“The old alliances are dead."
"The world is changed…
I feel it in the water…
I feel it in the Earth…
I smell it in the air….
Much that once was is lost. For none now live who remember it.”
“Our list of allies grows thin.”
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”
“The West has failed.”
Now that the Trump era is over, at least as far as his Presidency is concerned, it's worth taking a look back at what happened in the 4+ years that he dominated the political and cultural landscape. I am convinced that Trump himself is nowhere near the most important thing that has happened. Rather, Trump exposed and accelerated trends that were already in motion. The Trump era brought to the surface and revealed many things that had been hidden from view. This has been an apocalyptic moment in American history.
I am most interested in what has happened to the evangelical and Reformed church context in which I am a pastor, but that cannot be considered apart from the political trends that have generated so much discussion and division.
Obviously, and understandably, Trump was a very divisive figure. His foibles, real and imaginary, are well known because we have been bombarded with them 24/7 for years now. There is no question he is something of an ego maniac, and could often be his own worst enemy. Policy-wise, he was generally conservative and should be applauded for many things he did (e.g., building a strong economy until COVID hit, gaining energy independence, removing the nation from entangling alliances, taking seriously the China threat, brokering Middle East peace deals, etc.) as well as things he did not do (e.g., no new wars, respecting states rights in regard to COVID responses, etc.). But I do not think Trump himself is the most important barometer of the church's health at this point -- indeed, far from it. While it is virtually impossible for me to reconcile any kind of support for Biden/Harris with Christian faith, I can certainly understand why many Christians have been reluctant to throw their support behind Trump. Frankly, I can sympathize with many of the criticisms of Trump that came from the "never Trump" camp....until I consider what the alternatives to Trump were. Making a Christian case that Trump has serious issues is not that hard to do. Making a Christian case that he is somehow worse than the alternatives that were available to us is virtually impossible -- and "never Trumpers" never seemed to grasp that. Making a case against Trump is not the same as making a case for the Democrat options (or any other available options), which is what "never Trumpers" needed to do. "Never Trumpers" failed to develop any kind of alternative vision to Trump, even at a theoretical level. Nevertheless, they continued to cast aspersions on Christian and conservative Trump supporters. But this was an entirely unhelpful strategy. Caring about the political realm and expressing patriotic convictions are not necessarily signs of idolatry and voting for Trump in '16 or '20 does not necessarily mean one has sold his soul to the devil; indeed one can argue it was the best and most prudent course of action. But, again, how Christians feel about Trump is NOT the best litmus test for where we are anyway. So what is?
The real story of the last 4 years is not Trump himself, but the left's hyper-progressive response to the presence of Trump, and the wider effects of that progressive response on the church. Consider what Trump's occupation of the White House did to progressives over the last four years. Progressives were radicalized in a way that would have been unthinkable in, say, 2015. It is as if Trump's electoral victory caused progressives to speed up the rate at which they have moved in a hard left direction -- or some might say, the speed at which they are driving towards the cliff. If progressives were going 55 MPH before Trump, his shocking victory caused them to mash the accelerator. Progressives are now driving 120MPH. Consider: Obama, and many other progressives, were very slow and methodical in their embrace of same sex "marriage." Today, the position on marriage held by Obama during his first term would get him cancelled and called a bigot by every single Democrat in office. Bill Clinton's presidency seems quaint by the standards of today's Democrats, and even Obama seems quite moderate. What has happened? Progressives have embraced the destruction of free speech, with the aid of Big Tech censorship, getting political rivals driven off of social media platforms (or getting those platforms abolished all together, in the case of Parler). In other words, progressives have rejected the classic liberal model of society, enshrined in the First Amendment. Progressives shamelessly use Big Media to push propaganda for Democrat causes and candidates; the result is that national trust in media and journalism is at an