When my wife and I sat down to watch the “Greatest Two Minutes in Sports” Saturday afternoon, we had no idea we would witness history. Rich Strike did not enter this year’s Kentucky Derby until thirty seconds before the deadline Friday after another horse was scratched. The colt had exactly one previous victory in his career. He went on to win in the second-biggest upset in the Derby’s 148-year history.
In another weekend surprise, First Lady Jill Biden made an unannounced visit to Ukraine on Mother’s Day to meet with Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska. The next day, Russia held its annual Victory Day parade to pay tribute to those who fought and died in World War II.
The New York Times is reporting this morning that Vladimir Putin used his speech to “try to channel Russian pride in defeating Nazi Germany into support for this year’s invasion of Ukraine. But contrary to some expectations, he did not make any new announcements signaling a mass mobilization for the war effort or an escalation of the onslaught.”
Closer to home, a pro-life organization in Wisconsin was set on fire yesterday in an apparent arson attack. A pro-life pregnancy center in Denton, Texas, was defaced with graffiti. A Sunday Mass at a Los Angeles church was disrupted by protesters in red hooded gowns. Abortion supporters blocked the door of a church in Manhattan Saturday; one protester chanted, “God killed his kid, why can’t I kill mine?”
Saturday evening, pro-choice activists protested outside the homes of Supreme Court justices John Roberts and Brett Kavanaugh. More demonstrations outside the justices’ homes are planned for this Wednesday. The organizer of the Saturday night protests said, “The time for civility is over, man. Being polite doesn’t get you anywhere.”
Is this true?
Are civility and decency “secondary values”?
Sporting events are obviously competitive and typically “zero-sum” affairs: if one competitor wins, the others lose. Ukraine must obviously defend its country against Putin’s immoral invasion or fall to Russia. But how should Christians respond to “culture wars” such as the conflict over abortion? Is it true that “the time for civility is over”?
This is the argument of a First Things article by New York Post editor Sohrab Ahmari: “Progressives understand that culture war means discrediting their opponents and weakening or destroying their institutions. Conservatives should approach the culture war with a similar realism. Civility and decency are secondary values.” Ahmari wrote his article to oppose what he calls “David French-ism,” which he criticizes as being too “polite” and not nearly adversarial enough.
French is a Harvard Law School graduate, Iraq veteran, noted religious rights advocate, prolific author, and committed evangelical Christian. Denison Forum Executive Director Dr. Mark Turman and I were honored last week to record a podcast with him. During our conversation, David made the argument that we must not choose between “Sermon on the Mount” character and a “Romans 13” ruler—followers of Jesus should seek both.
In response to a growing sentiment that “desperate times call for desperate measures,” he similarly noted in yesterday’s French Press article that “the spirit of fear that grips so much of the modern American church might be a reason why so many Christians have scorned civility and decency in the public square, but it’s not a justification.”
How, then, should we respond to the “culture wars”? In his latest book, Divided We Fall: America’s Secession Threat and How to Restore Our Nation, David eloquently calls for Christians to engage in political conflict in ways that honor our Lord and exemplify the “fruit” of his Spirit.
He observes, “Those who care the most often hate the most, and one of their chief methods of discrediting ideological allies with whom they compete is by portraying them as too tolerant of the hated political enemy. Kindness is perceived as weakness. Decency is treated as if it’s cowardice. Acts of grace are an unthinkable concession to evil.”
So, who is right?
“You also must forgive”
Paul writes in Colossians 3: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (vv. 12–13, my emphasis). Let’s focus on the italicized half of this remarkable sentence.
“If” could be translated “whenever,” recognizing the reality of what follows. “One has a complaint” refers to a plaintiff’s legal allegation against another person.
“Forgiving” could be translated as “pardoning,” the gracious decision not to punish. As ethicist Lewis Smedes shows in his classic book Forgive and Forget, biblical forgiveness does not mean that we excuse the hurtful behavior, tolerate it, or pretend it did not occur. When a governor pardons a criminal, she does none of these things. Instead, she chooses not to punish the criminal.
This is how “the Lord has forgiven you”—he has “forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:13–14). In light of such forgiveness, Paul tells us, “You also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13; cf. Ephesians 4:32).
If not, why not?
I plan to say more about forgiveness and our “culture wars” tomorrow. For today, let’s make this conversation personal.
Do you have a “complaint” against someone? Will you pardon them as your Father has pardoned you?
If not, why not?
Does someone have a “complaint” against you? Will you seek their pardon?
If not, why not?
NOTE: I hope you’ll listen to our entire podcast with David French. During our wide-ranging conversation, he reflects on the Supreme Court leak and our larger cultural moment with a depth of wisdom I commend to you with gratitude.