Our Disturbing Contemporary Culture

I seldom use a blog to rant.  Most of my posts reflect on things I am reading, and the aim is hopefully to be thoughtful and articulate. But there have been a number of disturbing events that have sort of piled up, creating a certain sickness in my soul.  So for those of you willing to let me vent, here are a few:

A few weeks ago, at the Q Conference I attended in Washington, DC, we were greeted by the US President (via video). I initially found it remarkable and assuring that we have a President who affirms his stance with us in the cause of Christ. In fact, he wanted us to know he had just come from an Easter prayer breakfast, which reinforced his message of solidarity with the 7-800 Christian leaders in the audience, and how meaningful is the resurrection of Christ for us.  But I was sitting next to a member of a conservative think tank in DC, and I couldn’t help but ask him how genuine the remarks were. His assessment, given the ongoing actions of the administration, was somewhat skeptical (and cynical).  He reminded me that this is the same administration that recently signed off on withholding any government funding to those in the medical field who withhold surgeries due to conscience (e.g. performing an abortion). And then there was yesterday’s ABC interview, and his statement affirming gay marriage.

More recently, I was at a major Portland event, a fundraiser for a major Christian ministry, and again, a political leader (the mayor of Portland) came and praised the cause in which we share in. And yes, I admit, there was a part of me (naïve perhaps) that wanted to again believe he really stands with us (stands for something).  But given his celebration this morning of the action the President took yesterday on gay marriage (“I’m so fricken happy”), as well as his own professed gay lifestyle, you can’t help but wonder—are we just being used? Politicians are so artful in saying what people want to hear, that I find it hard to avoid a growing cynicism deep within myself. It’s not that I put my hope in politicians, nor that I am prone to believe most of them.  I’m just amazed at how brazen they can be in saying one thing and doing another.

But then, pastors can do this as well.  Just before I exited my car, there was a really disturbing news item. A nearby pastor of a Baptist church is being investigated for placing a camera in the women’s restroom of his church. Again, it is both amazing and disturbing that people can say just the right things, preach just the right things, and posture themselves to suggest a certain stance with Jesus, and yet be so defiant in their behavior.

My “rant” is not directed towards homosexual behavior, so much as it is at the growing perverse sexual misbehavior that is defining our landscape. It is directed at a growing number  who use Jesus or the Bible in their statements, and do it with a casualness (and often a thoughtlessness).  I find few have really taken any time to seriously search the Scriptures, interpret Scripture on its terms (not theirs), and truly hear what God has said and is saying on themes regarding the life of the unborn or sexual purity ( or sit down with careful theologians to engage in serious dialogue).  Far more are interested in the subject of human rights (the right to an abortion, the right to a marital union, etc.), but few seriously are asking the question—by what authority (or to whom) should I be submitting my life to? Whose right is it really?  All too many quote from Scripture without really studying Scripture—put words in Jesus’ mouth without pausing to truly listen to what He has said regarding, life, sex, marriage, holiness, and godliness.

There is hesitancy in letting my thoughts be posted, as I work hard as a pastor at showing grace, not getting involved in politics, and not allowing my ministry to be defined by single issues (like gay marriage or abortion).  The church has too often been known for what it is against, and not for what it is for—for being graceless rather than graceful.  But there are times you have to speak, lest a moral confusion pervade and consume our age.

The irony is that some of the headlines today would suggest the President took the moral high ground on what might be the great civil rights struggle of our time.  Really?  If the high ground is defined today as redrawing the design of marriage (what I would say is actually defying what God intended-a faithful and pure union between a man and a woman), or providing funding and law so women can have an abortion (with no one speaking up for the unborn), or defining people largely by their sexual orientation (when our identity as people made in the image of God is so much higher)—then you can’t help but wonder—what is the low ground?

About John Johnson

John Johnson is the former lead pastor at Village Church in Portland, OR. Presently, he is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Western Seminary and devoted to writing.

10 thoughts on “Our Disturbing Contemporary Culture

  1. You sound like John the Baptist. No, we should not be single issue Christians. But sometimes it is one single issue that will become our final God-appointed cross. One of my prayers is that if there is a cause, an event, a single moment for which God has made me, that I will be faithful when that cause/event/moment comes.

    Your words are especially appropriate because they are directed, not against the self-acknowledged godless, but toward those who profess the name of Christ, however vainly. In that sense, you are doing as Paul directed–judging those within, not those without. Judgement will begin in the house of God. God bless you for speaking the truth in love.

  2. I like reading things from different perspectives than my own – i think it helps me open my mind to read opinions that differ from mine, so let me preface my comment by saying that I totally respect what other people believe, though I may disagree.

    It makes sense to me that people (Christian or otherwise) would be concerned about the lives of unborn children and hope to change the current situation with regard to abortion. There are lives at stake, period, regardless of the faith you prescribe to.

    What i don’t understand – and maybe you can help me understand this – is the Christian preoccupation with secular marriage. How does it affect your life as a Christian, as a married person, as a citizen, etc, if a homosexual couple can be legally married under the law? Homosexual couples cannot get married in your church, are not recognized by other religious organizations, etc, and that makes perfect sense. No one would expect that to happen. But the rest of the country does not share your beliefs, does not live in your church. Our country is one of many religions, beliefs, and non-beliefs. We are not a Christian theocracy (or any kind of theocracy) for very good reason.