all time low. They have gone all in on the transgender movement, which even many gays, lesbians, and feminists are uncomfortable with. Whereas the socialist commitments of progressives were more hidden, now they are loud and proud about their statist aspirations. The progressives have taken up a far more hard-core immigration policy (which will hurt poor Americans in the job market), they want to cancel student loans (which ironically will mean many lower income working class families end up footing the bill for the higher education of middle and upper class suburban kids), they are determined more than ever to pursue job-destroying anti-energy policies which have very little to do with actually helping the environment and much more to do with aiding and abetting our enemies upon whom we will once again depend for oil, and so on. Democrat progressives openly supported rioting in the streets in countless cities, causing untold financial and personal damage, throughout the summer of 2020; BLM and Antifa have never been called to account or even criticized by progressive politicians and media. But then when a terribly unpleasant event happened in DC with pro-Trump protestors, they suddenly decided police and even an unprecedented show of military force were called for to establish "law and order." Progressives are now sold out to critical race theory, which was hardly a blip on the cultural radar 4+ years ago. They now insist that we are a hopelessly white supremacist nation, despite the fact that we elected Obama twice. (I suggest reading Tim Carney's Alienated America for insight into why Trump was victorious in 2016. Racism had nothing to do with it.) Many progressives now insist on reparations -- from people who never owned slaves to people who never were slaves. Progressives insist on changing the minimum wage, despite the fact that it will mean the loss of thousands, even millions of jobs, especially as it comes right on the heels of massive small business-destroying lockdowns, a panicked overreaction to a virus that gave especially blue state governors the opportunity to exercise powers that were nothing short of tyrannical. Of course, even this list barely scratches the surface, when we consider the Biden/China relationship with all its corruptions, the Russia hoax that led to absolutely no convictions on the part of those who spied on Trump's campaign, unanswered questions about election shenanigans, and assorted other hypocrisies. And, of course, we also have to consider what could be coming down the pike if Democrats can work together for at least the next 2+ years, rather than devour one another. Will the Supreme Court get packed? Will Puerto Rico and/or DC be granted statehood? Will the Equality Act be signed into law? Will the IRS be weaponized, as it was under Obama, to hinder political and cultural opponents of the left? The progressives have their hands on the levers of power and they are wielding that power against conservatives of all stripes. There is no reason to think they are going to be held accountable for their abuses and hypocrisies anytime soon.
Pointing out the hypocrisy and corruption of progressives is not whataboutism. It is context. What has happened to our nation? And what has that in turn done to the church? The story is not Trump. The story is the progressive reaction to Trump.
It is as if 25 years of progressivism's "progress" got squeezed into 4. Progressives rapidly accelerated their move towards more and more radical positions. The Trump years made the progressives who control the Democrat party far more brazen in their views and the lengths to which they are willing to go to implement them. Almost overnight, the entire feel of our nation, culturally and politically, has changed. We are suddenly more divided, at least ideologically, than we ever have been. It's not just that Trump tweeted some crazy things. It's that the left went berserk. Many conservatives accommodated themselves to Trump; they accepted him with varying degrees of enthusiasm or reluctance as the best alternative (concerns about his character notwithstanding), but did not really change any of their convictions for the most part. Meanwhile, progressives changed dramatically. For all the focus that has been put on Trump's effect on the Republican party and his relationship to the principled conservatives and Christians who voted for him, the left changed far more over the last 4 years than the right. Given that the left controls so much cultural space -- the public schools and teachers' unions, universities, the tech corporations, Hollywood, most Fortune 500 boards, the governance of most every large city, and now two of the three branches of government -- it would seem there is very little to keep from progressives declaring complete and total victory, and then imposing their will on the rest of the country.
