We Christians—particularly those of us who adhere to traditional beliefs and values—are under sustained attack in America these days. The secular establishment has declared war on us, the public schools are attempting to brainwash our children with a thorough-going evolutionistic philosophy, while also using sex education classes to recruit them for the sexual revolution. And if those administrators and teachers don’t fully succeed in their efforts, they will eventually turn our kids over to the Christianity-bashing professors at our colleges and universities to finish the job. In the larger society, every effort is being made to eliminate from our public life all references to God and the Bible, a campaign that is being undergirded by an extensive rewriting of our national history so as to hide from view the biblical principles that our Founding Fathers cherished.
Not that those who have declared war on us are against religion as such. On the contrary, they are quite willing to encourage the growing influence of New Age thinking, occult practices, and the teachings of Eastern religions. Just about anything is acceptable these days—except, of course, traditonal Judeo-Christian beliefs and values.
So goes the case that David Limbaugh sets forth in his Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christianity (Regnery Publishing, 2003). And given its place on the best-seller lists, it is safe to assume that many people agree with his assessment, or are at least willing to pay sympathetic attention to what he has to say.
Let me say right off that I too have some sympathy for the case that he makes. As an evangelical Protestant, I have some horror stories of my own to tell about anti-Christian bias. And I could add further anecdotal evidence from what I am told by many of my Catholic and Jewish friends. We are indeed living in a time in the United States where hostility toward traditional religious convictions runs rampant.
But for all of that, I still wish that David Limbaugh and his kind would lighten up a bit. It is a little difficult to accept the picture of traditonal Christians as a beleagured minority when the beliefs that are taken to be under attack are shared openly by some of the most prominent leaders in public life. And the irony is that you can sell a lot of books these days by presenting yourself as a lonely voice crying in the wilderness.
What bothers me most about Limbaugh’s case, though, is its own biased reading of the past. The fact is that our secularist fellow citizens have some good reasons to worry about the influence of those of us who defend those "good old days" when our kind of belief system dominated public life. For example, I am as conservative as David Limbaugh on matters of sexual morality, but I also know that traditional Christians have been inexcusably cruel in the past to homosexuals and others who do not conform to the values that I hold dear. And, while I can make a good case for the view that it was Christianity that introduced respect for the rights of women into Western culture, I really can’t blame today’s feminists for being upset with the ways Christians have often kept women from exercising their leadership gifts.
I happen to believe that solid religious values can contribute much to societal health. But I also have to acknowledge that there are good reasons for our secular counterparts to worry about what we people of strong traditional beliefs would do if we were to reshape contemporary America to conform to our desires. Intense religious convictions are not responsible for all the problems in the world, but they certainly have made a contribution to the turmoil in Northern Ireland, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
David Limbaugh’s complaints about hostility toward Christianity need to be heard. It would be helpful, though, if he would also admit that we believers have some important lessons learn about how to behave well in the public arena. Our record is not a stellar one. We have often acted like our only options are either to give up on the larger society or to try to take it over. There is another alternative: to recognize that in our increasingly pluralistic culture we are called to make our way in—to borrow wonderful phrase from the Mennonites—"the time of God’s patience."
God is not calling us to win the cultural wars. What is required is that we remain faithful to our deepest convictions while also showing, as the Apostle puts it, "gentleness and respect" toward those who challenge us to make a case for what we believe (I Peter 3: 15). Obviously, when it comes to matters of public policy we must also ask others to respect our convictions as well—especially our right to raise our children in the fear of the Lord without having the deck stacked against us by educators and the shapers of popular culture.
But we must resign ourselves to the fact that it will never be easy for us to make our way through the dangerous landscapes of contemporary life. Things are bad these days. Indeed, there are many parallels between our own time and the days when the early church was surrounded by an overtly hostile culture.
But that is also good news in a way: it was under conditions of severe persecution that the early Christian flourished and grew strong in the faith—-a pattern that has been repeated in more recent times in situations where the church has survived under oppressive conditions.
The truth of the matter is that the New Testament does not give much hope to Christians who expect to be well-treated by the dominant culture. Readers of David Limbaugh’s book would do well to remember that Jesus seemed to take the fact of continuing persecution of his followers for granted. "Blessed are you," he told his disciples, "when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you becaue of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5: 11).
This does not justify our cultivating a persecution complex. But it is a good reminder that the time for Christians really to start worrying is when we find ourselves winning too many popularity contests.