Ah, the culture wars. Never was so much owed by so many to so few. For every keyboard warrior who wastes a good half day on Facebook or Twitter, there are a thousand regular people who just want to get on with life. And yet, as Christians it can be hard to work out if we should be getting involved. Should we be taking sides, or can we just sit on the sidelines and remain neutral?
The salvation of the lost is the big issue. All of us are sinners in need of salvation and only the Gospel is powerful enough to save us.
I’m not unsympathetic to the concerns of the ‘right’—the growing threats to freedom of speech and the redefinitions of gender and sexuality are just the latest signs of a rapidly changing culture. I do genuinely worry about the world my children will grow up in as the West’s Christian heritage crumbles around us.
Nor am I unsympathetic to the concerns of the ‘left’—clearly the scourge of domestic abuse and the disparities between black and white indicate that something has gone seriously wrong with our society. In fact, I often feel we are low-balling the amount of injustice there is in the world; limiting our outrage to a few specific in-vogue issues.
Yet despite these sympathies, there is a reality that matters to me even more: the salvation of the lost. I’m not suggesting that the issues in the culture war don’t matter. I’m not. Really. But I am saying that there is something that matters even more than the culture wars: the salvation of the lost. This is THE BIG ISSUE. All of us—from woke to white-nationalist and everyone in between—are sinners in need of salvation. And only the Gospel is powerful enough to save us.
Is Silence Complicity?
But does that mean that I can remain neutral to this culture war raging around me? As machine guns are firing and mortars are exploding, can I really just walk around telling people about Jesus?
Some people would say no. That prioritising evangelism is a vote for the status quo.
“You can’t be neutral on a moving train,” said Howard Zinn, an American historian and socialist thinker. If you are on a train and it is heading towards disaster, you can’t just keep your head down and act as if this is not your problem. Zinn noted:
I don’t believe it’s possible to be neutral. The world is already moving in certain directions. And to be neutral, to be passive in a situation like that is to collaborate with whatever is going on.
Some people cry ‘silence is complicity’ as a way of coercing you to vocally support their movement: adopting their philosophy; their language; their politics…
Thus, the catchcry: “silence is complicity”. Failing to speak out against injustice is to support injustice. It is not enough to not be racist. You must be anti-racist. Neutrality is collaboration. In the words of Dr King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” And so, it is not enough to just tell people about Jesus—you must join a side, pick up a weapon, and fight. Silence is complicity.
On the one hand, there is something to this. Christians are always called to love the oppressed and hate injustice. And so, we must never remain silent to the evils of the world around us. If a man is being racially abused on the train, or a young woman is being sexually harassed at work, I would hope that it is the Christian who is the first to speak up and speak out. We are never to remain neutral to evil.
But on the other hand, that doesn’t mean that we must pick a side in this culture war either. Some people cry “silence is complicity” as a way of coercing you to vocally support their movement: adopting their philosophy; their language; their politics; their strategies; their goals. For them, “whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters,” (Matthew 12:30).
Except those are Jesus’ words. I’m not on their side—I’m on Jesus’ side. I am part of his movement. I follow his gospel. I trust in his promises and speak his words. That doesn’t mean that I can’t be sympathetic toward, or even involved in, a range of political and social movements. I can! But that is not my core identity. I have a greater, deeper, commitment that extends beyond the catch-cries and manifestos that try to claim my allegiance.
My purpose is to live as a disciple of Christ and to make disciples of all nations. And as a disciple of Christ, the one thing I must not remain silent about is Christ. This culture war is fought by spiritually dead people (Eph 2:1-3), trying to artificially bring life to a culture of death. Yet we are the ones who have the words of eternal life (John 6:68). The Gospel alone can save. And in this sense, silence is complicity. Silence about Christ is complicity. Complicity with death. Collaboration with a culture that cannot bring life. As soldiers of Christ, the one duty we must not ignore is to speak the gospel. I believed and therefore I spoke (1 Cor 4:13).
Finding our Voice
We need to do more than just echo what everyone else is talking about. We need to find our own voice.
Some of us are now learning to speak the gospel into this culture war: to show that sin is our real problem and Jesus is our real solution to everything that is going on in the world today. But we need to go further than this. We need to do more than just echo what everyone else is talking about. We need to find our own voice. We have something of our own to say. A message that no one else is talking about: that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour and will return one day to judge the world.
One lesson that we can draw from the culture war is the power of speaking the unadulterated truth. In a world of doublespeak and twitter trials, where people fear being cancelled or shamed, it is powerful to unashamedly speak the truth. To call it like it is. To not die the death of a thousand apologies or get lost in a haze of nuance, but to simply stand up and say what is true. And we have our own truth to speak. The truth, in fact.
Everyone these days has heard about racial injustice or the tyranny of woke. The power of these movements has come from the willingness of their followers to speak up. If only Christ’s followers were as brave and zealous for the message of Christ. But so often we forget that we have our own message to share. And because of our timidity and torpor, the message of Christ is drowned out by the cries of false gospels that will never bring life. We need to find our own voice again.
Evangelists in the Middle of No-Man’s Land
In war movies, I am always amazed by the fearless medics who try to save lives while everyone around them is intent on killing. I wonder if this is the image that Christians need in the culture wars. We are not a neutral state, watching on the sidelines with an air of detachment. Nor are we active combatants, picking sides and taking up arms. Rather, we are lifesavers, on the field of battle trying to rescue as many people as possible from the death that is all around us. We are evangelists in the middle of no-man’s land.