Here's my question, again: What has this done to the church? The same divide that has widened in the culture has also widened in the church. Movements within the church have actually mirrored those in the culture. A couple decades worth of change and shifting and drifting have been packed into the last 4 years. It has been a time of accelerated change. And that means it is a time that has exposed where people really are theologically. The hearts of many have been revealed. Whatever trajectory you were on 4 years ago, in terms of social, political, and sexual issues, there's a good chance you are much, much further down that road now, far more consistent with your deepest presuppositions. What were nearly invisible fault lines between us 4 years ago now feel like gaping chasms between believers, often even in the same denomination. For example, if you were opposed to socialism 4 years ago, you are probably even more anti-statist now; but if you were comfortable with the state playing a very expansive role in our lives and in the economy 4 years ago, you are probably even more ready to embrace the Big State today, and may be even willing to call yourself a socialist. If you were a thin complementarian 4 years ago, focused on distinctive male/female roles in the church and possibly the family, there is a really good chance you are much more of an egalitarian or feminist today. But if you were a thick complementarian 4 years ago, focused on distinctive male/female natures that cut across and distinguish us in all of life, you are probably getting used to the term "patriarchy" right about now. If you spent the last 4 years being more offended by Trump's mean tweets than by the baby murder advocated by the left, you are probably not going to be willing to fight for the pro-life position in the public square going forward. Pre-Trump, perhaps you would have been openly pro-life, but now you are much more likely to shrug it off and say you are focused on other issues. In short: Christians who are tempted to pander to the culture, to follow its trends (even if at a good distance behind) have had to move pretty dramatically and quickly over the last few years in order to keep pace with the rapid "progress" of progressivism. Those who are more hardened in conservative (and I would argue biblical) positions have had to dig their heels in; they have not changed positions, but have had rework and refine them in response to what's happening on the left and in the wider culture (e.g., conservatives have had to think a lot more about sexuality in light of the transgender movement, leading to a sharpening and deepening of their view).
Let me provide an illustration: The PCA, a conservative, evangelical, and Reformed denomination of which I used to be a part, now has an openly gay (albeit celibate) pastor. Leading PCA figures were crucial to the rise of the Revoice movement, beginning in 2018, which celebrates the treasures of queer culture. It is true that Revoice claims to uphold a traditional biblical morality, though it is certainly very fuzzy in some areas, particularly its understanding of intimate/romantic same-sex friendships. Revoice celebrates effeminacy in men and does not call on "gay Christians" to crucify their same-sex lusts, provided they do not physically act on them. It is entirely at home in a gay culture/ethos. What are we to make of this? To be frank, in my opinion, there is no way the PCA would have tolerated Revoice prior to 2015 or 2016. It would have gotten the same treatment as other movements that have been squashed in the PCA. But the PCA has always had a soft spot in its quest to be relevant, cool, and "culturally engaged," and Revoice is the PCA's way of accommodating itself to the victory of the LGBTQ+ movement in pop culture and politics, even as thin complementarianism was its accommodation to the victory of feminism 20-30 years ago. The PCA may have been trending slightly leftward since the 1990s, when Tim Keller came to prominence. But in the last 4 years, it has accelerated considerably faster in its progressive trajectory. It is doing all it can to keep pace with the rapidly moving progressive trends outside the church. What's next?
Similar shifts have taken place in the Southern Baptist Convention. In 2006, Russell Moore published a piece tacitly defending some version of patriarchy and exposing the functional egalitarianism that was afflicting ostensibly traditional families. He called into question whether or not evangelical family structure was really as biblical and traditional as it claimed, and pointed out ways in which his fellow conservatives were actually being influenced by the reversal of gender roles so common in the wider culture. He had the audacity to wonder aloud if Beth Moore's ubiquitous presence in SBC churches would open the door to women preaching in the those churches. Today, of course, Russell Moore celebrates the evangelical feminism of Beth Moore (and she is far more feminist herself in 2021 than she was in 2006) and he has moved far closer to an outright egalitarian position. Likewise, on issues of race, the SBC has taken big steps towards the left. Before 2016, hardly anyone in the SBC had even heard of critical race theory, much less advocated for it. In 2019, the denomination adopted a statement affirming the use of critical race theory as an analytical tool. While critical race theory continues to be controversial in the SBC, one does not have to be weatherman to see which way the winds are blowing. The denomination is trimming its sails to catch winds pushing it further and further to the left.
All that to say: the last 4 years have exposed and revealed what all of us are really committed to and where we are headed. We know a lot more about each other's hearts today than we did in the pre-Trump world. If you were a committed biblical conservative 4 years ago, you are now more aware of what your positions mean and why they are so essential to human flourishing. If you were in a conservative denomination, but harboring some leftish tendencies on the role of women or sexuality, you are likely far, far more progressive today than you were 4 years ago. (I could point to a number of rather public figures from conservative churches who have shifted dramatically to the left on sexual issues over the last 4 years). The middle ground -- which is often squishy, but has existed in American evangelicalism for a long time -- is rapidly going away, just as we are losing any middle ground in the wider American political context. The events of the last 4 years have separated real conservatives in the church from pseudo-conservatives who relish the approval of progressives and elites. C. S. Lewis addressed this in That Hideous Strength:
“Have you ever noticed,” said Dimble, “that the universe, and every bit of the universe is always hardening and narrowing and coming to a point?”