    If a leader identifies himself or herself as a Christian but stands up for the right for everyone to be married in the eyes of the law (not the Church), that shouldn’t make him or her a hypocrite or a liar. We are a country of many beliefs, and the belief of one group should not inform the rights of other people. Period.

  3. Yes, John, I think we are being used. Q recently highlighted a ministry to the homosexual community (Andrew Marin of Project Love) whose essay, while including some very insightful and helpful observations, demanded that Christians cede the language. He says we must never use the term “homosexual” because it offends. While I understand and even affirm the sentiment, especially after a career in cross-cultural missionary work, he misses an important point: culture is shaped by language. When we abandon a biblical term in favor of a label like “gay” we diminish the place of truth in the marketplace of ideas. The culture suffers. (Could this be the “cleverness of speech” which Paul refused to employ “lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power”?)

    My colleague, Darrow Miller, makes this point in “Emancipating the World”:

    “Over the last fifty years in the West, changes of language have preceded culture change. The phrase ‘quality of life’ has replaced ‘sacredness of life.’ The language of psychology has replaced that of theology: ‘sin’ became ‘sickness.’ Authority was taken from pastor and priest and given to psychiatrist. …

    “Language is manipulated to shape the mindset of a nation. Abortion has morphed from ‘killing an unborn child’ to ‘a woman’s right to choose’; euthanasia from ‘killing the infirmed’ to ‘death with dignity’; morals from ‘sexual immorality’ to ‘lifestyle choices’; marriage from ‘one man and one woman for life’ to ‘any consenting adults.'”

  4. Being near the end of a study of James, I find that you sound just like him. I am glad you work in a context of grace. So did James. But when the tires hit the road, he was all over these exact same issues. Never be content to be graceful about evil, especially when it uses the church for support! Yes, you and those who meet with you ARE being used. And Christ is being betrayed all around us. Keep standing up for the TRUTH.

  5. Amen & Amen. I think that what resonates with me so much about your “rant” is that we do truly want to be known for Who we are for, rather than what we are against. But, we do have an obligation to speak truth graciously, and cannot avoid such engagements at times. When politicians decide to engage the church, even if simply feigning support, they have entered into a realm that invites criticism. We are not, then, “picking a fight,” as it were, but being challenged, almost dared to engage in truth/deception in our midst. We are not compelled to give wolves in sheeps clothing an audience without serious rebuke. May we all prayerfully, wisely, and biblically consider such a blatant disregard for God’s truth and His people, as shepherds of His flock, not merely absent gatekeepers. Thanks for responding well. Shalom & much grace.

  6. Thanks, John! I was about ready to throw myself off a bridge if subjected to one more piece of noodly, “there-must-be-some-way-we-can-get-around-this-issue writing on these topics! Thanks for being clear, honest, and biblical–how refreshing!

    1. I completely agree! How wonderful that someone will highlight the fact that we are being used, by any & all politicians. Christ’s instruction about our relations with politics was clear – we give to Caesar what is his and live in peace under the authority of politicians. Don’t buy the ear tickling support they send out. There ARE ways that we as Chrisitans can let our opinions be known even on the political front. Most of these have to do with supporting the private sector. Fine that the government won’t give money to health institutions that refuse to abort babies – so let us, as Christians who support life help those institutions out. We can write to our politicians as citizens – often a group of citizens (no matter what religion) writing in together & uniting for a cause speaks more to Capitol Hill than a group of “religious fanatics”. We can let our beliefs be known & stand for Christ without the support of the President or any one in government .

  7. Some thoughts
    – The “rights” cause is being overworked. I don’t think we have to acknowledge something which is very contradictory to reason as a right. It’s very easy in this country to make someone feel guilty if you complain that they are violating your rights. I was interested by James Dobson’s remark that gays “want it all.” Is this like the camel with the nose in the tent? If given the present validation that they seek, are we setting a future course for just about anything?
    – According to the “Declaration of Independence” our rights in this country are bestowed by the “Creator” That means that they both cannot be removed by the government nor be conjectured or created by ourselves out of thin air. Not that the Declaration has legal force, but it does provide a clue to what our earliest law makers were thinking.
    -What Christianity is may never be completely defined. According to the writer of John 21:25 they didn’t even write down most of what Jesus said. So we have to fuse what we do have with norms developed over time. Quite possibly much Christian thinking moved ahead in conjunction with other cultural and moral traditions in the Meditteranean world, and the Jewish people had a specialization in religious experience.
    -We should respect the right of people to innovate. We may not like someone’s politics, but they still have rights. We are where we are because of innovators. OTOH, some innovations are destructive.

    Rev Johnson says “The church has too often been known for what it is against, and not for what it is for—for being graceless rather than graceful.”
    I used to ask ” We know what we are saving people from, but what are we saving them to?” It seems that Grace should result in true artistic expression, and this has happened at times in the Christian tradition. Art, though, can sometimes be shocking, but if the eventual purpose is to uplift, then it has great benefit. Evangelicalism came in on a phenomenal wave of artistic expression and the healing of peoples’ inner lives, but it’s easy to copy something phenomenal—easier than being always in the forefront of creativity. It would be wonderful to to see a true artistic vitality in evangelicalism. There are a number of rumblings from time to time.

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