When Culture Calls Our Bluff
As disciples of Jesus, we can be sure that our culture will always find exactly the right hot-button issues to expose our hypocrisy.
The past helps us see this. This morning I read a passage from a book published in 1996 discussing the Christian response to doctor-assisted suicide. Twenty years ago, that was a hotly-debated topic. Looking back now, it’s easier to see how this issue was exposing Christian heteropraxis.
Here’s the passage:
Proponents of doctor-assisted suicide often appeal to individual rights: “I own my life and my body. Therefore I have the right to do with myself as I please, even to decide when and how I will die.” Christian theology, however, can never speak that language. Ultimately our lives are not our own; they belong to the One who created us. And we do not exist simply for ourselves, but for the sake of others. Consequently we can’t view our life, or our death, as something we own or control. Life—and death—is a stewardship.
This argument is true, but it rings hollow because of our witness in the culture. Don’t we Christians behave as if our lives belong to us? How many Christians do you know whose lives point to the fact that they do not exist simply for themselves but for the sake of others? Is it the exception or the norm to find a Christian who has sold all he has and given to the poor? Could we say of American Christians what was said of the early church: “There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need”? How often have you heard a non-Christian say, “I don’t understand you Christians. How can you go through life without any thought toward your own comfort?” If our witness in the culture proclaimed that we are a people willing to surrender our very lives for others, then a theological argument about stewardship would ring true. As it is, it rings more like a resounding gong or clanging cymbal.
Now that we see the pattern from 1996, perhaps we can see it closer too. Lately, the pattern has repeated with regard to our money (do we spend on ourselves or others?), care for the poor (do we oppose welfare out of greed or compassion?), marriages (if we oppose gay marriage out of our reverence for the institution, shouldn’t that reverence be reflected in our rates of divorce?), immigrant care (are we driven by compassion or suspicion?), and politics (do we vote to gain power for ourselves or to reveal the kingdom of heaven?)
In all of these issues, conservative evangelicals have had winning arguments, but have lost the debate because of lack of integrity. Our witness doesn’t match up with our theology. And whenever that’s true — wherever we fail to live up to our calling — we can expect the world to call our bluff.