His wife waited as those wait who know by long experience the mental processes of the person who is talking to them.
“I mean this,” said Dimble in answer to the question she had not asked. “If you dip into any college, or school, or parish, or family – anything you like – at a given point in its history, you always find that there was a time before that point when there was more elbow room and contrasts weren’t quite so sharp; and that there’s going to be a time after that point when there is even less room for indecision and choices are even more momentous. Good is always getting better and bad is always getting worse: the possibilities of even apparent neutrality are always diminishing. The whole thing is sorting itself out all the time, coming to a point, getting sharper and harder.”
R. L Dabney exposed the cowardly "above the fray" quasi-conservatives in his day who followed progressives as they moved to left, albeit at a distance. We have seen many of these same kinds of pseudo-conservatives emerge in the last 4 years. These are conservatives who do not actually want to win; they'd much rather be "good losers." They don't really conserve anything. Thus, they become useful idiots for those on the left, as they subvert their conservative causes from within:
This [pseudo conservatism] is a party which never conserves anything. Its history has been that it demurs to each aggression of the progressive party, and aims to save its credit by a respectable amount of growling, but always acquiesces at last in the innovation. What was the resisted novelty of yesterday is today one of the accepted principles of conservatism; it is now conservative only in affecting to resist the next innovation, which will tomorrow be forced upon its timidity and will be succeeded by some third revolution; to be denounced and then adopted in its turn. American conservatism is merely the shadow that follows Radicalism as it moves forward towards perdition. It remains behind it, but never retards it, and always advances near its leader. This pretended salt hath utterly lost its savor: wherewith shall it be salted? Its impotency is not hard, indeed, to explain. It is worthless because it is the conservatism of expediency only, and not of sturdy principle. It intends to risk nothing serious for the sake of the truth, and has no idea of being guilty of the folly of martyrdom. It always when about to enter a protest very blandly informs the wild beast whose path it essays to stop, that its “bark is worse than its bite,” and that it only means to save its manners by enacting its decent role of resistance: The only practical purpose which it now subserves in American politics is to give enough exercise to Radicalism to keep it “in wind,” and to prevent its becoming pursy and lazy, from having nothing to whip.”
Dabney is right: There is kind of conservativism in America that follows progressives on the path towards perdition. A great deal of the Reformed and evangelical world has been exposed as a shadow culture, following the same arc as the world's dominant trends. They trail behind a bit but they are headed in the same direction. They're really not conservatives so much as slow moving progressives. They actually conserve nothing of value. They exercise no discernment and shy away from conflict with the world. I would argue there are many "never Trumpers" who fall into just this category. They have no empathy for Christians who believed Trump was the best viable alternative in '16 and '20, given the overall state of the culture and the issues we face; instead they have nothing but condescending contempt for those who would sully their souls by filling in the Trump/Pence circle on their ballots. These "never Trumpers" are far more interested in keeping their uniforms clean and tidy than they are in joining those who are already bloodied and dirtied from engaging the enemy in the field of battle. (And let's face it: warfare is always messy, especially cultural guerrilla warfare, which is what we are involved in right now.)
A tell-tale sign of where someone stands and which direction they are walking is seen in the criticisms they make. If someone hits hard against those on the right but barely throws a jab against those on the left, you know which direction that person is trending and where their real loyalties are found. And we have seen this over the last 4 years with numerous evangelical and Reformed leaders. Their true colors have been revealed. Generally speaking, theological conservatives who become cultural liberals do not stay theologically conservative for long. Worldviews are package deals. Embracing liberal social and political views will eventually erode conservative theology. Every. Single. Time. (Exhibit A: No denomination has been able to embrace the ordination of women to the pastorate and remain theologically orthodox.)
