In the United States the two sides of the “culture wars” are the politically correct Left and the conservative Right, which includes the Religious Right of evangelical Christians, and the war is over moral and social issues, such as gay rights, abortion, the arts and more.
Australia has fewer practising Christians than the United States, so we are not likely to see the emergence of a Religious Right with a similar influence as in the United States.
Our version of the culture wars is nowhere near as bitter as the United States’. For example, Bob Brown, the former leader of the Greens, Australia’s third largest political party, is an atheist homosexual and 99% of Australian Christians couldn’t care. If Bob Brown were in American politics, some fundamentalist Christians would accuse him of being the Antichrist.
I used to be more interested in Christian involvement in politics and the culture wars. I have always been disillusioned with both sides of politics in Australia which would not represent the wishes of those who elected them. I used to identify with the Far Right of Australian politics (or the “freedom movement” as they like to call themselves), but without the racism, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
I had hopes that a new genuinely conservative political movement would emerge in Australia which would introduce reforms like Citizens’ Initiated Referenda or Voter’ Veto which would ensure that legislation which did not have the support of the majority of the voters could be overturned in a referendum.
The only mainstream political party I identified with was the National Party. When I was in first year university in 1983, I used to graffiti “Joh for PM” on the desks. Joh Bjekle-Petersen was the controversial National Party premier of Queensland for many years. In 1987 there was a “Joh for PM” campaign which ended in disaster and kept the Coalition out of government. I can’t help but think I’m somehow responsible for this and the idea from my graffiti somehow made it to Queensland.
In 1994 to 1996 the National Party set up in Tasmania and I was President of the Esk Branch and State Chairman of the Policy Committee. The Tasmanian Nationals imploded and failed spectacularly at the 1996 State and Federal elections. Part of the problem was that some people were treating the party as a career move. They would not have been good enough to get preselected for the Liberal Party, so they were trying the Nationals. They were more concerned with promoting themselves, rather than promoting the Party and co-operating with other members whom they viewed as the competition. This attitude was even more worrying since there were so many Christians in the Tasmanian Nationals.
I used to be interested in conspiracy theories. Being a member of the National Party helped break their hold over me because it enabled me to see how politics really worked, rather than the simplistic view that everything is part of a conspiracy and nothing happens by accident. In the Nationals I met and had conversations with several Federal politicians. It should take a high level of intelligence to be part of a conspiracy to subvert democracy and install a world government and some of these politicians simply did not have the intelligence to part of such a conspiracy.
After all, do all the people, who believe George W. Bush was behind the 9/11 attacks, really think he could have managed to avoid blurting out that he did it?
Since 1996 there has been One Nation, Australia First, Tasmania First, Katter’s Australia Party, Palmer United Australia Party and the Jacqui Lambie Network and similar parties which took votes from each other and failed to achieve any long term results.
With all due respect to those involved, I doubt that an alternative political party will be able to emerge in Australia to save us from the Liberals, ALP and Greens. Many (most?) voters in Australia are disillusioned with the major parties, but they keep voting for them because they want stable government rather than a minority government or a coalition of smaller parties or independents which might actually represent the interests of their electorates.
This is arguably for the best since political solutions, trying to turn the clock back to a world which no longer exists, are not the answer to the problems facing Australia and the United States.
Some people accuse the Religious Right of wanting to set up a theocracy where Christians run the government and impose Christian values on the rest of the nation. This may be true for some, but in his book God’s Politics Jim Wallis (not to be confused with Jim Wallace of the Australian Christian Lobby) suggests they are more likely to be concerned about protecting their children from the moral decline in society (Jim Wallis, God’s Politics, Lion Hudson, Oxford, 2005, p 322-324)
The problem is real. Western society is in moral decline, but their solution is wrong. After all, the Religious Right has been around for over 30 years in the United States, but they have not succeeded in stopping abortion, family breakdown, the gay agenda, pornography and other problems. In fact, they are getting worse. It is not working.
Jesus did not found a political movement. He did not give us a political ideology called “family values” which the church is to impose on society. Jesus gave us good news that although we are all sinners, we are forgiven and reconciled to God through his death and resurrection.
Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight.” (John 18:36) Does “fight” include the non-violent, but confrontational and bitter, struggles of the culture wars?
Instead, the Religious Right has turned Christianity into one side of a political debate. They seem to have forgotten that those on the other side are not the enemy, but, like themselves, sinners who need God’s grace and mercy.
Unfortunately, many of them are rejecting Jesus, but not because they are rejecting the Gospel. They are rejecting the right-wing moralist political agenda which many Christians are promoting as Christianity. I saw an example in the 2005 documentary Protocols of Zion where, about 14 minutes in, the interviewer Marc Levin was speaking to two protesters at a rally in New York who said words to the effect of, “If George W. Bush is a Christian, I would rather go to hell.”
Do the Religious Right think Jesus is pleased with their political activity if it causes people to reject the salvation made possible by his death? Are any political goals worth turning people off the Gospel?
There have been other periods of moral decline in the West, such as the early 18th Century and early 19th Century. The churches did not try to rectify these declines by getting into politics and passing laws. They repented of their sins and turned back to God, resulting in the First Great Awakening of the 18th Century and the Second Great Awakening of the 19th Century. They experienced revival and large numbers of non-Christians were converted and then society was transformed, returning to Christian values.
The pattern for revival is explained in this passage, “When I shut up heaven and there is no rain, or command the locusts to devour the land, or send pestilence among My people, if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will from heaven, and forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
Jesus said Christians are supposed to be the salt of the earth (Matthew 6:13), the preserving influence on society. If society is in moral decline, that is because the salt has lost its flavour. The Church is in moral decline because it has turned away from God.
