Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The End of the Culture War?

I was listening to my NPR Religion podcast (see my last post) and it included a story about a survey done by Faith in Public Life. The NPR story focused on the differences this study revealed between older Christians and younger Christians on issues like abortion and same-sex marriage in relation to the upcoming election. The study found that more than half of young evangelicals favored civil unions or marriages for same-sex couples, while most older evangelicals were opposed to such unions. 60% of young Catholics said that abortion should be legal in all or most cases. In describing these results, one researcher said of the younger Christian generation, "This is not the culture war generation."

Or perhaps what we are witnessing is a change in the battlefront. When asked to identify the most important issues of the 2008 election, evangelicals identified the economy (78%), terrorism (76%), energy/gas (74%), Iraq (67%), and health care (61%) as issues in this year's election. Abortion was identified as an issue by 57% of respondents, almost tied with poverty at 56%. Same-sex marriage (49%) finished ahead of only the environment (44%) at the bottom of the list. In younger respondents, abortion was an important for 62%, while same-sex unions were an important issue for only 44%.

Abortion and homosexuality have long been at the forefront of the "culture war". When I look at these survey results, I wonder if the "culture war" is moving to the battles that are being fought in our own backyard. There are probably a good number of evangelicals who do not confront issues involving homosexuality or abortion on a regular basis. However, many people are dealing with medical bills, putting gas in the car, and keeping their job everyday. Since 9/11, I think a lot more people have had their eyes opened to the "If if could happen there ..." type thoughts. Could it be that Christians in general, and younger Christians in particular, are becoming more concerned with the issues that they are more likely to face in the immediate today and tomorrow? Maybe it is not so much that this is not a "culture war generation"; instead, this is a generation redefining what the culture war is being fought over.

I have never been comfortable with the "culture war" concept, especially in connection with political elections. Do I believe that my faith impacts and guides how I vote? Certainly. However, I think the church made the mistake of giving up its own voice on societal issues by trying to get government to make changes it wanted made. Righteousness and holiness have never been issues that could be legislated; they are only brought about by changed hearts and spirit-filled minds. That is not the realm of politics and government; that is the realm of faith. I am sure that some folks are going to read these statistics and bemoan that Christians are compromising their values. I am more concerned that we too quickly compromised our identity and role as the body of Christ in order to become political action groups.

When I look at these statistics, what I see is a desire to change the world rather than fight a war. It is a shame that the word "change" has become so politicized. Because I think the only change that will last will come not from whoever is our next President but from Christians fulfilling their call as disciples and seeking the provision and grace of God for themselves and for our world. Perhaps the culture war is now moving from a war against the culture of the world to a resistance against what the culture of Christianity had been.

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