We Must Not Despair
The evidence is clear: Many Christians have grown weary of the culture wars. Compared with prior years, Christians have little visible presence in this season's election campaign, and certainly younger evangelicals see the conservative religious agenda as strident and often offensive. What's more, prominent Christian leaders are telling us to take a sabbatical from politics—a seductively appealing message for so many fatigued by our 30-year-long uphill struggle.
At the same time, secularists berate Christians for the culture wars, claiming that we are trying to impose our bigoted agenda on them. Often intimidated, Christians fear raising controversial questions.
But someone should ask: Who started the divisive culture wars in the first place? Far from being the aggressors—as the press would have us believe—religious conservatives have simply been responding to the relentless secularization of American life.
There was a time when Christianity's positive influence on society was applauded. U.S. Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, a strong civil libertarian, stated in the 1952 Zorach v. Clauson case: "We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being …. When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities … it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs."
Scarcely a decade later, the Supreme Court, in an astonishing reversal, declared in Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington v. Schempp (1963) that prayer and Bible reading in public schools were to be outlawed—and thus opened Pandora's Box. In case after case, justices decided against the traditional values of our country, culminating in 1973 with Roe v. Wade, when the Court ruled that killing human life at its earliest stages was now a constitutionally protected practice—leading to an unbroken string of such cases since.
The changes in American life weren't limited to the law. School boards discovered programs like values clarification that were far from neutral and were clear assaults on Christian values. Condoms were made vailable in schools, while many religious materials were forbidden.
This was part of an unprecedented assault on the traditional moral fabric of the country. People of Christian conscience could sit still no longer. What followed was what Harvard professor Nathan Glazer called a "defensive reaction of the conservative heartland."
Far from seeking to impose their beliefs upon the nation, Christian conservatives were manning the ramparts, protecting the moral foundations of society.
Today is no different. As other Christian leaders and I wrote in the Manhattan Declaration, "Because the sanctity of human life, the dignity of marriage as a union of husband and wife, and the freedom of conscience and religion are foundational principles of justice and the common good, we are compelled by our Christian faith to speak and act in their defense."
On each of these fronts, the forces of secularism have assaulted foundational principles necessary for true human flourishing and the preservation of moral order.We defend them not for parochial interests but for the good of society.
It was under somewhat similar conditions that Augustine wrote The City of God. As buildings smoldered in Rome, accusations flew that Christians, by seeking to replace the pagan gods, had caused the fall of the city. But Rome's demise, as Augustine explained, could not be laid at the feet of Christians. Compelled by love of God and neighbor, Christians, he argued, make the best of citizens, working to create the kind of society where all can live peaceable and godly lives. His classic work has served for 1,600 years as an apologetic for the wholehearted participation of the citizens of the city of God in the city of man.
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