During the 1960s and 1970s Western society began to decline morally again. This time, instead of humbling themselves, confessing their sins and turning back to God, the evangelical churches in the United States went into politics to pass laws to stem the rising tide of immorality.
They formed the Moral Majority, whose name did not exactly inspire humbleness and repentance of their sins, and which suggested their opponents were the immoral minority.
The doctrine that Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world (John 17:36) and that we are “aliens and strangers in the world” (1 Peter 2:11) seemed to have been forgotten as Christians were defending their pre-1960s world against the new world of the “secular humanists” and progressives.
They gave credence to the lie of their “secular humanist” opponents that political solutions are the answer to society’s woes, not the transforming Gospel of Jesus.
If we look at First Century Jerusalem, who would be the equivalent of the Moral Majority and the Religious Right? Would it be the early church described in Acts or would it be the Pharisees?
The Bible says there is no moral majority. We are all part of the immoral majority (Romans 3:10,23), but some of us have faith that we are forgiven through Jesus’ death. Instead, it looks like the Gospel of grace has to compete with a conservative political message. In his book Beyond Culture Wars Michael Horton writes,
“Recently, I was being interviewed by a radio station, and a man called in who said he was looking for answers and had finally decided, after many years away from church, to give it a try again. He went to a conservative church and , according to his report, heard nothing but a political speech. These are the kinds of reports I used to hear conservative preachers use to show how liberals had turned the pulpit into a soap-box for radical politics. But now we are just as worldly, just as willing to embrace other gospels. Our own people cannot name the Ten Commandments, and yet we are outraged that they are removed from public halls; vast numbers of people in the churches cannot define the Gospel in terms of justification by grace alone through faith alone, while we treat the moral and political crises and solutions as ultimate.” (Michael Horton, Beyond Culture Wars, Moody Press, Chicago, 1994, p 122-123)
Horton also writes,
“The statistics demonstrate that evangelicals are about as materialistic, self-oriented and hedonistic as the unbelievers. It is an irony that at a time when evangelicals are the most worldly themselves that they would be at such a judgemental and even self-righteous pitch. If we are living no differently from the world, what is wrong with these very things we are complaining about. If the children of believers are watching more MTV than the children of unbelievers, as one poll suggests, should we not begin in our own homes before we poke our noses into the homes of those who are not even Christians? If we want to end abortion, why don’t we start by explaining the doctrine of creation to our own congregations, since evangelicals account for one in six abortions in this country?” (Beyond Culture Wars, p 167)
Banning abortion may stop the killing of the unborn, but that would not address the deeper problem of sin in the Church which has resulted in so many evangelical Christian having abortions. The culture wars are a case of Christians trying to take the speck out of others’ eyes, while ignoring the plank in their own (Matthew 7:1-5).
Tom Sine got to the real problem in his book Cease Fire,
“Ivan Illich wrote an education classic called Deschooling Society in which he coined the term “hidden curriculum”. What is the “hidden curriculum in a Christian family in which the kids all have their own CD players, TVs. VCRs, and phones, and, when they get to be a certain age, their own cars? With each succeeding generation, Madison Avenue, the media, and pop culture are gaining greater control over our youth.”
[This was written in 1995 before the rise of smartphones and social media.]
“Do you know what I’m talking about? Every Christmas looks like the department store blew up in the living room! In this “hidden curriculum”, the clear message to the Christian young is that “things” are what matter most. Generation X has gotten the message, and many, including the Christian young, have become disciples of a celebrity culture and devotees of the religion of instant gratification. We are losing them to the new shrines of worship in America, where too many Christian families go to do their devotion – the shopping malls.”
“I am convinced that we can’t just blame modern society for the growing sexual promiscuity of the young. part of the responsibility must also lie with Christian parents who have conditioned their young from the time they were infants to focus on meeting their own needs and desires and get the best they can for themselves. We are raising the Christian young with a driven, acquisitive individualism that affects every facet of their lives, including the development of their sexual behaviour and their moral values. It is very difficult for the young to discipline their sexual appetites when they are often encouraged to freely satisfy their consumer appetites with little discipline at all. they need to learn to just say no to all the seductions of secular culture, not just premarital sex.”
“For all the talk about the lordship of Jesus by evangelicals, the real message to the Christian young is to get their careers underway, their house in the suburbs (if they can afford them), and their upscale lifestyle started. Then, if have anything left over, they can follow Jesus like the older generation.”
“What has happened is that we have sold the Christian young the wrong dream. Christian families, churches, and schools have all sold them the American dream with a little Jesus overlay.”
“The real secular threat to our families is not some pack of secular humanists out there trying to do in our families. The real threat is Christian parents who unwittingly allow the aspirations and values of Enlightenment secularism to order their private world and dictate the values they pass on to the next generation.” (Tom Sine, Cease Fire, Eerdmans, Michigan, 1996, p 233-235)
Clearly, the culture wars are the enemy of revival. They appeal to pride and make those, whom Jesus loves and died for, the enemy to be defeated, and alienates them from the Gospel. They promote another Gospel (Galatians 1:8-9) of political solutions to society’s problems, rather than the Cross. They deny that sin in the lukewarm evangelical church is the problem. They divert our attention from the real solution to the West’s moral decline – for Christians to humble themselves, turn from their sins and the world’s lies, including its false solutions, and turn back to God. Then , revival, spiritual awakening and social transformation will come.