It should come as no surprise to anyone that we live in a highly polarized society. There are separate camps that hold very divergent worldviews and their interaction with each other is mostly antagonistic. Topics like abortion, gay marriage, and the legalization of marijuana are all highly charged and the resulting disagreements are often heated. It gets ugly, no wonder it’s called a war. Weary of all the fighting some people have decided to be Switzerland and declare neutrality. Seeking to avoid the unpleasantness involved they have chosen to ‘op out’ of the debate.
The allure of being a cultural non-combatant is quite obvious—most would rather be known as a lover not a fighter. I know I would! But I think the choice is a false one. Firstly, engaging the culture does not exclude love, and secondly, I don’t think anyone can avoid the culture wars.
Here are five reasons I think neutrality is impossible:
1. There is no DMZ
Some people seek safety by straddling the fence. Refusing to choose a side they aim to affirm the best of both options. ‘Both/and’ is deemed better than ‘either/or’. Sometimes this is true, but the right answer isn’t always found in the middle. In most of the cultural conflicts we face, there is no middle ground, no demilitarized zone. Either a fetus is a person or it is not. Either homosexuality is a sin or it is not. Either marijuana is harmful or it is not. Affirming both sides may feel nice but it’s not coherent.
2. You are the prize
In a conventional war, winning happens by seizing land, but in this conflict it is won by seizing hearts and minds. Cultural norms are nothing more than popular agreement on a matter. If these norms are to become dominant then people need to be persuaded. Your endorsement is actively solicited and any attempt at neutrality isn’t likely to be respected. As society has grown more secular, it’s grown less tolerant of dissenting voices. Your ‘yes’ is required.
3. Your silence is a statement
Keeping the peace through silence used to be an effective measure. No longer. While silence used to mean that the person’s view was unknown, it is now presumed to be a vote of affirmation. The person who is present in a conversation is considered as supportive unless they say otherwise. In other words, your ‘yes’ to the current ways of the world is presumed. This means that Christians can be seen as collaborators with ungodliness by virtue of their silence.
4. You can’t hide
Remember when we were told “If you don’t like it—don’t watch it”? Today that’s hopelessly naive. With the explosion of social media we are daily swamped with ideas and images, and with the exception of puppy videos they all include some worldview. We are the targets of the largest propaganda effort in history. I suppose that we could hide from the onslaught by disconnecting our devices but that seems unlikely and unhelpful. Avoiding the conflict is a practical impossibility.
5. The Bible forbids it.
Christians will find no biblical support for retreating into a holy enclave. We are not of this world but we have been left in it for a purpose. Primarily, this purpose is to grow and sanctify His church through discipleship. Along with this priority is the responsibility to bless those who live amongst us. Being the salt and light includes advocating for that which is good. It is good to save the innocent. It is good to rescue the addict. It is good to encourage marriage. We love our communities by championing righteousness.
In sum: you can’t avoid or ignore what is happening in our society. Whether we wish it or not, we are all in the front lines of the culture war. But being involved in this conflict does not mean that we have to become hostile. It’s quite the opposite actually—we enter the fray armed only with love and truth.
““You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14–16, ESV)