If you follow country music, you may have noticed the recent controversy over Jason Aldean’s new song, “Not in My Small Town.” Aldean adamantly denies any racial component to the song, but that didn’t stop CMT from cancelling the video because it features clips of riots following the George Floyd murder in 2020. The episode is just the latest in the ongoing culture wars. Whether it’s cancelling Bud Light, Target, or Walt Disney by the Right or J.K. Rowling, Kanye West, and Dr. Seuss by the Left, Americans are divided in half. Two contrasting visions exist regarding the future direction of our nation. Which side are you on?
I’ll show my cards up front. I believe the biblical ethic is true, righteous, and beautiful. Human beings flourish when we live according to God’s design. I’m troubled by cultural trends to overturn the moral order of the universe. Isaiah prophesied, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20). According to Romans 1:24, the cultural celebration of perversity is not good news. When human beings are given up to their lustful desires, it’s a sign of God’s judgment.
But here’s my dilemma. If I’m committed to biblical ethics, including a biblical sexual ethic and a commitment to truth-telling no matter the cost, which side does that put me on in the culture wars? I’m left with a choice between one side that flaunts perversity as a badge of honor and another side that retains the lingo of Christianity but only to mask its own deceitful ugliness. Is it possible there’s not a side in the culture wars that fully represents the side of Christ? Must I choose between evil and lesser evil, or blatant evil and hidden evil? Is it better to choose the side that still pays lip service to God over the other side that quit pretending a long time ago?
On all the ethical questions, I’m conservative. I believe in the absolute authority of the Bible. I believe God breathed every word of it.
But which side lines up with the Bible? You may say that one side lines up more than the other, and I may even agree with that. But does that mean I should embrace that side as my side? Do I just ignore it when the sometimes-right-side is absolutely wrong because that side gets it right some of the time?
All the cultural forces seem to be conspiring to push us onto one side or the other. If you’re conservative, you’re supposed to join the Red Team. If you’re progressive, you’re supposed to join the Blue Team. Joining a team means being a team player. It means wearing the colors and supporting the cause, whatever the cause happens to be. Team Red better not be shopping at Target or favorably quoting Martin Luther King, and Team Blue better not be blaring Jason Aldean or supporting Crisis Pregnancy Centers. And whatever you do, don’t ever critique anything your team does. That’s disloyal. That’ll get you labeled a RINO or a DINO.
Does that mean we should run to the middle and critique each side equally? I don’t think so. Does it mean we should just sit out of this world’s affairs and wait for Jesus? I reject that, too.
At the risk of oversimplification, here’s where I’ve settled. The Bible describes the Christian’s relationship to the world as one of exile (1 Peter 1:1; Philippians 3:20). We are in the same position as Israel after Babylon conquered their nation and dragged their people off to live under their idolatrous government. The book of Daniel provides a fascinating glimpse of such a life. Daniel and his friends lived behind enemy lines and sought to bless their new home, even serving in the government. However, they remained faithful to God. They refused to compromise. When it came time to pick a side, they always chose God’s. They never gave an earthly king absolute loyalty.
There will never be a government on this earth before Jesus returns that fully represents the kingdom of Christ. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 8:36). The declaration Christians make at our baptism—that “Jesus is Lord”—is a statement of absolute political allegiance. It means that we will submit to no higher authority than Jesus. It means that when the red and blue jerseys get passed out, we declare that we’ve already been chosen for a team. We may work with one side or the other toward a particular issue of justice and human flourishing. We may have to make hard decisions in the voting booth, but we can never give absolute allegiance to anyone. There’s only one Lord. Let’s make sure we’re loyal to him, no matter the cost.