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Mouw: "Our Christian Task is Not to Win the Culture War"

Blog or WebsiteGreat quote from Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary on Christians, compromise, civility and justice in ever more polarized times:

"I have spent some time this summer reading the history of democratic thought. While the origins of democratic theory lie in ancient Greece and Rome, most significant thought on the subject occurred in the past four centuries or so in Great Britain and the United States. These thinkers agree on at least two points. One is that democratic politics requires a willingness to compromise. The other is that democracy at its best is practiced by leaders who engage each other in reasoned debate about the fundamental issues of civil society.

I doubt that anyone would hold up our nation’s more recent debates as stellar examples of intelligent give-and-take. And this is cause for lament. A nation can handle the legitimate passionate outcries of those whose lives have been drastically altered by Hurricane Katrina only if we also have nurtured a public culture in which there is a reasonable discussion of the basic goals of civil society. If we now turn to public debates about Supreme Court nominees that echo the understandably angry tones of the desperate folks in Mississippi and Louisiana, we will have failed significantly as a democratic culture.

There are many subgroups who need to be addressed on this subject, but I will limit my pleas here only to my own evangelical Christian kinfolk. We have been failing miserably in our public life at the two requirements I mentioned above. Our most vocal public leaders have shown little interest in finding compromises, and we have not shown much of a tendency to model a reasonable give-and-take approach to public debate. If anything, our public expressions have resembled more frontier revival sermons than the thoughtful writings of our nation’s founders. Yet we talk glowingly of the vision of “our Founding Fathers” and of “the Christian origins” of our nation’s values. Given our own public performance in recent years, this talk borders on the laughable.

There has never been a time when it was more important for our nation to take an honest look at itself, reach across the ideological barriers we have erected, and find new ways of living together in some semblance of order. The Mennonites have a wonderful phrase to describe our present situation as Christians. We are “living in the time of God’s patience.” As someone given to lament, this means that I regularly ask the Lord why he is being patient when so many bad things are happening. But it also means I must work at modeling that patience in important ways, living in the realization that the Supreme Ruler of the Universe will bring about--in ways that I will never fathom--a righteous culmination to a historical process that includes so much suffering.

Our Christian task is not to win the culture wars, but rather to be agents of justice in a world where easy formulas for solving fundamental human problems are not readily available. I hope my fellow evangelicals can be a part of the solution in our seriously divided nation. This may require us regularly also to complain to the Lord about his present “patience.” But it also surely means that we passionately pray for healing mercies--certainly for those who are experiencing intense suffering right now, but also for the important public debates about issues that affect the basic patterns of our lives together."
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