FIRST-PERSON: Christians can't duck controversy
NASHVILLE (BP) -- As a child of suburban Chicago, I don't really fit the demographic for "Duck Dynasty," which begins its fifth season tonight. I've never watched a single episode, though the series' widespread appeal clearly shows that it resonates with more than bearded backwoods hunters.
However, the recent Duck Dynasty kerfuffle demonstrates the continuing shift in American culture toward a post-Christian age when true followers of Jesus no longer will be affirmed for their beliefs.
To be sure, the comments by the Duck Dynasty chieftain were not in the spirit of Jesus' model of truth and grace. But those who demand widespread acceptance of a new cultural sexual ethic don't discriminate between the holy and profane, as we saw when Louie Giglio withdrew from giving the inaugural benediction last January over comments he made about homosexuality nearly 20 years earlier. When it comes to isolating and then publicly shaming those who hold to orthodox Christian beliefs, no amount of winsome nuance will help you escape the new designation of village bigot.
Evangelicals have a choice and a series of choices to make.
First, there will be no evangelical hipsters left. It's not that Christians can't or shouldn't try to exegete the culture, live in the times in which we are called, or enjoy beauty and art in all of its eclectic forms, but there will be no way to thread the needle, to uphold distinctly Christian views and be universally loved by the masses. We'll have to choose between love of the world and love of Christ (James 4:4).
In a sense, this is the choice every follower of Jesus has had to make since Peter's tragic bow to cultural pressure in the shadow of Golgotha. But American Christians have long lived in a protective bubble which has allowed us to be both Christian and mainstream. So, we will either have to deny our desire for acceptance and take up the cross of Christ or we'll bow to the demands of the world and fashion a Jesus who looks nothing like the real thing.
Second, we'll need to evaluate our expectations. There needs to be no false nostalgia for a mythical golden era that never existed. We were created for these times, to joyfully stand for Jesus in a world that doesn't like Him. Like Paul, we must find joy and urge others to rejoice even while suffering for our faith.
So far, little genuine persecution has actually occurred here, but it could be on the horizon. Small cultural slights like the censure of a favored reality star, the banning of orthodox believers from inaugural prayers and the compelling of businesses to act against conscience should prepare us to suffer willingly if and when graver perils arrive.
This expectation, encouraged by Jesus (John 15:20), should warn us away from an apocalyptic, doomsday outlook or the chasing of endless conspiracy theories. Remember who was writing the New Testament commands to joy: the same men who were about to lose their lives for Jesus' sake.
Third, we'll have to understand that the truth of the Gospel will overshadow the love in which we deliver it. Speaking with grace is not a tactic to be tested. Though the Gospel compels us to care for the poor, love our neighbors and pray for our accusers, no amount of charity will overshadow the stumbling block that is the cross of Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:23). Consider that the Southern Baptist Convention operates the third-largest disaster relief operation in the world and yet its stand for Christian orthodoxy overshadows this.
Bottom line: Christianity will continue to cost us something, as it always was intended to do. There can be no avoiding the culture wars when the battle arrives on your doorstep.
Daniel Darling is vice president for communications for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. This article is adapted from the ERLC website, www.erlc.com.