Sunday, June 06, 2010

Engaging contemporary society

Christians Engaging Society
By Ben KC Lee
Monday, Jun. 8, 2009

Lobby groups promote their agenda in the public square. Some push whilst others are militant. The term "culture war" describes the clash of values and worldviews. We see this conflict between conservatives and liberals. For instance, "Don't judge" has become a slogan to avoid facing the issue of right and wrong and used to allow a tacit acceptance of a moral wrong like cloning or prostitution in modern culture.

It seems that each generation of Christians struggle with the relationship between their faith and culture. We try to make sense of what Jesus said, “Be in the world, but not of the world.” How do we tackle issues of the day in a civil society? Here are some ways we can effectively engage.

First, pray continually. Bless the city. Stand in the gap. Pray over the city together with other churches in the city. Prayer leads to action. God's Word also calls us to intercede for those in authority (I Tim. 2:1-2). Ask God to give wisdom to our leaders often besieged by pressure groups. We pray also because the issue of the day cannot be separated by the spiritual issue that accompanies it. Call out to God to intervene. Continuous fasting and intercession leads to community transformation (2 Chro. 7:14).

Engage with a compassionate attitude. Participate in nation building. Serve the poor and those who need help. Bring forth Christ's character in society (Rom. 12:21). This is different from promoting harsh attacks or quick judgments on the culture. This is to go beyond moralising. After all, we don't have a monopoly on values or on morality. We are called to make a difference in society and this will primarily come by example. The call to be salt and light is not a moral assault on society but a call to be distinctive. For example, one of the best weapons against open marriage or sexual perversion in society is a happy marriage.

Get trained to articulate a relevant and convincing apologetic in the public square (I Pet. 3:15). Churches need to equip members with the ethical tools, thinking skills and Biblical perspectives to address contemporary issues rather than dismissing cultural forms we dislike based on hearsay mentality.

Here are key Biblical perspectives to emphasise for those who equip others:
a) We can confuse doing good in the world with making the world good. We can’t make the world good with legislation. The world needs to encounter Christ.
b) Our enemies are principalities and powers in high places rather than flesh and blood. The enemy is not the anarchists, homosexual lobby or the licentious.
c) There is a balance between religious and secular values. Ours is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. If laws are based on one religion, it creates a problem with citizens of other faiths. Laws should accommodate diversity in culture, ethnicity and religion. The spirit of the law should respect pluralism and protect citizens from moral decadence. Ours is a secular democracy. Legally, religion is supposed to stay out politics. Biblical values can be present in all aspects of life without shifting to theocracy.

We have an obligation to speak prophetically about the issues of the day. Confront moral indifference. Here are some crucial issues. There are displaced people due to war and natural disasters. There are child labour, child prostitution and child soldiers. There is debt bondage where poor governments have to make large cash payments on foreign debt. There is lack of economic justice. There are sanctity of human life issues such as abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research. There is no religious freedom in many countries. Standing against injustice, exclusion and oppression requires courage but we do it (Mk. 9:50).

Finally, stress universal values which must find expression in national policies if society is to survive. Ask, "What is good for our community?" Express the view with concern about the health of people in our community and the kind of environment we desire to foster for fellow citizens (Mic. 6:8). We ought to have a community that represents a certain standard of dignity. This doesn't emphasise any partisan "morality". When speaking in the public square regarding cultural and social issues, start with the common good argument and then work from there. Come from the perspective of the public good. Engage culture with traditional virtues. Virtues always lead us to higher ground. One traditional virtue is that marriage has been between a man and a woman for all time, in all cultures, religions and civilisations. This is why we encourage natural, traditional marriage.

Engagement is clearly a Christian mandate (Jer. 29). We are empowered by the Spirit and released to live out our faith where we are. We certainly can’t engage without involvement. Society will feel the consequences if Christians sit out.

This article first appeared in The Christian Post Singapore. Online:

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