Looking at social media and the current culture wars I see a number of people talking about being offended. I find it especially sad that those posting memes with taglines like, “What are we going to be offended by today?” are also often the ones up in arms because pancake mix was re-branded. Right now it would be very easy for me to go off on a rant about how silly it is to be upset that a company changed the name on a box, but even there it would be wrong. Just because that particular issue causes no friction with me does not mean I can undermine it. I have been in several discussions on a variety of hot-button issues and I have realized one thing we are (all of us, including myself) easily offended when the right subjects are discussed. As much as people like to post things saying, “Can’t we all just get along?” the honest answer is that it is extremely difficult. The very title “culture wars” shows how much disagreement can exist between two groups in this country. We have serious differences as people and cultures. Sunday morning has been called the most segregated time in America. The reason is often that people want a deeply personal religious experience and so they retreat into the familiar comfort of their home culture. (One of these days I will come back to this.) This segregation highlights how many differences there are in our culture.
Where these differences rub up against each other we are going to have friction, and the heat of that friction causes us offense. I am going to be offended by some changes in the larger culture because I am going to feel as if my subculture is threatened or being attacked. I remember there was a controversy over the song “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. Some saw the song in the context of 1950’s America not realizing lines like, “What’s in this drink?” have a far more sinister meaning in the life of a 21st century single woman. Why, because to some that line has a far different meaning within the context of two lovers enjoying an evening. The rub between these sub-cultures is real and causes friction in the larger American culture.
As I write this, racial issues seem to dominate the cultural rub (though there are many other concerns as well). The treatment of statues and the name “Columbus” are two such issues. Why, because as with the song and the pancake mix these symbols have different meanings for different groups within our country. Some of these meanings are only slightly different and some are radically different. The true dilemma is that I am not sure American culture has an answer to this friction other than one group dominating another.
But these same issues sparked Paul to write several of his letters. We see Paul address these kinds of friction in memorable verses.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:28-29
And much of 1 Corinthians is addressing the various frictions within that community caused by different subcultures coming together to worship Jesus. The metaphor of the family used again and again in the New Testament is a reminder that we are brought together with different backgrounds and we are going to be offended by one another, but we must commit to working through our problems to a higher goal.
I look around at Christians offended by the changes or lack of change in American culture and I cannot help thinking about how this person would handle this friction in the church. Sadly, I think often we handle issues in the church the same way secular society handles these issues either through dominance or segregation. Neither of these is the way of Jesus.
When I take offense at an issue, which happens more than I care to admit, I must first stop and recognize what is happening. I must look for the friction between myself and another culture. I must resist the urge to act out in anger. I must engage the other person is true dialogue, recognizing that if this person is a Christian then we are family and I can even be vulnerable. And we must discuss the friction between us and how we are going to reach agreement. Like I said, I do not know if this can happen in modern America, America is not a family. Right now America seems to represent a loose association of people united by economic interest and that will never last. But the Church is different and we should be able to model how to react to actions and attitudes of our brothers and sisters which we find offensive.