The Emperor’s Chair: “Retreat”

By Graham Glover

I-quit

I quit. I give up. I will fight no more.

Not words you typically hear from a Soldier. But I do. It’s time to surrender and I’m waving the white flag.

To what? The culture war. It’s over. And it’s time Christians stop trying to fight issues they will never win in the civil realm.

Specifically I’m talking about abortion, marriage, sex, (and to a lesser degree, “public” prayer). Our relativistic modern world has won the debate on these issues and this side of the eschaton, they will never turn from their current trajectory.

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There is no “going back” (although I’m not sure what that phrase means…) and it’s well past time to accept these realities:

1)    Roe v. Wade is the law of the land and abortion will never be outlawed in the United States. Some restrictions might withstand the courts, but these will account for only a few of the millions of abortions occurring each year.

2)    The definition of marriage will continue its evolution in ways we haven’t even considered.

3)    Issues dealing with sex have only just begun to change. If you dream of a world where only the sexually righteous live and reign, it’s time to wake up from your diluted fantasy.

4)    If anyone thinks that the United States will suddenly embrace a uniquely orthodox Christian ethic that will be evident in its public acts, I have some news for you: never been that way…never will.

Yes, the culture war is over.

I wonder though, should Christians have ever fought it? Why was it we thought we could “win” this war? To that end, what would victory resemble? And what do these answers say about how we understand the role of our Christian faith in the public realm?

lawThere is great danger in Christians thinking they can prevent sinful behavior through laws passed by our governing authorities. How often have we heard: “If only our leaders will outlaw abortions, then they will stop occurring. If only we keep marriage laws as understood by the Church, then the sanctity of marriage will be kept whole. If only sexual deviancy is not condoned, then our citizens will live sexually pure lives. If only our school teachers can pray, then the nation will come to saving faith in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Such thinking runs contrary to what truly changes our actions, namely the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Laws may curb sinful behavior, but only the Gospel changes lives. While I am generally supportive of laws that attempt to prevent the sinful behaviors noted above, I cannot fathom why so many Christians (including those in the LCMS) have invested so much time, effort, energy, and resources to fighting this battle on the political front. By doing this, we have put our faith in Caesar and not in the Lord.

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Let’s assume abortions were outlawed tomorrow, along with homosexual marriage, that sexually deviant practices were publicly condemned (I’m not sure how you outlaw them, unless you advocate the government literally policing our sexual activity) and that public prayer (that is, Christian prayer…which nobody has ever clearly defined) is allowed and encouraged. Is anyone under the illusion that abortions would end, that marriages would be kept holy, that adultery would cease, and that millions of Americans would come to faith? On the contrary…I doubt much, if any of those things would occur.

dali-crucifixionYou want to stop abortion? Then preach how all people are made in the image of God and are redeemed by the blood of the Christ. You want marriages to stay intact? Then teach people that marriage is but an image of the perfect marriage, the one of Christ and his bride the Church. You want people to be sexually righteous? Then forgive others daily, even as Christ forgives us, and watch how this proclamation changes attitudes and behaviors. You want prayer to emanate in our land, then go regularly to receive the gifts that Christ offers you in His Word and Sacraments. (And for your clergy and congregations: offer this to your people…daily. Yes, daily.)

The culture war is over is over. To those of you who want to fight it, stop wasting your time trying to change laws and simply let the Gospel and the grace the Church offers us transform our world.

22 thoughts on “The Emperor’s Chair: “Retreat”

  1. “In a word, after the Gospel or the Ministry, there is no better jewel, no greater treasure, no richer alms, no fairer endowment, no finer possiession than a ruler who makes and preserves just laws.” AE 13:54

    “Christians are called to be engaged not just in government but in their cultures as a whole, working through their various vocations to make their country, if only in a small way, a better place.” Gene Edward Veith

    I guess if just a few children are saved while millions are aborted…does it not matter to them? Each and everyday I work not to cure favor with God, but simply because in the end it is still the right thing to do regardless of the outcome.

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    1. Marc, I think we are talking past one another. I take no exception to Luther’s quote about a ruler who makes and preserves just laws. (I wonder though, who you think in our American context fits this description…) Nor am I opposed to Dr. Veith’s call to be engaged in government and culture. As one who has never failed to vote in an election, serves in our nation’s Armed Forces, and is pursuing a PhD in Political Science, I think it’s safe to say I like these thoughts of Veith.

