I’ve lived through a seismic cultural shift in America—and barely noticed.
For example, in 1973 the U.S. Supreme Court “held that a woman’s right to an abortion fell within the right to privacy protected by the Fourteenth Amendment (“No person could be denied ‘equal protection of the laws'”). The decision gave a woman total autonomy over the pregnancy during the first trimester and defined different levels of state interest for the second and third trimesters” (https://www.oyez.org/cases/1971/70-18).
I was ending my third year in my first pastorate in South Jersey and about to plant a church in North Jersey. The Court’s decision troubled me, but I don’t remember seeing a connection between it and my life. What seismic shift?
In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled “same-sex couples can marry nationwide, establishing a new civil right and handing gay rights advocates a historic victory” (http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/26/politics/supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-ruling/). I’d retired from pastoral ministry by then and hopefully a little wiser. What upset me most about the Court’s decision wasn’t the decision, but Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than they once were.” Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the minority that the decision had “nothing to do with the Constitution” (http://www.cnn.com/2015/06/26/politics/supreme-court-same-sex-marriage-ruling/). Those two written opinions were truly troubling. But did I see them as part of a seismic cultural shift? Probably not.
In 1976 Francis Schaeffer, an American Evangelical Christian theologian, philosopher, and Presbyterian pastor best known for establishing the L’Abri community in Switzerland, wrote How Should We Then Live? He began his book with these words: “There is a flow to history and culture.” Applied to the two Supreme Court decisions above, Schaeffer would say they are not isolated events but part of the “flow” of history and culture.
Dr. Albert Mohler, historical theologian and the ninth president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, quotes Schaeffer and comments . . .
“’People have presuppositions, and they will live more consistently on the basis of those presuppositions than even they themselves may realize,’ Schaeffer wrote, and he was talking this way when most evangelicals were unaware of the storm of worldviews that was coming. He perceived the presuppositions of the looming humanistic and secular worldview as showing up first in art and high culture. He was right. While most evangelicals were watching Gunsmoke and taking their kids to the newly opened Walt Disney World, Schaeffer was listening and watching as a new worldview was taking hold of the larger culture.
“He was also right that the greatest threats to evangelical faithfulness were the promise of personal peace and affluence. He was prophetic in criticizing the Christian church for a legacy of racism and the abuse of economic abundance. He was right when he looked to developments like Roe v. Wade and knew that something seismic had shifted in the culture, and that bigger shocks were yet to come.
“He was also asking precisely the right question: How should we then live? That question which troubled Schaeffer so much in 1976 troubles all of us now. We are about to find out if Christians in this generation are going to believe and to live authentic biblical Christianity. How will we live now?” (http://www.albertmohler.com/2016/10/27/will-live-now-francis-schaeffers-live-40-years/).
In The End of White Christian America, author Robert P. Jones notes that evangelical Christians’ anti-LGBT stance is one reason white evangelicals are shrinking in number and will continue to do so. Racism, he argues, is another reason. His point: we’d better welcome the LGBT community and worship with other races or our numbers (and thus our influence) will continue to diminish.
I’m not delving into the morality of LGBT, racial, same-sex marriage or abortion issues. That’s for another day. I’m pointing out the “flow” of our culture. Throughout my lifetime we Americans, like dumb sheep (or maybe like wise wolves), have strayed from the Judeo-Christian ethic and increasingly from a historical, literal interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.
Foundations are being destroyed by the “flow” of sweeping cultural changes! We Americans are being herded by a majority of a Supreme Court that interprets the U.S. Constitution according to political correctness and changing times. We evangelicals are being squeezed to deny Scripture for the sake of sexual-morality-approval. (This is not to say we are not guiltless regarding how we’ve responded to gays, for example.) We are a shrinking minority if (in Mohler’s words) we are to live authentic biblical Christianity. And that’s a big “if”!
This “flow” of culture requires Christians to love God with their mind. We must wake up to the “flow” and not be like the frog in the pot with the heat turned up gradually until we’re boiled dead meat. We must be willing to stand against the “flow”—not self-righteously condemning the biblically ungodly, but humbly speaking and living the truth in love. We must stop fighting among ourselves over secondary doctrines while the world goes to hell and our young people leave the church. And we must do it with hope firmly fixed in the LORD of whom the psalmist wrote . . .
In the LORD I take refuge.
How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”
The LORD is in his holy temple;
the LORD is on his heavenly throne.
He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them.
The LORD examines the righteous,
but the wicked, those who love violence,
he hates with a passion.
On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur;
a scorching wind will be their lot.
For the LORD is righteous,
he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
(Psalm 11:1-7, ESV)
If we’re following the Christ of the Gospels, whatever our numbers, we’re on the right side of history. But it will take followers of Christ who are tough in the faith, loving neighbors and enemies, and mentally aware of the seismic shift of the culture in which we live. We can either get swept away in the flow or stand up in truth and love against it.