It is clear by now that we are living through one of the most monumental cultural shifts in the history of America. While most cultural changes are slow and plodding, this one has been a rapid, raging flood wiping out everything in its path.
Christianity, while once the defining influence on American culture and policies, has now become public enemy number one. In many people’s minds, Christians represent a clear and present danger to the social stability of the American enterprise. We are now less like citizens, and more like foreigners.
As a result, a bit of panic is spreading through the ranks. Anxiety levels are high. Christians are wondering how we should deal with this radically new and unprecedented cultural situation.
The answer may be a bit surprising. We deal with this radically new and unprecedented cultural situation by remembering it isn’t radically new and unprecedented.
In fact, it is a return to normal.
Of course, I don’t mean normal in the history of America. In the American experience, the pundits are right: this is an unprecedented cultural shift. But, in the history of God’s people, this present situation is not at all unusual. Indeed it has often been the norm; indeed, even the means by which God has advanced his Kingdom in unique and special ways.
I was struck by this reality the other day while revisiting the well-known story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3. These three Israelites were no longer in Canaan, but were now in Babylon–a foreign country with no loyalty to the God of Israel. They had been exiled. They were foreigners.
Even more than this, the cultural situation in Babylon was eerily similar to the present situation in America:
1. Even though Babylon did not worship Yahweh, they did worship something (everyone does). They were committed to the cultural idol that Nebuchadnezzar had set up (3:1).
2. The idol of Nebuchadnezzar was very intimidating and imposing–over 90 ft. high (3:1).
3. The commitment to this cultural idol was nationwide–everyone bowed down from the least to the greatest. This was especially true of the governing officials (3:2-3).
4. Babylon’s commitment to their idol was remarkably intolerant. It was absolute and dogmatic. It required unquestioned allegiance to the idol, lest one get thrown into the fiery furnace (3:6).
It is also worth adding that this was the same cultural situation that Christians found themselves in the second century. The Roman government viewed Christians as a threat to a stable society and threatened them with death if they would not bow down and pay homage to the Roman gods.
It doesn’t take much reflection to see how similar these cultural situations are to the present one in America. Our nation has become religiously committed to an idol of tolerance–particularly the belief that everyone’s sexual preferences must be embraced and affirmed. This is an intimidating idol which looms threateningly over all our nation’s citizens and is embraced by many of the governing officials.
And, most notably, this idol of tolerance is remarkably intolerant, with a commitment to destroy anyone who does not bow down and pay homage.
The implications of this situation are clear. As Christians we are no longer living in Canaan. Indeed, our situation is a lot more like living in Babylon.
And, this side of glory, that is back to normal.
If we are living in Babylon, then our primary response to the present cultural challenges must be just like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, and just like the second century Christians in Rome.
We must not bow.
Of course, there is more that can be said than this. And there is more than can be done than this. But, nevertheless it all starts with this.
Whatever steps we take to engage our culture–whether intellectually, socially, or politically–we must first be committed to this.
When you are living in Babylon, not bowing is the foundation of all other cultural engagement.