It appears a time of sifting and shaking is upon us. It is a time for choosing sides. It is likely further testing of the church's convictions will come very soon. For the most part, evangelical and Reformed Christians have been spared any significant suffering for our faith. But if progressives continue to radicalize even as they consolidate more and more political and cultural power, that is likely to change. How could it not? And if does, who can we count on to stand with us? Who will fight with us in the public square for God's truth, goodness, and beauty? Who will take a stand for Christ and his commands?
It is true some in the evangelical and Reformed world have been unwilling to criticize Trump when he deserved it; charges of a "Trump cult" might be appropriate in those cases, and we should push back against those who become overly-loyal to any deeply flawed political leader or movement. But those evangelical and Reformed Christians who have used Trump as a weapon against others on the right are just as dangerous, if not more so. David French is a good test case here, as he is the perfect example of how moderate conservatives always get dragged further and further to the left, so the Overton Window keeps moving further away from us. French always let progressives set the terms of debate, so they can continually drag him leftward, until he gets pulled off the same cliff. French is a classical liberal (a respectable position in itself), but a classical liberal who has lost the necessary moral framework needed to make classical liberalism work. (Remember the words of James Madison: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious [that is, Christian] people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.") In other words, French is more committed to religious pluralism in the public square than he is to the Lordship of King Jesus. He is also committed to respectability in the eyes of cultural elites more than standing up for his fellow evangelicals. Frankly, French's pluralist position seems incoherent: On the one hand, he wants to hold that character matters and judges Trump according to biblical character norms. On the other hand, he advocates for pluralism in the public square, which would suggest that a specifically Christian view of virtue has no privileged place in public life. Which is it: Are we pluralists (in which case there are no fixed standards to judge candidates or their policies) or are we committed to some form of, shall we say "Christian nationalism," in which politicians and their policies are held up to the standard of Scripture? It seems that French has a schizophrenic position: He wants to hold Trump to a biblical standard (which he obviously fails to meet) while simultaneously advocating for pluralism. This incoherent position, however, serves French's purpose of attacking Christians who supported Trump while giving progressives all the leeway they need to keep driving the country towards ever greater forms of radicalism. French is hard on any candidate from the right, holding him to a high standard for character and policy, but lets politicians on the left, quite literally, get away with murder. This is utter folly, and will lead to ruin.
French fires all his bullets at those on the right, especially if they are openly supportive of Trump. Meanwhile, he does all he can to cozy up to the liberal elites. French either does not want to fight at all, or he wants to fight for the wrong team. While he has done good work in the past (e.g., Title IX issues), he has been using his considerable gifts in counter-productive ways since the rise of Trump. Because French is a pluralist, he believes progressives are pluralists too. But this is not true. Progressives (unlike French) are playing to win. They do not just want a seat at the table; they want to own the whole table. Thus French continually misplays the culture war, constantly losing ground, constantly jumping on the wrong side of the latest issue, constantly seeking ways to curry the good will of progressives who have no intentions of ever returning the favor to conservatives. While French defends the right of Drag Queen story hour in public libraries in the name of free speech, he advocated Twitter censoring Trump; in other words, he is so hostile to Trump, he will defend the rights of queers to corrupt our children while advocating that a sitting President be silenced even when he calls for peace. French is the kind of conservative who is happy for progressives to take over the culture; he has usually surrendered before the battle has even begun. He will attack Trump for lying about the size of a crowd at a rally, but will do nothing to challenge progressives who are lying about the very nature of reality itself. French believes the worst about those on the right and constantly gives those on the left a very generous benefit of the doubt. He bashes fellow Christians and makes excuses for the left. He is completely deaf to the concerns of working class and middle class conservative and evangelical voters, so he continually criticizes them in ways he would never attack those on the left. His criticisms run in only one direction. The latest example of this is downplaying President Biden's executive orders that reinstate taxpayer funds for abortions (and other abominations), while relentlessly criticizing Trump for far many less significant issues over the last 4 years. The result is that he has become a wolf in sheep's clothing, a smug and self-righteous mouthpiece for every leftist cause even though he is ostensibly situated on the right side of the political spectrum. To be blunt, French has completely misread the cultural/political moment in which we live and the church's greatest needs in this hour. I have much greater sympathy for writers like David Bahnsen, who provides a significantly more even-handed assessment of Trump, recognizing what he did well and criticizing him fairly, while still seeing the need to stand in opposition to the progressives.
