Earlier this week, Vice President Kamala Harris became the subject of criticism among some conservatives after she introduced herself alongside her pronouns during a roundtable meeting with disability rights leaders at an event commemorating the anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“I am Kamala Harris, my pronouns are she and her, and I am a woman sitting at the table wearing a blue suit,” Harris said.
Introducing oneself alongside preferred pronouns has become increasingly common among progressives, and Harris provided a description of her physical appearance as is common practice for those seeking to accommodate and include the visually impaired.
Harris went on to talk about abortion access in a post-Roe America, emphasizing the Biden Administration’s commitment “to fight for the bodily autonomy and self-determination of all individuals with disabilities.”
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Much could be said about the Biden Administration’s attempt to forge an ideological link between the bipartisan commitment made in 1990 through legislation to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities to the fight to ensure women have the right to electively terminate the lives of unborn children. Or the link between accessibility for individuals with disabilities and the affirmation of divergent gender identities, for that matter.
Sadly, most conservative commentators have lost the plot on those points entirely, focusing wholly on Harris’ use of pronouns.
Further, some have also inadvertently ridiculed those with visual disabilities by lumping their berating of Harris’ pronouns in with an equally stern condemnation of her description of her physical appearance, labeling the whole of her introduction as a “woke” virtue signal, devoid of substance and completely disconnected from reality.
Such a response has become somewhat predictable, especially on social media platforms whose algorithms reward outrage. In the culture war between “us” and “them,” what matters most is interpreting every word and deed of the other side in the most negative light possible and then using hyperbolic language to stoke fear and hatred against them.
Unfortunately, this is something that evangelical Christians have become particularly adept at over the course of the last half century or so. Whether it be the fight to keep the 10 Commandments on the outsides of courthouses, to maintain moral traditions surrounding gender roles, or to stave off the cultural influences of “the left” in film and media, evangelicals have cultivated a spirit of embattlement, often crying persecution and warning of impending doom.
In turn, the movement that Jesus said would be known by its love is more often known for its vitriol and complete demonization of anyone with whom they have ideological or theological disagreements.
Nevertheless, far from seeing this as a fundamental flaw that we must work diligently to root out and correct, this kind of culture war ferocity is often portrayed among political conservatives as itself a Christian virtue. After all, there is no room for nuance in a foxhole. There is only the fight to survive. God does not honor weak men who allow the secular left to overrun their society.
To be sure, political conservatives aren’t the only ones with such a mentality. For decades, those on both the left and right of the culture war have sought to gain ground in battles both substantial and inconsequential. The fear stoked by existential hyperbole has inspired donors and voters alike to engage in an endless volley of electoral victories and losses that result in political representatives who keep the fires of outrage burning in order to fund their next big campaign.
For many, the motivation is that if we fight hard enough, one day we will have defeated our ideological enemies, leaving behind a more moral and godly society for our children.
Be that as it may, faithful followers of Jesus ought to think twice before enlisting in the culture war. Here are at least three reasons why.
Fighting a Culture War Does Not Produce the Fruit of the Spirit.
In his letter to the Galatians, the apostle Paul spills a fair bit of ink contrasting the “desires of the flesh,” that is, the unredeemed part of our fallen human nature, and the fruit of the Spirit.
The two are constantly at war with one another, and Paul provides two lists outlining their attributes.
Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)
Even a cursory survey of the rhetoric employed in culture warring reveals that enmity is cultivated far more often than love; strife more than peace; fits of anger more than patience; rivalries and dissension more than kindness; impurity more than self-control.
So, even if we “win” the culture war, we must grapple with how much more we have already lost by choosing to wage it.
This isn’t to say that we ought to disengage or refrain from advocating for important moral or political stances. It is to say, however, that our commitment to those moral victories for our society must never come at the expense of a moral loss in our own souls.
Fighting a Culture War Does Not Help Our Mission.
The mission of the Church is to introduce people to Jesus and the saving work of his death and resurrection, so that they might place their trust in him for a life that is redeemed, transformed, and eternal.
What’s more is that Jesus didn’t only come for social conservatives who vote Republican. He loves those on the “radical left” just as much.
However, we come across as unconvincing, if not outright disingenuous, in proclaiming that Jesus loves Democrats, liberals, leftists, and even socialists, when we spend a significant portion of our time stoking fear and hatred against those very people.
In so doing, we may win legislative battles while losing the opportunity to speak life into the souls of those on the other side of the trench.
We can vehemently disagree with someone’s ideology or theology without denigrating them as a person who is created in the image of God. We can still express sympathy and camaraderie with people whose policy stances we find to be deeply problematic.
If we want to be effective in our mission, we must.
The Result of War is Destruction.
Even when a war is fought for the right reasons and the result is a victory for liberty and justice, the immediate result is destruction. Cities are leveled. Infrastructure is crippled. Lives are lost, and families are broken. It takes a considerable amount of effort and resources to rebuild what was lost. Some of what is lost will never be recovered.
This is why war ought to be the last resort in addressing a problem.
When we maintain an endless culture war mentality, our efforts are directed in ways that are primarily punitive and destructive. And to be sure, sometimes there are certain social or ideological structures that need to be torn down in order to build something more just and true. But when our standing orders are to shoot first and ask questions later, something has gone horribly awry.
It has been said to the point of cliché that Christians should be known more for what they are for than what they are against. But the statement stands true.
Everyone knows that Christians stand against abortion. What they often don’t know is whether Christians stand for the health of mothers, the care of young children, or providing resources to economically disenfranchised homes.
Everyone knows that Christians stand against the sexual revolution. What they often don’t know is whether they would be accepted into our homes and lives without qualification or whether we would be a safe place for them to express their true thoughts and feelings.
Everyone knows that evangelical Christians stand against the removal of prayer from public schools. What they often don’t know is whether we would even be willing to pray for them.
Rather than engaging in a culture war, Christians would be better served by seeking to cultivate a culture defined by the fruit of the Spirit. A culture that stands in truth and does not surrender its convictions, but a culture that is nevertheless willing to surrender its rights for the sake of another.