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Pressing Back Against the Vise

For some time now, it has been apparent that uniquely Christian & Biblically-informed values were becoming less welcome in our nation’s ongoing cultural dialogue. Those who hold such views are being squeezed to the edges of the conversation in the public square.  And that pressure is growing more intense as time rolls by.

For instance, in the past few weeks, we have again been hit with a series of news items that seem to present (or are interpreted to present) the fact that homosexuality and the accepted norm and that full-on national approval of same-sex marriage is inevitable. Or that late-term abortion is merely a necessary medical procedure of which no woman should be deprived, of little more importance than guaranteed access to emergency care for pneumonia.

Consider:

+Pope Francis, in an informal conversation with Vatican pool reporters on the flight back from his appearances in Brazil, was asked about rumors of gay priests and a so-called gay lobby in the Vatican.  One phrase of his response was hailed as breaking news: “If a person is gay, seeks God and has goodwill, who am I to judge?…They should not be marginalized.” 

Major news outlets around the world (and especially in the US) described this as “revolutionary” and “a remarkable change of tone”. They wondered aloud if this would lead to openly gay men serving as priests, or to women being allowed to serve as priests, or even to a less strict approach to abortion. Never mind that the full context of the Pope’s remarks indicated nothing of the sort, and were in fact a nuanced and transparent discussion of Christian faith, sin, repentance, confession and grace that never retreated an inch from the Church’s teachings on homosexuality.

But that larger,more truthful context simply did not fit the social change agenda of news editors.

+ A few days later the headlines had changed to “Cosby kid comes out”. In a statement releases through her representatives,  Raven-Symone,the actress who played Olivia on The Cosby Show in the late 1980’s and has since starred on Disney Channel’s That’s So Raven, strongly hinted that she was a lesbian and was excited about recent court rulings on the legality of same-sex marriage.: “I am very happy that gay marriage is opening up around the country and is being accepted.I was excited to hear today that more states legalized gay marriage. I, however am not currently getting married, but it is great to know I can now, should I wish to. 

This article was the lead on CNN’s newsfeed for a couple of days. Interesting placement for news of a relatively minor celebrity. Again, editorial choice.

+ On the other hand, the press was almost completely silent while Dr. Kermit Gosnell was being tried for unspeakable horrors at an inner city Philadelphia abortion clinic. Healthy babies were delivered and then brutally, capriciously murdered by Gosnell.  Yet until there was pressure brought to bear on the journalistic guilt reflex, not a word was reported.

But then, when Texas state legislator  Wendy Davis filibustered against proposed legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeksof pregnancy (five months!) and require clinics to have access to hospital care should something go awry, the same press treated her as a moral, even patriotic hero on the order of Patrick Henry. They profiled her and made sure that that we considered  such important details as  the brand and color of  her running shoes and how she would stay on the floor for hours without going to the restroom (yes we went there) Little to nothing was written regarding the legal, ethical and moral positions of those who supported the legislation, which was widely described as enforcing new “restrictions on access to abortion”.

Why the discrepancy?  Editorial decisions and reporting choices explored a complex issue through only one lens.

Now without going into the whole culture war thing, without doing the whole Palin “lame-stream media” line,  it’s crucially important to realize why news items are presented in this way in the popular press– and how it relates to our calling to live as Christ-followers in this present age.

First, it is difficult for anyone to separate their moral values and viewpoints from their communication. I know we expect journalists to report all issues with a balanced, unbiased, and emotionally detached perspective. You know, “just the facts”. But that ain’t gonna happen — not for those with Biblically-informed values, nor for those who adhere to more secular ones. People see and say what they most genuinely believe.

But even more important is to note that that there is an external pressure being brought to bear against Biblical truths and values. It has always been this way. This world is no friend to grace and is under the sway of the enemy of our souls. He is the deceiving Serpent and also the one who not ironically, is called “the prince of the power of the air.” (Eph.2:2) His purpose is to resist all that is godly, holy, and gospel. To use all the means at his disposal to further that resistance–individual, institutional, technological–even though he is the “father of lies”.(Jn.8:44)  To make that resistance seem the most rational, natural, helpful, just, loving, patriotic and widely accepted position– even though he is a master of disguise, “masquerading as an angel of light” (2 Cor.11:14), giving unspeakable horror a lovely mask.

