So bear with me on this one….
Some time in 1988, a group of about 200 people gathered in Warrenton, Virginia. They were an overwhelming minority in a world that had a very specific and negative opinion about them, and they were determined to do something about it. Each of these people were from different walks of society, but they all had a common goal. They were going to advance a cause strategically.
They were going to go into the five main areas of society: Government, Education, organized religion, media, and the workplace. And they were going to tell their side of the story.
And that’s exactly what they did. And 20 years later, the way people think about homosexuality has radically been changed. Now I’ve heard some Christians spit the words before “The Gay Agenda” but agenda just means leadership. And lead these people did. They were nothing short of brilliant in the way they leveraged their little resources and manpower to make a cultural impact that was impossible for anyone who lived during the 80’s to predict. They changed the world.
And they did it by a small group of people coming together to contribute to every part of society.
Now this isn’t a post on homosexuality or politics, or any of the other valid jumping off points we might find. It is a post about Christian cultural engagement.
Or the lack thereof.
In his book, ‘To Change the World’ Robert James Hunter makes the observation that
“Jews have never comprised more than 3.5 percent of the American population. Yet…the contribution of the Jewish community in science literature, art music, letters, film, and architecture is both brilliant and unrivaled. And these contributions were made in a context of often defined by open, aggressive, and malicious anti-Semitism…The debt this America owes to this small community is immeasurable.”
Next week we’ll get into Hunter’s thoughts a bit more. But for this week…part of the problem with the Christian community is that it has become ostracized from the broader world. This is a problem on so many levels, not the least of which is that it was never the intention of God. To use an overwork cliche, the salt has to live outside of the saltshaker. But Jesus followers have bought into a concept of holiness that isn’t that holy. It’s just weird. We became separatist. Which is kind of the bent of religion, us vs. them, circle the wagons and keep those who disagree with you out.
And think about the ways we have done that in the past. We’ve even called it the Moral Majority. But what happens when you discover that the majority isn’t moral? And the “moral” aren’t in the majority?
See, we don’t live in that society any more. To use Biblical language, we are in Exile…and that is probably a really good thing.
There’s a time in the book of Jeremiah where the Israelite people have been taken into exile, they are mourning and pining for the past. When they had their own country, and were a sovereign nation. And God’s word to them is totally unexpected. He has Jeremiah tell them, I’m not going to take you back to Israel right now. In fact, you are going to be here for generations.
Now think about that, God is basically telling them I hear your dreams, I know what you want more than anything else,
And I’m not going to give it to you.
Instead, God tells them something else. He says that he wants them to work in Babylon. He wants them to work along side these barbarians who wrecked their lives, and hauled them into exile. He wants them to paint and write music, and be a blessing to the economy. He wants them to serve and to lead. He wants them to be productive members in this new society. And then God says, your success will be tied up in theirs.
Don’t trick yourselves into thinking Babylon was more moral than America or any Western country today. Don’t think that they didn’t have a thousand grey areas that they waded into as they tried to discover what it meant to be God’s woman or man for that time and culture. But they did it. And both the people of God, and the nation of Babylon were better for it.
When was the last time you heard a sermon on making the city around you a better place? Not for an overt religious rally, or to evangelize the pagans, but because God wanted His people involved in the world as co-creators in every aspect of society? When was the last time you heard that your work matters to God, not because you draw crosses on all the tax forms you help people to fill out, but because you help people as honestly and ethically as possible? When was the last time that you heard a sermon calling Jesus followers to go to Hollywood, or to New York to partner with people who have different ethical standards and morals to tell stories that the entire world is going to hear.
We are no longer in a position of power. We don’t get to write the main story lines that are going to get published (and when we do not many people are watching them). Instead we come along side with a faithful presence, wading into a lot of grey and trying to influence where and when we can, so that the Kingdom of God can look good.
When was the last time you heard a sermon about that? Not recently? Well that’s a shame.
Because in the words of Gabe Lyons;
“The Church remains the epicenter of what is possible. It’s the most uniquely positioned channel of cultural influence when it’s operating on all cylinders. No other institution regularly convenes people who work within the other six channels of culture on a weekly basis. On any given Sunday in the church, leaders from all seven channels join together to pray, worship, learn and socialize in one place. Then they are sent out, dispersed to support one another and to work within the sphere of society God has gifted and called them to in order to carry out his restoration work.”
So take heart Jesus followers, you maybe in exile. But you may also be right where God wants you. So paint and write, act and sculpt, sing and create music, govern diligently, teach as well as you can for the next generation, work hard and well and break enough to know you don’t work for your identity. Live life and create with others and help the world see what God is like.