      My point is that laws do not solve the issue of sin. They do not change one’s heart. Only the Gospel does this. Nor is my point for the Church, her clergy, or her members to be silent on these issues. On the contrary, I think we have been too silent at times. Rather, my point is to stop looking to the ballot box, the courts, or our elected officials as the means to fight these battles.

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      1. It’s not ballot box vs. Gospel, it is both! As a former chaplain, and enlisted service member, and current private citizen I always choose the Gospel first but also feel that the power of the sword does work effectively on unrighteousness and there is no reason to deny that God works effectively that way too. The only issue I take with your article is that the culture war is over. I don’t care what country your in (I have served in the US Army since 1988 and never had faith in Caesar) the culture war is never over as long as Christ is in the world!

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  2. Until the Last Day, our struggle in the Culture War will never be over–be it with our own personal Old Adam, the world at large, or Satan Himself. The “Old Evil One” may win today’s battles, he has already lost the war. If we have surrendered to Christ, we cannot surrender or succumb to the narcissistic culture that would otherwise suffocate us, nor give up on helping those persons (our neighbors) still imprisoned by the enemy to hear the liberating Evangel of the Gospel. As Alexander Solzhenistyn stated while he was suffering under atheistic communism:
    “At birth, violence behaves openly and even proudly. But as soon as it becomes stronger and firmly established, it senses the thinning of the air around it and cannot go on without befogging itself in lies, coating itself with lying’s sugary oratory. It does not always or necessarily go straight for the throat; usually it demands of its victims only allegiance to the lie, only complicity in the lie.
    “The simple act of an ordinary courageous man is not to take part, not to support lies! Let the Lie come into the world and even reign over it, but not through me.
    . “One word of truth outweighs the world.”

    Christ calls us to be faithful witnesses to the Truth, to be ambassadors representing Him. The only thing the Culture Wars–or any evil for that matter–demands of us Ambassadors of Christ is that we do nothing, for doing nothing amounts to complicity.

    We are not called to win the War. That’s God’s job, and through Christ, it is already accomplished. But we are called by Him to stand faithful in our living as well as in our convictions, until the Church Militant is realized as the Church Triumphant.

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    1. Michael, if you think that the culture war fought be the Religious Right over the past 50+ years is what the Church has been called to do, I think it’s safe to say you and I have a fundamentally different understanding of what the Church is.

      Am I to assume that your quoting Solzhenistyn means that you equate his struggle against communism to the struggle we Christians are experiencing in America today? If so, I also think we have a fundamentally different understanding of what religious persecution is.

      As noted above, I’m not calling for complicity. I’m calling for the Church to proclaim and offer with an even greater passion the Gospel that brings forgiveness.

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      1. Graham,
        No, as I stated above, those who are called to be God’s saints (the true church) are called to be faithful witnesses not to the “Religious Right,” but to the Truth, both in their living and in their convictions. This is, at times, at odds with the various, often divergent, views collectively labeled the “Religious Right.”

        No, my reference to Solzhenistyn is not to equate his struggle against communism with our struggle, (no two times in history can be really the same) but the importance to remain faithful in word and deed to the Truth, regardless of how hostile to God the status quo may be.

        Borrowing from C.S. Lewis, I see our “Culture Wars” as a small illustration or symtom of the real war between God and His faithful, vs. those in rebellion to HIm and His: During WW II, hospital units behind the front lines could not stop the fighting or win the war, but they could and did save many of the wounded. I see the Faithful as instruments in God’s hands. We may be called to do triage, or perhaps even carry forth on the frontlines, depending on the vocation God has given each of us.

        An example of some of this triage work I have just read in the Nov.-Dec. 2013 issue of “Lutherans Engage the World”, published by the LC-MS. It’s “Engage” articles report on “Witness, mercy, life together” and “Leading by Faith & Example”, and Christian counseling services, etc., etc.

        An example of “frontline” work which I have read about includes Lutheran inroads with Muslim immigrants inundating German society.

