When I say things like how wrong it is to leave the church over cultural issues, I know that's a tough position to take, particularly in a culture that loves to cancel whatever it disagrees with. Immediately, the feedback that comes through is, "So, what, then? We're just supposed to stay in a racist church? So, we're just supposed to sit there in the pew when women are degraded or abused?"
Someone recently compared it to staying with an abusive spouse. Do we just resign ourselves to stay in a bad situation because we've committed to it? Are we just supposed to live as helpless victims of our previous choices, even when new information surfaces?
And isn't it an implicit affirmation of a broken church's broken beliefs if we don't leave?
This is what's so frustrating about the culture that we live in. It has made it seem righteous to walk away when in actuality, it is nothing but self-righteousness.
When we walk away, what we're saying is that they have a problem. They have a problem, and they need to fix it, and we are not required nor expected to be part of the solution. We withhold our presence and our fellowship until they sort things out to our satisfaction, but in walking away, we disengage from the conversation. It's not our conversation, we say. We've said our piece, and now, the ball is in their court.
Culture loves to do this. It loves to take a 'stand' against things by declaring it's a problem, but not our problem and then pretending that by just walking away, it's going to solve something. That if enough of us walk away, something will necessarily (and magically) change all on its own. That if we simply disengage the things we don't like about who we are as a people, they will fade away.
And because there's something in us that knows that walking away alone is not enough, we leave a trail of shame on our way out the door. We leave little breadcrumbs of condemnation, a little sprinkle of gunpowder that's enough to spark a violent explosion, and then, we tiptoe out like we're completely innocent. Hey, it's not our problem.
But if you want to set something off, here's all the fire power you need to do it.
We are quickly, and without saying it, becoming a culture that's known for what we're against instead of what we're for. And there's a reason for that - it's easier to be against something than to be for something. It's easier to be against 'racism' than to be for reconciliation. It's easier to be against 'politics' than for dialogue. It's easy to be against something; all that takes is us shouting it down, walking away, and leaving a trail of shame as we go about our happy lives, pretending they aren't broken, too. (Like I said, it's self-righteousness, not actual righteousness.)
And the church, of all bodies, knows that this doesn't work. How long in our history have we been known for what we're against...and how has that worked out for us? The church spent a long time in its recent history preaching against everything from drinking and homosexual relationships to cursing and dancing and racy television shows. There was mock 'Christian' outrage a few years ago about a coffee cup. How did that work out for us? Is it somehow different this time because the things we claim to be against are more culturally acceptable? Because 'everyone' is against things like racism and sexism? Do we all of a sudden want to be known for what we're against?
The easy answer is yes, but that's not the Christlike answer. Because Christ calls us to more than just standing against things.
Christ calls us to the hard work of declaring what we're for. Of declaring what He is for. Of working together toward resolution of our troubles and not just disengaging from them. Christ calls us to remain in fellowship and work to bring about the change that we think necessary, to open the dialogues and stay engaged in them. To do the hard work, every time. Be strong and courageous, and do the work - 1 Chronicles 28:20.
I don't think, when we come to the end of our lives, that God is going to applaud us for walking away from hard things. From broken things. Even from evil things. I don't think that God is going to applaud us for receiving the blessing of culture to do so. I don't think God is going to reward us for fighting our battles the way that the world fights, and I don't think He's going to be impressed by our claims of righteousness for doing so.
I think what God is looking for is men and women, brothers and sisters, who are in this thing. Who fight the battles that need to be fought in this world. Who are able to understand the difference between brokenness and backwardness. Who are willing to commit to engaging, even when it's hard. I think what God is looking for is men and women who are willing to show the world how it ought to be done.
I think our witness should not be, "World, we agree with you, and we're done here." Bur rather, I think our witness has got to be, "World, we hear you, and we are working - together - toward better." Because this is not their fight; it is our fight. This is not their problem; it is our problem. And until and unless we're willing to stand in the fires and truly engage, nothing is ever going to change. If all but one of us walk away and blow things up, we still leave one broken heart in the fire, and that is not a victory. That is not righteousness.
Let's stop pretending that it is.