Situations like these call for the kind of wisdom possessed by the sons of Issachar. If we understand the times, what should we do?
Genuine traditional, biblical, Reformed Christians must recognize that we live in a time of great upheaval. Old alliances are dying. New alliances are being formed. Loyalties are shifting. Our civilization may not be in its death throes (after all, the West's obituary has been written many times before, only to have it bounce back), but we are certainly in a time that must be considered revolutionary. If we are to keep the faith in this trying time, we must do several courageous things at once, and we must avoid certain tempting errors that beckon us down an unhelpful path.
First, contrary to Rod Dreher's Benedict Option, we cannot withdraw into a Christian subculture. While enclaves of strong and faithful Christian communities are necessary, we should not assume we will be left alone. The leftists will hunt us down and find us. That means we have to keep fighting the culture wars. Frankly, the kind of technology available to the state today (primarily through its alliance with the tech companies) is so powerful and pervasive, we must do all we can to keep it from falling further into the wrong hands. Imagine a scenario a few years down the line. It's now 2026. Thanks to the President Harris' Green New Deal, no one owns their own gas powered car anymore. Instead we get around in driverless electric Ubers. It's a Sunday morning. You get your family ready for church as usual. You use your phone to summon a ride (it's hard to get a "family size" vehicle because fewer and fewer children are being born, but the app on your phone tells you one is available). When your ride arrives, you pile in and tell the robo-car, "Take us to Trinity Presbyterian Church." But the car talks back: "We no longer deliver to that location. Trinity Presbyterian has been declared a hate group." The car's voice then lists several state approved churches you can go to. You decide to worship at home that morning, knowing you will have to start to look into black market transportation alternatives, as risky as that is. However, you figure you can still make an electronic donation to Trinity Presbyterian and so you pull up the website and click on the "Tithes and offerings" link. But after entering your information, a message shows up on your laptop: "Visa no longer completes transactions with this organization." Your church has been cancelled.
While we should never obsess over politics, we need to realize that elections and policies do have real world consequences. We need to do everything we can to preserve our liberties -- though I am not nearly as confident as people like David French that the bulwark of religious carve outs that we have enjoyed for a while will hold up under the coming assault. After all, why should society grant special favors and exemptions to Christians after determining we are bigots? In particular, we need to address our greatest area of vulnerability which is probably our dependence on the Silicon Valley tech and social media empires, especially as they join forces with the new Democrat regime. We need to do everything we can to prevent the awesome surveillance power available to the state from being used against us in ways that violate our basic rights. I do not know how we can un-digitize our lives at this point unless we go full Amish. But having a digital life leaves us very vulnerable if the firewall of the Bill of Rights gets broken through. Considering that possibility is no longer the stuff of dystopian fantasy; it is a realistic possibility if we cannot figure out a way to reclaim at least some political power for conservatives and traditionalists, or build alternative institutions and platforms to those that threaten to delete us. We can lament the deep divisions that exist within our nation (making it well-nigh ungovernable) and we can lament the way those divisions are now being reflected in the evangelical church (to the point that makes one wonder if evangelicalism will be replaced by newly emerging movements), but none of that changes the harsh realities of our situation. We cannot drop out of society, including politics, and we cannot bury our head in the sand, hoping things will get better without intense effort from our side. To fight a culture war requires a culture, so let's build one. Now.
Second, while we must keep fighting the culture war, we have to commit even more to fighting the war behind the culture war. This is the spiritual battle described in Ephesians 6. We need to fight with prayer and preaching, psalms and hymns, baptism and the Eucharist, fellowship and discipline. We are not fighting human enemies. We are fighting powers of darkness that hold people in bondage, that turn rulers into dictators, that blind smart people to obvious realities. Unless we fight on the spiritual plane with the full arsenal of weapons God has given us, we are going to continue to falter. Of course, this also means pursuing personal and vocational holiness; making sure our own houses are in order and prepared as much as possible; and making ourselves as indispensable as possible to our workplace and the marketplace by doing our daily work with uncommon excellence. This could also include practical actions, like churches setting funds aside to help fellow believers who get cancelled because they stand for biblical morality in public or at work.
