Aaah, the culture wars! What would Christianity do without them? Contention and conflict seemingly have been the lifeblood of Christianity for generations. Christianity has fearfully convinced itself that without contending over the culture, it would be doomed to a secular takeover and robbed of its freedom along the way.
Both Christian progressives and conservatives not only contend against one another for the soul of Christianity, in their pursuit for dominion, each forces politicians on either side of the political divide to take up their contentious and conflicting causes as the price for their partisan support.
Meanwhile, Christianity appears completely oblivious to the caustic consequences of contending in cultural conflicts, including contending over religious freedom, which has been altogether politicized, being reduced to just another weapon wielded in the endless culture war. In all of its contending, Christianity has polarized nations politically, culturally and religiously. And all of it is being done in the name of Jesus Christ as if it is His way.
As an extreme example of a most unforgivable distortion of Christ’s way, Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, primate of the 100 million member Russian Orthodox Church, justified the heinous violent attacks against Ukraine by suggesting that Putin’s Russian army is the hand of God needed to rescue the Ukrainian people from western moral corruption. Is this Christ’s way? Kill innocent people to save the culture?
In February 2014, a young pastor, presiding over a small congregation, located in the nondescript community of Tinton Falls, New Jersey, urged his congregation and the rest of Christianity (at least those few stumbling across his YouTube recorded sermon) to abandon the culture wars. Pastor Vincent Rife, as one crying in the wilderness, inspiringly illuminated Christ’s way. His one and only way.
Rife taught his congregation that in Christ’s day there were four forces contending to control the culture: the Romans, who were the entrenched authority and power over the culture; the Zealots, who were defiant Jews determined to end, even violently if necessary, what they viewed as the debauched and despotic Roman control over their culture; the Sadducees, who were aristocratic Jewish priests determined to accommodate and cooperate with Roman authority and power as a way to preserve their influence over the culture; and the Pharisees, who were strict observants of Jewish law determined to stand apart from Roman authority and power to maintain their self-proclaimed purity.
Rife instructed that none of the four disparate approaches to the culture represented Christ’s way then or now. And this is why all four factions conspired to be rid of Him. Rife explained Christ’s way is to endow His disciples with spiritual gifts of light and truth to empower them to go out among the people of the nations to bless them with that same light and truth.
Christ’s way is not the way of culture dominators, contenders, accommodators, or separatists. His way is not the ways of culture warriors or the so-called “Benedict Option.” Christ’s way is for endowed peacemakers to go throughout the world to be the salt and light that preserves and illuminates good works that glorify God.
Russell M. Nelson, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, decidedly declared recently: “Contention is a violation of everything the Savior stood for and taught. ... We are followers of the Prince of Peace. Now more than ever, we need the peace only He can bring. How can we expect peace to exist in the world when we are not individually seeking peace and harmony?”
In the face of the ever escalating culture conflicts, peacemakers might one day receive blows even unto martyrdom. Nevertheless, following Christ’s way comes with a promise: “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
Stuart C. Reid, Ogden, is a former culture warrior, Army chaplain and Utah state senator.