“Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed the Parental Rights in Education bill into law. The measure, pejoratively called the “Don’t Say Gay” law by its critics, bars classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity for children in kindergarten through third grade in Florida public schools.
The Walt Disney Company responded by stating that the bill “should never have passed and should never have been signed into law.” The company wants the law “to be repealed by the legislature or struck down in the courts.”
In response, Gov. DeSantis asked Florida lawmakers to consider the “termination” of self-governing privileges Disney World has held in the Orlando area for fifty-five years. These privileges exempt the resort from certain regulations and fees, saving Disney tens of millions of dollars a year. Yesterday, the Republican-led Senate complied; the Florida House is also expected to vote in favor of the legislation.
When fighting a “culture war,” should we be passivists or activists?
The answer is yes.
How Billy Graham responded to critics
Paul advised us, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’” (Romans 12:19). When Jesus was brought before Pilate and accused by the religious authorities, “he gave no answer” (Matthew 27:12), a response that “greatly amazed” the governor (v. 14).
On the other hand, Paul called the secular government “the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer” (Romans 13:4). When the Jewish authorities threatened his life, he leveraged his Roman citizenship by appealing to Caesar (Acts 25:11).
As these examples make clear, we should respond to our cultural opponents in ways that are appropriate to the circumstances of the moment.
There are times when engaging in a cultural battle only lowers us to the level of our critics, gives them a hearing on our platform, and elevates their exposure to a larger audience. I once heard a former chair of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association board describe the way Dr. Graham responded to personal criticism: he ignored it. Rather than dignify it with an answer, he remained focused on his calling and trusted his critics to the Lord.
There are other times when defending biblical truth through cultural and legal means is essential. We are to be ready to “make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). I am grateful for Christian legislators and attorneys defending our religious freedoms as they come increasingly under attack.
Here is what is not negotiable: we must always respond “with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (vv. 15–16). This is essential for their sake but for ours as well: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him” (Leviticus 19:17, my emphasis).
A “brew of culture-war animosities”
To this end, I want to recommend an essential article by cultural commentator Yuval Levin titled, “How to Curb the Culture War.” Levin argues for “meaningfully distinct spheres of human action, and of boundaries on cultural and political conflict that might make a healthier common life possible.”
He notes that “our lives are unified wholes, and our moral commitments must not be compartmentalized into insignificance.” However, he adds that “those boundaries also cannot be eradicated, or else the bile of bitter partisanship will flood into the broader culture and dissolve our capacity to live with others in a vast and diverse nation.”
Because Americans are ignoring such boundaries, “Everywhere you look, people seem to be dragging culture-war differences into spaces where they don’t belong, and in ways that make it awfully hard for us to trust each other, to live together, and to do our common work.” The result is a “brew of culture-war animosities that increasingly dominates many arenas of American life,” a “mix of entertainment and politics that combines the worst of both.”
In response, Levin proposes “a restoration of some boundaries between distinct domains of life” whereby we recognize “the humanity of our neighbors, seeing that expertise in one arena does not imply authority in another, and grasping that setting bounds on the reach of our cultural combat is not just a pragmatic concession to civility but also a broader path to the fullest truth about the human person.”
“The best way to destroy an enemy”
I would view Levin’s proposal through a biblical lens this way:
One: We each have a kingdom assignment and God-given resources for fulfilling it (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12–27). We should therefore “stay in our lane” rather than claiming to have the definitive last word on every issue we face. We should also respect the “lane” assigned to others and the gifts by which they fulfill their calling.
Two: Some cultural positions are worth defending at all costs, but many are distractions from the “main thing” (cf. Romans 14:13–23). We can win cultural debates and lose eternal souls. Whatever the context or the conflict, we are to “pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (v. 19).
Three: Those who oppose us are not our enemies but fellow humans for whom Jesus died. The true enemy “has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:4). Rather than seeking to be cultural warriors, we should seek to be cultural missionaries.
Tomorrow, we’ll identify practical ways to do this. For today, let’s decide that we want to, seeking ways to pay forward the grace we have received.
Theologian F. F. Bruce was right: “The best way to destroy an enemy is to turn him into a friend.”
Will you make a new friend today?