Fighting spiritual battles can be counter-intuitive. For example, one of the best ways to fight is by loving our enemies, including our political enemies. Enemy love is one the weapons Jesus has given us. Loving them certainly includes speaking truth boldly to them. But it also means avoiding a lot of the unnecessary name calling and cruelty that accompanies politics, particularly in a social media age. Our job is to proclaim truth and apply the Scriptures to the issues of the day. We should do so in ways that aim to actually persuade any who are willing to listen, not reinforce the echo chambers of those who already agree with us.
Third, we must make sure we are firm in the Bible's teaching on sex and sexuality. The great battlefield today is the sexual revolution -- and the sexual relativism it has brought with it. Sometimes this has been called pomosexuality -- it is the sexual chaos that arises from rejecting God's creational design and the inscripturated laws he has given us to help us fulfill that design. Chesterton said that when people stop believing in God, the next thing they lose is common sense. That is exactly what we are seeing happen. We live in a nation that is celebrating a woman Vice President at the same time it is telling us there is no such thing, objectively speaking, as a woman. The world really does not care if we talk (foolishly in their eyes) about Jesus' resurrection or justification by faith. What they care about is what we have to say about manhood and womanhood, sex and marriage, homosexuality and transgenderism. That's the battle field, which means these are now "gospel issues" whether we think they should be or not. We need to fight accordingly -- and fighting well is going to require us to understand both the biblical rules and the creational reasons for those rules. It is not enough in 2021 to preach the gospel, narrowly considered; rather, we must preach the whole counsel of God, in all its breadth and depth, including those teachings that the culture around us finds most offensive.
Finally, we must prepare ourselves to suffer. Here I would point you in a positive way to Dreher's Live Not By Lies. While Dreher may be even more pessimistic than I am, his book gives a helpful overview of how we can expect persecution in the West against the church to unfold. While there are a lot of analogies between what is happening in our nation and what happened in Russia and Eastern European nations that fell into communism, we are not likely to be taken away to gulags in the middle of the night. Instead expect something like the Chinese social credit system, in which they bleed you to death with a thousand paper cuts. Christians will slowly find themselves squeezed out of more and more of the cultural, political, economic, and educational opportunities in our nation. Life will be hard and frustrating. Our standard of living will likely diminish. We will pay a price for holding convictions that get us branded as bigots and haters. Many of our brothers in evangelical and Reformed churches will not be able to take the heat and will crumble, perhaps even turning against us. Because of misguided empathy and a desire to maintain respectability, many are already susceptible to caving in, e.g., if calling homosexual practice a sin is said to harm people, they will simply stop saying it because they are so afraid of any kind of conflict. Many will too easily accommodate themselves to progressive demands rather than suffer for the beliefs. We are already seeing how quickly once conservative Christians can adopt leftish views in order to avoid causing any offense. All that to say: We must brace ourselves and our children for suffering. Prepare for impact because we are on a collision course with the powers that be. But we should not just sit by idly and await whatever fate the progressives have planned for those who refuse to conform to their ideology. In the meantime, we should urge men, especially officers, in our churches, to boldly proclaim truth. We need manly voices to raise up the standard of God's truth. We need men with grit and toughness leading our churches, men whom others will follow into battle because that's where we are headed. We need to take to heart Flannery O'Connor's insightful reworking of Romans 12:1-2: "Push back against the world as hard as it pushes against you."
Whatever the immediate future holds, we know God's ultimate plan. Victory is assured to the church because the church belongs to Christ and he has already won the great triumph. The leftists will not decide who is on the right side of history. That has already been determined: Those who stand with Jesus stand on the right of history and the right side of eternity. But we also know that the church's share in Christ's victory also requires us to share in his sufferings. This is God's pattern: we will suffer and serve our way to victory.