        If your point is that the Culture War is not going to be won by our passing a law, or other gov’t regulation, I certainly agree. If we could legislate morality successfully, what need would we have of Christ? It may be too much to expect anymore, that we can successfully promote our civil gov’t to pass laws consistent with the first use of God’s Law. Although not expectant of such success, I am neither dissuaded nor disheartened from living a life of attempting that, among doing many other things. We only do what God asks of us. Anything good from it is God’s accomplishment, anyway, be it behind the lines or on the frontline.

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      2. Graham,
        My apology, please, if I gave the impression I thought you personally were advocating in your article any complicity with the enemy. You article clearly stands for anything but that. An example that comes to my mind of the complicity I find both inside and outside the visible church is the mentality of “My country, right or wrong.”

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  3. Marc, ok, fair enough. I think at the end of the day you and I are on the same page on the primacy of the Gospel vs. the power of the sword. As to whether the culture war is over. Obviously it isn’t. I just don’t look to politics as the means to win it. I’ve seen very little, if any, come from the Religious Right and its aggressive politics on issues that I tend to agree with them on. Mine is a matter of results. Politics produces little on social issues. Christ produces everything.

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  4. Michael, I resonate with your “my country, right or wrong” comment. We must always call a sin a sin and call those who have and are committing sins to repent. That being said, I absolutely want citizens, including Christians, to be very vocal on issues. I want our leaders to know where the LCMS stands on policy. I was thrilled when Rev. Dr. Harrison testified before Congress. I know his words made an impact.

    My frustration lies primarily in the idea that the political realm is where we best solve issues. Important, yes, but completely inferior to the proclamation of the Gospel.

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  5. Passing laws that enforce Christian morals seem a little like hitting people on the head with your Jesus stick.
    When I was a smoker, stop smoking ads pissed me off. It didn’t matter how correct they were, they set me more staunchly against not quitting.
    Although God works through means, I don’t think our government is the way to go on some of these issues.

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    1. Frances,
      Do you see no role at all for the state’s application of the First use of the Law, or the Christian’s advocacy of such in the civil realm?
      Michael Siefert

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      1. I do see merit in a government that is based on Christian principles. When I said God works through means, it wasn’t meant as an aside in quite the way “although” is usually taken. I hope we continue to be a country that values faith in our politicians.
        I don’t think the average Christian needs to focus their evangelism efforts on law-making as opposed to serving your neighbor.

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  6. I think the church and Christianity always needs to be careful that it doesn’t become, as Stephen Prothero calls it, “the yes-man for the culture.” There is a fine line between engaging the world around us and giving the thumbs up as it spirals down “the tubes.” (I would link George Carlin’s rant about the country “going down the tubes”.. but you can check that out on youtube yourself if you’re interested..)

    I think you hit the nail on the head though when you reference the truth that change comes not from the advent of additional laws and rules, but rather by sound preaching, teaching, and I might add parenting too. More laws will never be the answer; daily living the faith as Christians and as a Church, that will make a difference in the lives of individuals (and ultimately the world around us too).

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    1. Thanks for the comments Ross. I especially like your call to the importance of parenting. Absolutely, without question, the single most important thing we can do to change the world we live in…parent our children!

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  7. I think you express a good deal about this great paradox we call culture. I think many mainstream Christains fight the culture war in a very legalistic way. Also there tends to be idea with the mainstream culture warriors that if then can just get the culture to “get right with God” then He will be able to finally come a little closer. It really bugs me when people say things like “if we can just get God back in our classrooms”… As if we could “ban” Him anyway. It’s absurd… First Artical gifts are still given and received.
    I agree that there needs to be better parenting… But that’s even another culture war in itself… As most parents spend a great deal of time telling kids they are special. Instead they should be pointing them back to their baptism. What’s really needed is a return to the Gospel.

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  8. Lisa, (and anyone else feeling overly special and sitting on gold stars..) 🙂
    To help you overcome that special feeling that Graham just bestowed upon you.. I highly recommend reading, “The Narcissism Epidemic” by Twenge & Cambell. It is outstanding. They address the narcissism found all over our culture, in parenting, religion, workplaces, and more.. it is, to borrow a Koch-ian word.. “Outstanding!” It may not address getting back to Baptism, but it does work on moving people away from the entitlement mentality and “self-esteem” movement of today..

    (sorry for the shameless book plug, I promise I receive no royalties for suggesting this work, I just found it to be “relevant”)

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