Coping with a Hostile Society

Things have changed in the U.S. for the Christian Church. Fifty years ago, Christian values and moral teachings were woven into the fabric of our society. Now, the teachings of the Church are often regarded with ambivalence, suspicion, or outright hostility.

Christian teachings on marriage and sexuality are being classed as “bigoted.” The goal of pro-gay advocates is to push Christian moral teaching to the margins of society.

Moves to limit abortion have attracted vitriolic opposition. A recent legislative session in Texas was disrupted by protesters, who yelled and screamed so loudly that the legislature was unable to complete a vote before a midnight deadline on a law that restricted abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation and established higher medical standards for abortion clinics.

In the follow-up special session called to consider the bill again, many protesters came to the state capitol with bricks, rocks, bags of feces, and other things they could throw onto the legislators. (These items were confiscated by police, who screened everyone entering the building.) Pro-life people who came to support the legislation were advised by law enforcement personnel to leave for their own safety. They were escorted in a protective corridor through the pro-abortion activists and shepherded to safety. When pro-life people started singing “Amazing Grace,” some of the pro-abortion demonstrators (facetiously?) started chanting accolades to Satan.

The book UnChristian uses survey data to demonstrate that many young adults think Christians are “judgmental, anti-homosexual, hypocritical, too political and sheltered.”

We are not used to this kind of push-back. We (like most people) want to be liked. We strive for people’s approval. How do we as Christians cope with a situation where, as the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News, puts it, we no longer have “home field advantage?”

We sometimes forget that in much of the world, Christians are treated with contempt, opposition, and even persecution. We sometimes forget that Jesus warned us that our countercultural perspective would clash with the prevailing opinions of the day. We think there is something wrong with us that we are being treated this way in the U.S., a country founded with a strong and vital Christian presence.

It is true that there have been times and places where Christians have acted “unchristianly.” We have been judgmental and insensitive in how we attempted to express the Church’s teachings. We need to repent of these shortcomings and strive to be more Christ-like in the way we treat others. The new Pope Francis is setting a good example for how we can maintain the Church’s teachings in a loving and humble way.

But we should not live under the illusion that, if we could only repackage the Christian faith in a different way, everyone would like us once more. There are basic teachings of the Church that are at odds with the predominant flow of our society, not just in terms of sexual morality and marriage, but also greed and materialism, striving for peace rather than revenge, the equal worth and dignity of every person from conception to natural death to name a few. And of course it is not popular to insinuate that not everyone will go to heaven someday.

Here is where the advice of the writer to the Hebrews helps us gain perspective. “And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:12-13).

The early Christians were no stranger to contempt, opposition, and persecution. Indeed, Jesus himself was subject to this. Just as he endured the disgrace of the cross, we are called to “go to him outside the camp” and be willing to share his disgrace.

We take our stand with Jesus because this world is not our final home. We are looking toward “the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Hebrews 11:10). The verdict of society is not the final answer. We strive to live in such a way as to be worthy of our eternal destiny.

We do not seek disgrace or to be held in disfavor by our society (like some early Christians who sought martyrdom). We seek to display a Christ-like character and offer a winsome witness of word and deed to the truth of the Gospel. But we should not become discouraged if the world doesn’t like us or approve of us. We are in good company.

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