I first heard the phrase “culture war” in the mid-1970s from a man by the name of James Dobson who had just established a nationwide ministry to families known as “Focus On The Family.” I had just finished watching his multi-part movie series by the same name that provided families with practical, biblical counsel aimed at helping them to nurture the most critical component of social structure entrusted to their care by God. At the conclusion of the series, I remember a discussion he hosted in which he identified the greatest challenge to the family as coming in the form of an impending “culture war.”
As a teenager myself, the concept of such a social shift was difficult to understand. I had been raised with a clear sense of “right and wrong.” The authorities of government were (to my young eyes) unimpeachable. The teachers in my public school were (for the most part) equally unimpeachable and morally consistent with the home in which I had been raised. Everything had a sense of stability and consistency from my naive perspective.
But Dobson was right.
Certainly, the war had already been raging. In 1967, the “Summer of Love” hit Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco, challenging moral norms and social structure. Within less than a decade, the Supreme Court ruled (more like crafted out of whole cloth) that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteed a woman’s constitutional right to terminate the life of her unborn child. Immediately on the heels of that, Watergate struck the nation’s attention, leading Richard Nixon to resign the presidency in August 1974 for having abused his delegated powers.
By the time I woke up to the greater issues of life, it was 1980 and the former governor of California was asking the people of the country to return to the standards of their forefathers and usher in a new “Morning in America.”
Fat and happy was I for the next decade.
But the war came raging back with a vengeance. With the election of our nation’s 42nd president, abortion once again moved to the forefront of the nation’s conscience. This time, not to be viewed as a freshly-won “civil-right” (an oxymoron if there ever was one!) but as a mainstream reality of our national life. Then came the “woman in the blue dress,” evasive (if not perjured) congressional testimony, impeachment and confessions. Morally, the nation was conflicted and fatigued.
President 43 sought a restoration of some semblance of decency and honor to the stained national office. He promised a new era of “compassionate conservatism.” It seemed as though the nation was once again entering a period where, like a toddler learning to walk, it sought the safety of its forefather’s arms. But the reality was far from reassuring. Leading into the new millennium, the nation became progressively fractured along lines of special interest. Ultimately, these lines could be traced to two competing world-views. One might be called the “God isn’t” worldview, the other made up of those who simply maintain that “God is.”
For those who subscribe to the former worldview, there can be no “absolutes” (except for the “absolute” that there are no absolutes!) of morality or social structure. Culture is what the collective determines it to be at any given point in time. Of them, God declares: “For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (NIV Romans 1:21) The consequence of such a perspective is manifest in the culture war battles we see today. They were predicted by God almost 2,000 years ago (see Romans 1:24-27).
For those of the latter worldview, there is no difficulty in understanding the definition of “is.” God is the Creator, God is the lawgiver and designer of culture and all the relationships that comprise it. God is the only secure foundation of any successful nation and the one to whom we must turn as a matter of national survival.
What happened to my country? It became a nation whose people thought it unwise to heed the voice of God.
Tim Clark is pastor of Emmanuel Christian Church, New Vernon Township.