When You Want to Give Up on Our Culture

It started with a harmless email informing Taylor University students that, due to city maintenance, there would be no power on campus for several hours early in the morning.

Think about that for a second. College students had advance warning of a one-time event where no one would be able to hold them accountable for basically anything they did.

This was not going to end well.

A lovely recent picture of peaceful Taylor University.

A lovely recent picture of peaceful Taylor University.

The morning of the outage was marked by all kinds of chaos, from relatively harmless pranks (like guys running around in masks scaring people) to vandalism (including the baby Jesus disappearing from the campus nativity scene) to starting and jumping over a bonfire on the lawn…and fleeing when the fire department came.

Things didn’t get too out of hand, but it was not the proudest night in Taylor’s history, demonstrating the truth of 1 Thessalonians 5:7, “For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night, and those who act like complete idiots act like complete idiots on nights when there are scheduled power outages” (slightly revised by me).

This all happened several years before I showed up on campus, but I always think of the so-called Taylor Riots with just a little bit of pride. Because I when I think of them, I think of a different story.

The subject came up one day when I was eating lunch with residents of Gerig Hall. “Do you know where we were during the Taylor Riots?” one of the guys asked.

Don’t you love that? “We.” This guy wasn’t even at the college at the time, but he was claiming the actions of his dorm, passed down in lore from a previous generation.

He went on to say that there was a rumor that some of the men’s floors were planning to run naked down all-female hallways around 2 a.m. Gerig Hall had two women’s floors and one men’s floor. So all the men of the top floor spent the night in the stairwells during the Taylor Riots to make sure no crazy nude dudes could get by them to traumatize the women. (There was some debate about whether or not they were armed with baseball bats and other makeshift weapons.)

In the end, nothing happened, except that the guardians of the stairwell woke up sore and tired. But the guy telling me the story didn’t seem to think it mattered. The way he told the story with obvious pride announced, “This is who we are. This is what we did when we could’ve gotten away with anything. These are the stories we pass down to explain what we stand for.”

It’s a bit of a silly example, but here’s the point: the stories we tell matter, because they show what we value.

What we are proud of matters. What we are ashamed of matters. The actions of other nations we’ll defend or decry, the occupations we overpay or underpay, the fictional heroes and villains we cheer or boo—all of these tell the rest of the world what we value most. This is true on a huge scale of country and culture, and on the tiny scale of every individual Facebook feed.

Let’s make this a little less abstract and get uncomfortably specific. I’m mostly writing to a Christian audience here, so the following are some things I’d like to say about Christian reactions to recent cultural events.

To the Christians outraged by the Supreme Court’s same-sex marriage ruling—make sure you know what you’re outraged about and are able to articulate it well. Check to see if your arguments make logical sense, read up on the political background and possible consequences, be gracious, know what you believe and why. Basically, if you’re going to add to the discussion, add something helpful.

It’s not just with this issue, but the general culture sees Christians as being anti-intellectual because sometimes we don’t take enough care to think well about issues that press the panic button in our minds. We probably won’t be able to change what the world thinks about sexuality. But we may be able to change what the world thinks about Christians.

To the Christians outraged by Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner—where were you when God’s Not Dead came out? Don’t see the connection? Well, here’s an image I’ve been seeing a lot on social media lately.

TebowJenner

I think this is a fair satire poke at the fact that some people holding to their personal beliefs are applauded and some are criticized. I think it’s totally fine to point out hypocrisy like this in American culture. But I think we should be equally quick to point out hypocrisy within Christian culture. To me, one big thing lately was the insane popularity of the movie God’s Not Dead.

I am all for encouraging students to stand up for their faith, especially in academic environments that are often hostile to religion. What I am not for is stereotyping others in unfair ways. Every single atheist character in the movie was not just misguided but a terrible person. They existed basically as props to dispense weak arguments for atheism and do mean things to the nice Christian characters.

And that's how I'd answer this question. Which is not, probably, what the creators of this Facebook graphic were going for.

I have so many answers to this question.

Christians rise up in arms anytime people of faith are unfairly maligned or stereotyped in the media…and for good reason. But we shouldn’t turn around and cheer for a Christian movie that unfairly maligns and stereotypes atheists.

To the Christians outraged by the footage of Planned Parenthood selling parts of aborted fetuses—yep, that’s the right reaction.

To me, the only way the debate over abortion even remotely makes sense is if there’s a legitimate question about whether a fetus is human at the time of termination. This story exposes in horrifying, close-up detail the humanness of the babies who we are legally killing.

The way our culture covers this story—or doesn’t cover it—says a lot about what we value. And God help us, we often value our convenience over the intrinsic value of the most defenseless among us.

We are telling stories. National media, Congress, activist groups—they’re telling bigger, louder stories. But how we react to things, the language we use to talk about them, the actions we take, what horrifies or excites or irritates us—all that matters too.

Someday, we will be passing on stories to another generation, and I hope we can speak with pride about how the church responded to the major events of this decade. “Do you know where we were when racists were burning churches?” “Do you know how we responded to exploitation and trafficking?” “Do you know what we said when asked about the moral failure of the latest megachurch pastor?”

We did something. We spoke the truth in love. We stayed well-informed, thoughtful, and gracious. We lived out what we say we believe.

That 1 Thessalonians passage I re-translated at the beginning of the post? I think the rest of it is relevant here: “But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day [the return of Christ] to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”

We’re living in dark times, guys. Let’s tell a better story.

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