It’s political season, and the air is filled with people campaigning for different candidates or causes. Traditionally, Christians play a large role in that discussion, campaigning for whatever they believe will “make America a Christian nation” again or “bring America back to God.”
As much as I hope that will happen, it’s interesting that many Christians only seem to talk about it in terms of politics. Every time a major election comes up, Christians talk about having a President with Christian values or about whatever political issue involves Christian values. Yet, so few Christians seem to discuss changing culture to make America a Christian nation again.
This is especially odd since changing culture is the most effective way to bring America back to Christianity.
Christian apologist Os Guinness talked about this political obsession in his 1994 book Fit Bodies Fat Minds. He identified four “strategic errors” evangelical Christians had recently made, actions which kept them from being relevant and influential in society. The third error was as follows:
“Evangelicals have sought to change society through politics rather than through changing the culture. Not only does this recent position reverse the traditional emphasis on transforming society through changing individuals, but it comes at a time when many people acknowledge that politics cannot touch many of the deepest crises in society. These crises are now termed cultural and ‘pre-political.’”
Cultural issues are pre-political because politics is essentially designed to regulate the rules we live by, while culture is the beliefs behind those rules. The difference between the beliefs and the rules may sound confusing, so let me give an example:
Suppose I decide to do something terrible – I’ll borrow a ridiculous example from Alan Moore and say, suppose I distribute drugs to small children?
Political and legal rules say, “You are not allowed to give drugs to children. If you do so, you will be arrested and sent to prison.”
Culture says, “It is wrong to give drugs to children. If you do that, you are an immoral person.”
We need both of them to have a functioning society, but culture is where the root beliefs are.
Politicians can indirectly affect culture by creating policies that give certain freedoms, but beyond that they can’t create culture as politicians. For politicians to use politics to change how people think, they have to do things like banning products or increasing censorship – things which ultimately lead to dictatorships. Politics, by design, does not directly change how people think.
Even social justice, which is slightly different from politics and allows for more direct interaction, cannot directly affect culture. It takes things a step further, developing programs and products to allow for better lives. But it’s still outside the realm of directly changing how people think, of changing culture.
How does someone directly affect culture, then? How does someone directly influence people’s minds and worldviews directly to create responsible beliefs? The answer is that person must enter a field where he or she creates and directly passes on information to people’s minds.
That person can accomplish this by becoming some kind of educator (schoolteacher, personal mentor, public intellectual, or journalist) or by becoming an artist.
I won’t claim to be an expert on how educators influence people or Christian involvement with education. I will comment, however, that schooling is an important form of education, and if Christians want America to have a Christian culture they need to exert some influence in secular education. The fact Christians are the largest subset of homeschooling families suggests many Christians have chosen to leave secular education to its own devices.
No one has an exact formula for how to create art that influences people, and at a certain point art’s influence boils down to each consumer’s disposition. But it is a very well-established fact that art influences people. There are too many testimonies from people whose lives were changed by art – too many people who have listed novels as books changed their lives, too many people who found encouragement to go on in a beautiful painting or a children’s book – to dispute this. Art resonates with people on a level no political argument or thesis can ever reach, and the results can be powerful.
Unlike with education, there’s no question that many Christians have ignored the secular art world. At least as early as 1973 when Francis Schaeffer wrote Art and the Bible, the trend for most Protestant Christians has been to only encourage art that is overtly Christian.
Christian publishers have spent massive amounts of money building Christian Fiction into a viable alternate market for Christian readers. Christian studios have spent similar amounts marketing Contemporary Christian Music to Christian customers. There is a growing market of Christian films for exclusively Christian viewers. In other words, many Christians are not trying to affect secular culture at all. Many of them are creating niche art worlds which only influence themselves.
In a rush to bring America back to being a Christian nation, so many Christians have ignored the key areas that would influence people back to God – they have ignored secular culture.