I am tired of culture wars. I’m weary of conflicted opinions fueled by endless anger, contested worldviews excluding each other, and confrontational ideologies as the default of public discourse encountering disagreement.

Susan Harding coined the phrase “repugnant cultural other.” It is a neat and ugly description of that process of demonizing the other and misrepresenting the argument.

The phrase identifies the refusal to understand the person, and the evacuation of empathy and compassion the better to wound and reject those who think differently, live differently and are different and, therefore, a threat to the way we want the world to be.

As if who and what we are is the norm to be imposed by some form of imperial imposition by the loudest voices and most ruthless strategists.

Culture war is a battle for the supremacy of one viewpoint over others, a refusal of tolerance, often accompanied by a self-righteous claim to truth and right.

Tolerance is not weakness if it is holding to our own convictions while doing our best to listen, understand and respect the convictions of others. Intolerance is not always strength; most times it is insecurity with the volume turned up.

Peacemaking is a call to repent of all that. Not just be sorry for waging war on our own behalf, but to turn away from the very concept of culture as a war.

But turn towards what? How about turning away from culture war towards the counter-cultural kingdom Jesus came to announce, inaugurate and demonstrate in his own ministry?

If repentance is a change of direction, then continually and faithfully, I am called to a determined turning away from that inner violence that sees the world as a battlefield, and towards that inner orientation to the peacemaking God.

For the avoidance of doubt, Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9).

And in case we miss it, Jesus also said: ” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).

Then there’s this. Jesus’ most ardent follower was once his sworn enemy. Paul waged his own culture war against followers of the Nazarene. Until, that is, he met the Nazarene called Jesus.

Blinded by hatred and his own impeccable sense of being right, Paul was even more and literally blinded by the dazzling intensity of the risen Jesus asking him what the hell he thought he was doing! Hate and hell are siblings.

Twenty years later Paul wrote this, unmistakably based on what Jesus said: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:18-21).

Oh, I know. Jesus wasn’t slow to confront, to contradict, to contest. Gentle Jesus meek and mild is an image of hymn-book imagination. And Paul could also rage and engage in culture war tactics, this time on the side of Jesus and in Jesus’ name.

But, alongside all the confrontational episodes in Paul’s letters, are the ethical constraints which draw their power and motivation from God’s love revealed in the crucified Christ, which triumphs in the life-giving life of the risen Lord and is made effective by the Spirit in the life of the Christian community which is the Body of Christ called to embody the reconciling love of God.

First Corinthians 13 is not a nice wee poem about being nice to people; it is a call to a life-discipline of peacemaking by being someone for whom love is the primary norm in following Jesus.

The fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22 are not unattainable ideals, nor are they a warm and pious wish list; they are the natural outgrowth of walking in the Spirit of Jesus, the shaping of the character towards Christ-likeness.

Philippians 2:5-11 describes the self-giving love of one who was in his very nature God, who emptied himself, took on human form and became obedient to the point of death on the cross. This is not a call to follow Jesus’ example of utter self-emptying and self-giving love. How could it be?

It’s actually part of an argument for peacemaking in the community that is the Body of Christ: “Let this mind-set be yours which was also in Christ Jesus. … Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves.”

Which brings us back to the Sermon on the Mount with its call to enter the Kingdom of God, to live by the values of that kingdom, to hear and obey the words of Jesus and live differently, counter-culturally and alternatively to the power games, anxious possessiveness and competitive rivalries of the prevailing culture which by and large, “doesn’t do God.”

Blessed are the spiritually hungry, the sorrowing, the meek, the hungry and thirsty, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, the persecuted. These are not the characteristics of the culture warrior, the keyboard warrior, the insecure and intolerant who needs an enemy in order to have an identity over and against this “other.”

I’m trying to explain what I think and how I feel in the divisive acrimony that has become our established civic and political style. I’m calling into question our way of confronting real and deep issues of cultural health – such as:

  • How we treat other people, human like us, who land on our shores in small boats.
  • How we are unable to discuss all too human experiences such as those raised by human sexuality and gender identity.
  • How, far too often, in too many places, we fail to welcome and embrace difference and diversity in the tribes and languages and peoples and nations and cultures and races that make up the human world (see Revelation 5:9-10).
  • How we address the effects of climate change without polarization and paralysis caused by greed, fear, ignorance, denial, and without allowing the loudest most powerful voices to silence the cries of those whose human future depends on the decisions made by the powerful.

So, I go back to the teachings of Jesus, and the wisdom of the Son of God – about loving my neighbor because I love God, about being a peacemaker like God, and about praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10).

I, for one, can’t combine the mindset of the culture warrior with the mindset of the ambassador of Christ entrusted with such a ministry of reconciliation. And I have no intention of resigning my ambassadorship.

Why? Because “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself not counting people’s sins against them. … we are Christ’s ambassadors as though God were making his appeal through us” (2 Corinthians 5:19, 20).

Reconciliation is the identity recognition barcode of those who represent Christ in the arenas where culture wars take place.

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared on Gordon’s blog, Living Wittily. It is used with permission.

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