Tuesday, October 14, 2014

How to Offend Your Neighbor

One of the best ways to offend your neighbor and accomplish nothing is to be picky about everything. I am not saying we should go along with everything, but our attitude, whether we are calm and reasonable or belligerent and condescending, makes a difference. The holiday season tends to bring this out, but it is found all year round. We need to recognize that we live in a non-Christian culture and cannot expect the people around us to go along with or even sympathize with our scruples. That does not mean we should not stand up for our principles. But we need to pick our fights carefully and thoughtfully, Fights over issues of Christmas creches and whether Harry Potter should be in the school library only make us look prickly.

Now it does not help that many of our opponents are petty. We cannot have a moment of silence at the beginning of class for fear someone might use it for prayer. But wrestling with a pig on his own turf only ends in you getting drug into the mud with him. Now I am not saying we should make our ultimate standard what the world thinks is silly or petty. But we do need to ask if something really is silly or petty. And if the world thinks something is petty and we disagree, we must explain to them why they are wrong. In this we need to ask, will this genuinely encourage people to know and follow Christ? Or will it genuinely make this a more just and upright society? If it will not, then I think we need to seriously hesitate before jumping into the fight. Many of these issues are meaningless and accomplish nothing. Having "In God We Trust" on the coins is only meaningful if we do trust God. Working to encourage people to trust God so the motto is meaningful may be a good thing. Working simply to maintain the motto when the substance is gone is futile.

Part of the problem is that we want to live in a nice safe world, where our beliefs are respected and never challenged. Such a situation tends to lead to a nominal  and anemic faith. Therefore, I am convinced that the death of purely cultural Christianity is in certain respects a good thing. But it is clear we will not bring it back by posting the Ten Commandments on civic property. I am convinced that Christians in the United States need to let go of the past and press on toward the future, and nowhere is it so evident as here. And if we are to have an impact on our culture, we need to save our time and effort for the things that really count. There is a point where we need to stand up for the freedom to express our faith. But we need to ask clearly in any particular case if that is really what is at stake.

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