War is not good, right?

With war there is loss of life, collateral damage and trauma that haunts generations.

Sometimes we justify war to protect a way of life or to stop atrocities. No matter how it parses, war makes it near impossible to keep to those three simple rules of: do no harm, do good, and attend to the ordinances of God. In war it is even harder to stick to some of what Jesus said, such as: “But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Matthew 5:44 NRSV).

Culture wars don’t require a formalized military. Instead, “a culture war is a cultural conflict between social groups and the struggle for dominance of their values, beliefs, and practices.”[1] Or as conservative author Jack Butler has said, “We’re in the battle at the end of time, and the prince of darkness is already at the door, and the whole world is now a contest between activist left and activist right.”[2]

It seems like the culture wars are continuing to heat up. SCOTUS rulings. Primaries. Outrage in every form of media. Death of migrants. In the culture wars we face today, there is real harm being done, often to those without the resources to insulate themselves from the worst effects of the culture wars ravaging our society.

I’m not a fan of war: literal, cultural, spiritual, economic – you name it. I’m not a fan because it seems to locate power on one side at any cost. This is instead of giving up power and turning to the source of all Power. Wars often use religion to justify the fight instead of turning to religion for guidance on whether there should even be a fight. Wars tend to put people and ideas at the center instead of Jesus, who prayed not my will, but Thy be done as he faced death at the hands of political powers. Jesus shows us that our cultural power is something we can forsake, often at a cost.

I came across two quotes that seek to transcend the culture wars and be more Christlike.

Of all the things Satan could’ve used to destroy Christ,
he decided to tempt Jesus with the Bible.

In the same way, Satan will attack Christianity by tricking people into believing they’re “being biblical” when in reality they aren’t being Christlike at all.

To be Christlike is to love your neighbor as yourself.
To be “biblical” is to quote verses that align with your personal agendas and contextualize scripture according to your own opinions.
Too many people are being “biblical” without being Christlike. May God help us sacrificially love others to the best of our ability.

– STEPHEN MATTSON

Genocide is biblical.
Loving your enemy is biblical.
But only one is Christlike.

Slavery is biblical,
Chain breaking is biblical,
But only one is Christlike.

Patriarchy is biblical,
Counter-cultural elevation of women is biblical.
But only one is Christlike

Retributive violence is biblical.
Grace-filled restoration is biblical.
But only one is Christlike.

Segregation is biblical.
Unity is biblical.
But only one is Christlike.

Christ transforms, not the Bible. Be wary of
those who know one but not the other.

– JORDAN HARRELL

It’s hard to be Christlike, especially when the rights, safety, life of yourself and those you love are under attack in what seems to be ‘the prince of darkness at the door.’

While not perfect, nor free of lobbying for cultural power, even entirely Christlike, our United Methodist Social Principles serve as a beginning point for thought, prayer, discernment, and action that seeks to be more like Christ in the midst of culture wars.

Spending time in these spiritual practices is one way the Holy Spirit empowers us to risk social action in the midst of the culture wars that help us transcend the warring parties and be the light of Christ to the world. That last part is what I want more than anything: to be the light of Christ to the world.

Ten years ago, Rachel Held Evans really summarized my thoughts and sentiments on why I am not a fan of culture wars well when she said “My generation is tired of the culture wars. We are tired of fighting, tired of vain efforts to advance the Kingdom through politics and power, tired of drawing lines in the sand, tired of being known for what we are against, not what we are for. … Because young Christians are ready for peace. We are ready to lay down our arms.  We are ready to stop waging war and start washing feet. And if we cannot find that sort of peace within the Church, I fear we will look for it elsewhere.”

In wanting to reach new, younger people, I think we need to be mindful of these generational differences. Advancing the kingdom by culture war or advancing the kingdom by sacrifice and service. One of these methods looks more Christlike to me. That’s the one I seek to embody the most.


[1]  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_war

[2]  https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2022/01/republicans-democrats-forever-culture-war/621184/

Graphic: (David Gothard / For The Times) from article https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0214-prothero-culture-war-20160214-story.html