Golf Lessons


Last summer, while playing one of my favorite local golf courses, I met an older gentleman who had emigrated to America from Fiji. He discovered that I’m a pastor and launched into a stream of obliquely antagonistic assertions about American politics and religion. He was polite, but he wanted a rise out of me. At one point in the conversation, the exchange went something like this:  

Him: I just think you can’t make laws that impose morality on people. 
Me: Well, I think you have to be careful about what laws you make, but really, all laws impose morality to some degree. 
Him: No, not all laws. I mean, I just think some laws are there to keep peace, promote order. 
Me: Right. So order is a moral value worth promoting. You would agree that order is better than chaos, right? That’s a value judgement. That’s a declaration of morality. 
Him: I hadn’t thought of it that way. 
Me: Also, you should move the ball back in your stance. 

Ok, it didn’t go exactly like that. I fumbled with my words more and didn’t sound nearly so wise or eloquent. I also didn’t give him swing advice. But the story illustrates the point. Our laws and our culture cannot replace religious morality with “not morality.” We pass laws to protect the innocent or oppressed because we believe the innocent and oppressed are with protecting. We laud men and women in uniform for their courage and sacrifice because we have a shared morality that values courage and sacrifice. You can believe, as many in our culture do, that such virtues are part of a creation myth imagined by people to explain the desire they found in themselves. You can believe that morality is an evolutionary accident, something humans stumbled onto and instinctively keep because it helps perpetuate the species. But you can’t deny that our culture — every culture — has shared definitions of virtue and vice, good and bad.  

It seems that those definitions are shifting in America. That they don’t align so closely with the definitions we hear about on Sundays. The point is this: we Christians may not like what is happening in our culture. And we may not want to admit that we’re partly to blame. But it’s happening, and we have to deal with it. It may feel like we’re outnumbered, mocked, or even persecuted (even though, I hasten to repeat, we are not.) We fear for our religious freedoms and wax nostalgic about the days when ours was a Christian nation. But it’s a mistake to hold onto a dream here at home that no longer exists. The shining American city on a hill is going dark. The pilgrim dream of one nation under God has faded into the past with blue laws, dry counties, and DOMA.  

It is now for us to embrace a better role: proclaiming the gospel. Declaring and demonstrating that there is a God who raises the dead. A missionary’s job is not so much to defend the truth as to proclaim it. In a culture that is unfamiliar with the radical and unlikely story of the Bible, our job is less about standing our ground and more about standing in the gap.