Here’s a plot for your summer movie: Travelers take a trip together, but each one trusts a different map. The film might be a comedy, but it could be a tragedy, a thriller or even a bro-mance. For sure, it would be chaotic and contentious. And don’t bet on the travelers reaching their destination.
Whatever the genre, that movie provides a metaphor for America heading into a long, hot summer.
We agree we’ve lost our way. But we can’t concur on where we are, much less how to get where we’re going and which map to follow.
The situation is vexing. If you listen, you can hear the acute angst of Christians who read the Bible as their life map. They fail to attract a broader following for two reasons.
First, a wide swath of Americans don’t believe the Bible is authoritative. Quoting Scripture influences them neither a jot nor a tittle. This thinking surfaces in a Slate.com article, “The real reason the Religious Right opposes trans equality. (It isn’t bathroom predators.).”
Describing an Association of Certified Biblical Counselors conference, columnist Mark Joseph Stern reports: “Men must be men, and women must be women …. Any transgression, such as sex reassignment or gender nonconformity, must be condemned as contrary to Christianity, the Bible, Jesus Christ, and God. We’ve heard this song before, of course: Explicitly religious opposition to homosexuality fueled America’s anti-gay hysteria through the 1990s.”
Appeals to the Bible do not convince people who do not accept it as God’s word. In fact, those appeals often repel adversaries who write the Bible off as ancient superstition.
Second, Christians who believe in and revere the Bible equally often cite it to support opposing positions.
The Bible doesn’t necessarily contradict itself. But its 66 books—written across hundreds of years, both before and after Jesus’ incarnation—emphasize a variety of themes, issues and behaviors. Its newest passages are about 2,000 years old, so it does not address myriad contemporary issues.
Consequently, Bible believers affiliate with both major political parties. Some Christians choose to be Democrats and others Republicans specifically because of what the Bible teaches. That’s shocking for partisans, but it’s true.
That infuriates folks who favor simple solutions to complex problems. But it provides hope for others who take comfort in the wideness of God’s mercy.
If the Bible doesn’t provide a social/political GPS that overrides all other maps—how do Christians go about influencing culture? Several thoughts:
• Don’t count the Bible out. It’s an ancient, sacred text. Some non-Christians respect its wisdom. People of other faiths who revere their scriptures can appreciate Christians’ holy text. And many people who don’t follow Jesus as their Savior still respect his teachings.
Cite Scripture. Just don’t expect it will settle every argument.
• Think critically; argue rationally. Logic and common sense carry weight with people who value reason. Christians who deliver strong arguments built on reason can find common ground with them. We must affirm common ground wherever we find it.
Begin and end with reason. Adversaries may be unimpressed by Christian reasoning’s biblical basis, but reason does not undermine that foundation.
• Do solid research. Argue social issues based upon empirical fact, which can be documented.
For example, Stern, the Slate columnist, discounts Christians’ claim that allowing transgendered people in “opposite”-sex restrooms is dangerous. If the claim is true, back it up. If it’s not, don’t lie.
• Speak for the greater good. Christians must advocate the well-being of all people. Jesus said we would be judged by how we treat “the least,” so we must protect minorities and the vulnerable.
Rather than succumbing to polarization, we should create win-win solutions that respect all people and provide freedom for majorities and minorities alike.
• Build relationships. Friendships based upon common knowledge and trust are the best hope for bridging chasms of division. We can listen to adversaries, understand all perspectives and honor shared interests.
Jesus defined “neighbor” by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. If a Samaritan could care for and protect a Jew, then Christians can demonstrate care for people of other faiths and no faith.