Those loyal to Christ and His Word are being constantly squeezed by the sense that, on ethical matters like homosexuality and abortion, the majority of our fellow citizens have decided to affirm opposite values. It’s all we hear. Same-sex marriage and abortion without restriction are fine with most people, and if we do not approve,we are mean-spirited, intolerant, out-of-touch bigots from another age, those who are “on the wrong side of history”. We need to get over our old-fashioned selves and join the real world.

This pressure is like having your mind and heart in a vise in which the screws are being tightened and the pressure gradually increased. It began with changing language (ie sodomite to homosexual to gay to GLBT), moved to television normalizing these lifestyles in dramas, added celebrity endorsements, embraced public applause for approving and public shaming for opposing, and now legal  and policy changes. The assumption seems to be that pressure over time wins the day.

Where is this headed? Those who do not want godly, Biblical ethics reflected in our public discourse and policy are counting on Christians succumbing to the insistent pressure and responding with:

Comfort: in which we are no longer outraged by the open display of ungodly values, words, images, attitudes, behaviors.  In other words, we grow used to it and consume it, like a frog in the kettle.

Communication: in which we adopt the language of the culture and jettison the unique moral language of Biblical witness. In other words, we we allow the world to define for us words like tolerance, love, marriage, family and citizenship.

Concession : in which we yield a point in an argument or the ground in a moral / ethical discussion. In other words, we validate and accept as fact what is ungodly and unbiblical.

Conciliation: in which we soften our stance or the expression of our beliefs in order to placate, win over & become compatible with ungodliness. In other words, we want to be liked and accepted by the culture more than we want to bear witness to it, so we become increasingly like it it. Witness the so-called Christian denominations which have, in recent days, voted to allow those practicing GLBT lifestyles to serve as priests and pastors.  It’s Christians acting as middle-schoolers in the first week of school, desperate to be liked by the cool kids.

Compromise: in which we completely cave  in to the pressure. coming to  what the dictionary says is “an agreement is reached by adjustment of conflicting or opposing claims or principles, by mutual concessions…. something intermediate between different things”. Except that the concessions all seem to be headed one way and nothing is more different than a holy God and sin.

Compromise may feel good because the tension is gone. But the tension is gone because we have simply switched sides in the battle. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” (James 4:4)

                        Make no mistake. The only thing that will satisfy secular people and their cultures  is compromise, which is unconditional surrender to ungodliness and hell’s values.

How can we withstand the pressure of this cultural C-vise that seems to increase by the day? We must exert a stronger pressure in the opposite direction. What is that pressure, that power?

It is CONVICTION, which is, by definition, “ a fixed and firm belief”.

Christian conviction means that we have lashed our souls to something, a Someone, more real than the breaking news of today’s newscasts.

Christian conviction arises from a Word more true than the loud and insistent claims of our age.

Christian conviction expresses and embodies the values of an eternal, heavenly Kingdom which will tower strong long after the sad ashes of self-important nations scatter in the breeze of history.

Christian conviction holds on to fulfill God’s design for humanity to the point of bloody sacrifice, because the One whose name we bear did that with nails, thorns and spear — and calls us to the same. “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor.5:19)

Christian conviction keeps loving in the face of opposition, betrayal, hatred, name-calling, unpopularity, put-downs and rejection, because that’s exactly what God’s reckless, generous, pursuing, Grace did for us.

Yes, Christians can stand strong under the pressure of an opposing culture and its values.  He has given us His Spirit– the fulness of God indwelling with all His power, presence, wisdom, and grace. And He promised: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” (1 Jn.4:4)  The Spirit in one Christian of conviction is stronger than the combined power of the media, of courts and lawyers, of ad campaigns and celebrities, of assumptions and falling dominoes.

Even when the pressure comes, hard and even painful, we can keep living, telling, sharing and showing the ever-true, ever-loving gospel of God to people who can’t see or hear it yet.

Jesus did, and because of His Spirit in us, so can we.