Thursday, September 02, 2010


Reclaiming Culture Through Vocation

Maggie Gallagher wrote a while back about the role of politics in reclaiming culture:
Both the Christian left and the Christian right are wrong, according to Hunter: Wrong in imagining that a Christian can engage in politics the way it is routinely practiced today: by demeaning opponents, caricaturing their views, instilling and fanning base fears, raising utopian hopes, and promising followers power and prominence. Christians in politics have become "functional Nietzscheans" he says. How can followers of a penniless and crucified master lust for power?


Here's my problem with Hunter's conclusion: Politics does work. Abortion remains a live moral and cultural question in America in part because of politics.

Hunter's critique of politics cuts deeply with me. Three years ago I started a political organization, the National Organization for Marriage. On the whole, I am proud of how NOM has engaged in this fight. People fight over symbols because symbols are the stuff out of which reality is constructed.
To my way of thinking, both Gallagher and the man she is critiquing, James Davison Hunter, have a point, but both are missing the bigger picture. Hunter is right - politics, of itself cannot carry the day. Gallagher is right - politics is a vital part of the solution. Gallagher also paraphrases Hunter in this fashion:
Worse, the Christian right's theory of culture is simply false. One cannot "engage the culture" by converting individual hearts and minds or accumulating majority votes. Culture simply does not work like that. Culture is the power to "name reality," and that power is in itself inevitably intertwined with high cultural status. Culture is a product of elites, not of moral majorities.
There in is the big picture - we don't just convert individual hearts and minds, we convert elite hearts and minds - or even better we help those we convert to become among the elite.

Christianity should define culture, but to do so we have to be among the elite of the institutions that define culture. And this is where Gallagher is really right - we have abandoned those institutions, political and otherwise.

As Christians we are called to a vocation, but for the sake of using evangelical language - let's call it a ministry. Some minister in church and some int he capital. Some minister in hospitals and some in movie houses. Some minister in universities.

As Christians we have chosen to isolate ourselves. Either we isolate our faith to Sunday or we isolate ourselves in Christian branded business and universities. We may not be of the world, but we are IN it - and we need to start acting like it.

We are the best and the brightest if we would just start acting like it.

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