I remember the disturbing news report of the Taliban being overthrown in a region in Afghanistan that they had only recently taken themselves. After unloading on the general populace all of the fear and terror associated with the Taliban badge, they suddenly found themselves on the receiving end, as Afghani forces, combined with local militia tribesmen, overran them.
The report detailed how cornered Taliban fighters were pleading for mercy, only to be gunned down in the city streets. Shown no mercy after having shown no mercy themselves. Chilling stuff.
An opinion piece in The Washington Post this week by Barton Swaim is entitled: “The Left Won the Culture War. Will They be Merciful?” You can read it here.
Swaim is struck by comments made by Al Mohler, of Southern Baptist Convention Fame:
“We are on the losing side of a massive change that’s not going to be reversed, in all likelihood, in our lifetimes. Christians must adapt to the changed cultural circumstances by finding a way ‘to live faithfully in a world in which we’re going to be a moral exception.’”
The memorable point for me being that Big Al has finally, and belatedly for many evangelicals, belled the cat. The memorable point for Swaim being that such a big fish (pardon the mixed metaphors) would come out and say this:
Hold on. A high-profile Southern Baptist just conceded that his side lost the culture war. If I had been the reporter, that would have been the story.
The article goes on to explore how there is very little of the “Let’s take America back” language of only 30 years ago, which if truth be told, was merely the final flourishing of a dying tree.
What piqued my interest however, was Swaim’s question at the end, when asking whether the culture war losers will be allowed to retire gracefully and co-exist peaceably with their secular victors, without being hunted down like so many cornered Taliban fighters.
In time, this shift in outlook may bring about a more peaceable public sphere. But that will depend on others — especially the adherents of an ascendant social progressivism — declining to take full advantage of their newfound cultural dominance. I see few signs of that, but I am hopeful all the same. (emphasis mine).
Two points: First, what’s the point of cultural dominance if you can’t use it to dominate culture? Well that’s how the story goes, and to be honest that’s how the story went. The evangelical framework in the US – and to a lesser extend UK and Australia – played it with a straight bat. The veneer of the culture was aligned with the moral framework of Christianity, and we were happy to play ball. We never declined to take full advantage of our cultural dominance.
But now? Now that we are, as Swaim says, depending on others for a peaceable public sphere? Do we expect the rules to change just because someone else is “winning”? We’ve certainly found our voice of late in the push for freedom of conscience and freedom of association, and I emphasise “of late”. Yet could we say that we were proclaiming those twin liberties for our real and perceived opponents all that loudly down the decades when we were the cultural winners? I am not so sure.
But secondly, and more importantly, if we’re looking for mercy from the cultural victors, do we have an example of such mercy to show to them in the order of “and here’s one I prepared earlier” kind? Or will it be an abstract mercy that we will be left to simply describe, having no concrete examples to show them of how we behaved when we had the upper hand.
So, for (extreme) example: when the sexual revolutionaries push hard legally against our alternative ethical communities (e.g churches), will we be able to turn to the gay community and say:
“Remember that time when we, although not agreeing with your lifestyles, supported your call for justice in the midst of some pretty harsh treatment handed out to you. Remember how we were indignant at the law enforcement’s indifference to your plight when hooligans went on a gay-bashing night? Hey, some of our lawyers even did pro bono work for you. Remember that?”
Or will we be reduced to mumbling, “Sorry, but please don’t treat us with the indifference and disdain which which we treated you.”
After all there are two ways to be merciless to someone according to the parable of The Good Samaritan, aren’t there?
Either you can be the thug who leaves a person bleeding and wounded by the side of the road (I suspect most upright, church going types were never in that category).
Or you can walk by the victim with a general disinterest and a sense of self-preservation, barely able to bring yourself to say “There but for the grace of God…”
In the end who knows? Perhaps our hope for mercy in the public square might come from the parable of The Good Transgender Lawyer, and that will be a rightly humbling experience.