July 30, 2010
THE MANHATTAN DECLARATION is a manifesto calling upon Christians to unite in fighting the culture war. Signed by prominent Protestant, Catholic and Orthodox Christians last November, it advocates organized action and rebellion against abortion, the erosion of marriage and the decline of religious liberty. Alan Roebuck has a provocative piece at The Intellectual Conservative in which he urges this kind of cultural activism by Christians of all denominations, whom he contends are by and large guilty of passivity.
Mr. Roebuck writes:
Is evangelism necessary for cultural renewal? Certainly. Is it sufficient? Not a chance. And the belief that it is — widespread within Protestantism — is weakening conservatism, as it discourages many protestant conservatives from challenging the Left’s control of American culture. Belief in the sufficiency of Christian evangelism must be opposed.
I will not argue here for the necessity of Christian evangelism for the cultural renewal at which conservative activism aims. Most conservatives understand that we need Christianity for America to flourish. My main point is one most leaders of conservative Protestantism don’t seem to acknowledge: In order to renew American society it is not enough that many people have saving faith in Jesus Christ. Nor does it suffice for them to have correct views of God, man and society that result from a proper Christian catechism. And it isn’t enough even that they vote for the more conservative candidates and ballot propositions. No, cultural renewal requires organization and action for the specific purpose of cultural renewal. And this won’t happen spontaneously.
He goes on to explain why existing conservative organizations are not enough:
Understand what’s at stake: Without cultural renewal, the American people will not continue to possess sufficient personal virtue to sustain self-government, in which case our future will be either balkanization or tyranny. The first stages of these evils, in fact, have already arrived.
Cultural renewal to save our country will require both thinking true thoughts about our social disorder and its causes and taking action to remedy what ails us, and none of the existing conservative institutions delivers this combination. Politicians and political parties cannot afford to alienate voters by challenging our leftist status quo at the deep and decisive intellectual and spiritual levels. Private socio/cultural/political organizations such as Numbers USA or Focus on the Family lack the comprehensive worldview and sociopolitical understanding necessary for cultural change. The schools are dominated by the Left. And the church is not charged with leading a (socio-) political battle.
America’s existing cultural order — consisting of all the left-leaning laws, rules, customs, habits and institutions — is not there because of the beliefs of John Q. Public. Most Americans, although they generally go along with our liberal order, are not particularly leftist in thought and deed. America’s leftist order is here because leftists have organized themselves and taken effective action to bring it into existence. Our leaders rule in accordance with liberalism and John Q. Public goes along, as he always does. Although Christian evangelism is absolutely necessary as the foundation of a properly-ordered society, America’s bad ordering will not go away spontaneously when more people come to faith in Jesus Christ. It will only be replaced when conservatives start doing the work of retaking control of America’s ruling institutions. [Or, at the very least, creating parallel, non-liberal institutions that could one day form the basis of a renewed society.]
— Comments —
While involvement isn’t a bad idea, it’s no panacea, either. I remember conservative Christians like myself getting all excited about the GOP takeover of Congress in 1994. For all my life up to that point, Congress had ALWAYS been in Democrat hands, and no one could conceive of this ever changing. When the GOP took over Congress, why happy days were here again! All would be hunky dory now, or so we thought…
The reality turned out to be much different. Granted, the GOP lived up to its pledge to bring all items in the Contract with America up for a vote. Even so, the GOP grew soft. They never fought Clinton like the Democrats like they fought us through the years; House Speaker Newt Gingrich never fought Clinton the way Democrat House Speakers TIp O’Neill, Jim Wright, Tom Foley, et al, fought GOP Presidents. Ergo, political involvement isn’t the answer.
What is the answer then? It’s found in the Bible; it’s found in II Chron. 7:14, which says: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” If we want things right again, then we have to get right with God. We have to do what the aforementioned verse tells us to do. Only THEN will things get better.
Alan Roebuck writes:
MarkyMark’s comment, and many of the other comments on this essay at other sites, continues to miss my point: Culture never changes spontaneously, Culture is whatever its leaders say it is, regardless of the convictions of individuals. Culture only changes when people engage in purposeful activity designed to change it. If Christians (not the institutional church, but Christians) do not change the culture, either it will be changed by non-Christians, or it will not change.
Yes, faith in Christ is necessary. I never said it is not necessary. I said that it is not sufficient, which is a different assertion. We need to review our lecture notes from Logic 101. We need both faith in Christ and deliberate action to restore a properly ordered society, or to retake the culture, or however you wish to express it.
I also have a theological quibble with MarkyMark (and many others who say what he said). II Chron. 7:14 is not a general promise to all believers. Its context makes clear that it is a promise to the Israelites in exile, not a guarantee for all Christians in all ages. I’m not saying that it’s not a good idea for Christians to humble themselves and turn to God and away from their wicked ways. It is always good for Christians to do these things. I’m saying that this is not a formula for turning a culture around.
And here’s another thing: Most people instinctively think that “attempting to change the culture” means “voting, lobbying government, or giving logistical support to the foregoing.” While these are important, they are not decisive. As I pointed out (perhaps too briefly) in the essay, what is needed is to defeat the rule of liberalism by publicly defeating its fundamental ideas and by placing those who reject liberalism in positions of leadership. That’s what I really mean by “attempting to change the culture,” and, rather than being an un-Christian distraction from the Christian’s real business, it bears a strong resemblance to Christian evangelism and apologetics. I’m working on an essay that makes an analogy between the Christian life and fighting liberalism.
Since most people have never considered the idea that this is how to win the culture war, we must constantly correct their instinctively-held understanding of how culture war is to be fought.
Alan is mistaken if he thinks that II Chron. 7:14 doesn’t apply to believers. In fact, the principle of getting right with God to secure healing of the land goes back to Genesis. Remember Abraham’s entreaty on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah? He pleaded with God to spare the cities. God said that, if he could find TEN RIGHTEOUS PEOPLE therein, that He’d spare the cities. The idea that believers lives don’t matter is poppycock.
Alan is not saying their lives don’t matter. They do, but, as he said, “deliberate action to restore a properly ordered society” is necessary too.
Posted by Laura Wood in Uncategorized