‘Culture Warrior’ has become a fashionable mantle to wear for a significant minority of American Christendom as Christians intentionally roll up their sleeves and engage in activism on all political and civic levels to fight for a secular culture and society defined by biblical values. The American Family Association is a good example of a leader in the culture wars, even stating on their “Our Mission” page: “Since 1977, AFA has been on the front lines of America’s culture war.” When morals seem to be slipping, when non-biblical behaviors seem to be normalized or even celebrated, culture warriors are the first to call them out, organize boycotts, or try to influence elections and elect judges to return secular American society back to biblical principles.
Yet the Apostle Paul himself would have a word of caution for all the self-appointed culture warriors out there. In a letter written to first century Christians in the city of Corinth, he gives a statement that doesn’t seem very culture-warrior-like. Ancient Corinth was perhaps the most hedonistic city in the ancient Roman world, housing the temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love. Corinth was the ancient moral equivalent of Las Vegas today. If any city needed good, activist culture warriors, Corinth would be at the top of the list. And yet here is what Paul says,
“To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment.” 1 Corinthians 4:11-13
Paul’s religious rights were being infringed on. Traditional family values were definitely under attack. Biblical principles were not upheld or even acknowledged. And yet Paul didn’t retaliate, sharpen his cultural warrior sword, picket the Roman Senate or boycott a major company. When he was cursed, he blessed. When he was persecuted, he endured it. When he was slandered, he answered kindly. He knew that the ethic of Jesus was one not of a cultural warrior but one of a suffering servant. Taking an eye for an eye, fighting back, retaliating, sharpening the sword is a very old covenant, Old Testament ethic. The ethic of Jesus, the ethic of the New Testament, is one that spreads the gospel of Jesus Christ through sacrificial love, not organized boycotts and angry rants on social media.
For many, the call of the American cultural warrior is an attempt to take American culture back to a place it never was. America was never a Christian nation. We are not the modern incarnation of the nation of Israel. We are under a new covenant through Jesus and our kingdom is not of this world. The kingdoms of this world fight. The kingdoms of this world need culture warriors. The kingdom of God needs suffering servants. Paul knew that. Do all of our cultural warriors brandishing the banner of Christianity know that today?