’t mean giving into or giving up on our cultural moment. Rather, we give God due glory and learn to fear no created thing when we busy ourselves making room for more love, not war. Losing the battle, we gain what he intends for us—grace in its endlessly surprising, overwhelming forms.