The uncultured reality of culture wars

Rainbows drape the red, white and blue decor of America. But the skies up ahead are stormy and dark.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalize same-sex marriage across the country last week swept away a terrible injustice against gay and lesbian citizens. The laws that banned gay marriage were driven almost entirely by religious values. The country ignored foundational principles of separation of church and state. The Supreme Court’s ruling set this wrong to right and removed another stain of American discrimination.

And yet the fight rages on. The bubbles in the celebratory champagne have not yet calmed and the fight for “religious liberty” was announced.

Nothing is ever finished in this country. They just keep fighting, battles old and new.

Marriage is now just marriage, thank God.  But fearful,  reactionary battles about the rights of churches splattered across social media at a shrill level. The lines of division and hate only deepened.

In a news story about the implication of the court’s ruling, David Gushee, a heterosexual Baptist and professor of Christian ethics from the Deep South tried to describe the disconnect.

“It’s hard to overstate the level of anguish and fear on the part of many conservative Christians about what this decision and the overall direction of the culture on this issue might mean for them. They’re very worried.”

So they fight back. The shrill rhetoric has just turned up the volume and turned down the reason to such a extent young people wrote about their confusion and even fear. Our daughter told us tearfully one night she couldn’t imagine our gay friends ever “being hurt” in reaction to wanting to marry, but on social media she read such threats.

Just prior to the High Court’s decision, a June 2015 Pew Research Center study found that white evangelical Protestants, “stand out for their deep opposition” to same-sex marriage. Seventy percent disapprove, more than half strongly disapprove.

Christians are defensive about claims of bigotry and hate when they are trying to defend their core values. I have deep sympathy for this. Each faith has its right to live out their faith. The problem is religions desire to force those outside their faith to follow their rules as well.

The reactionary “religious liberty” speeches from the likes of Ted Cruz will never do anything but rile up hate among “the faithful” and shove the likes of me away.

It seems the defense of “truth” has led to the destruction of people in far too many instances. Bigotry and hate charges stick because too often they are true.

Gushee said he “was troubled that young gays and lesbians especially were not allowed within traditional Christian thinking to integrate their sexuality and spirituality, leading to ‘a lot of inhumane and sometimes quite terribly destructive outcomes for individuals and families,'”

“So religion, my religion, the religion that I cherish and that I practice and teach, was producing consistently toxic outcomes in people’s lives.”

I am a liberal Christian who doesn’t call himself a Christian because of how the brand of Christianity has become mostly know for conservative Christian politics. I have more in common with a Zebra than I do conservative Christian politics. I also happen to think Jesus has more in common with a Zebra than conservative Christian politics, but that’s not an argument I care to convince conservatives about. I am content to let them believe what they want. I am content to resist their beliefs becoming law for all. I celebrate the victory of marriage for all even as it defeats the so-called Christian opposition.

I will be equally committed to the protection of religious rights should this fearful latest battle within the never-ending culture war come to pass. Perhaps we can worry less about drawing battle lines and picking sides in a culture war that nobody can win and worry more about listening and respecting people of all kinds.

In his book Blue Like Jazz, Don Miler wrote of his own emergence from conservative Christianity decades ago, “I was tired of Christian leaders using Biblical principles to protect their power, to draw a line in the sand separating the good army from the bad one.”

That is still the vibe, for better or worse, today. It’s why those outside the church feel so unloved by those who feel compelled to defend the church from them. But we forget, how soon we forget, that we are not to defend much of anything. Christians are called to love. The only two commandments? Love God and love others. How will people know a person is a follower of Christ? Christ himself said it would be by the merit of our love for one another.

Or as Miller wrote more than a decade ago–the decades change but this culture war never ends– religious defense and fear and war have robbed the church of the expression of love.

“With all (the church’s) talk about pure love, in the end it shook down to conditional love,” Miller said.

As the rainbows of love color our sky, can we just for a moment pause and consider the act of love? Of listening? Of acceptance?

The culture wars and the fearful storms of defending religious liberty can wait, at the very least until it actually happens. On that day, hopefully many of us thrilled with the rainbows in today’s skies will be standing with the church’s right to freedom of religion in the storm. I know I will.



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