How Can We Forgive Our Cultural Opponents?

Jim Denison | Denison Forum on Truth and Culture | Tuesday, May 10, 2022
How Can We Forgive Our Cultural Opponents?

How Can We Forgive Our Cultural Opponents?


Former Alabama corrections officer Vicky White has died from self-inflicted injuries after she and escaped inmate Casey White were arrested in Indiana yesterday. The dictator Ferdinand Marcos was ousted from power in the Philippines in 1986; yesterday, his son was elected president. And the Pulitzer Prize Board honored the journalists of Ukraine with a special citation for their “courage, endurance, and commitment to truthful reporting.”

Meanwhile, here’s a story you may have missed: Taco Bell held its first “drag brunch” on May 1 at a restaurant in Las Vegas. The tour will be coming next to Chicago, Nashville, New York City, and Fort Lauderdale. According to a company press release, the idea came from members of Taco Bell’s LGBTQIA+ employee resource group.

We should not be surprised. The New York Times reports that “employee activism” is “a cultural phenomenon [demanding] that business leaders not only take a strong, public stand on a political issue—something companies assiduously avoided in previous decades—but also take real action.”

Now, according to the article, the abortion issue making headlines due to the recent Supreme Court leak is “likely to generate a wave of employee activism that dwarf[s] anything that [has] come before.”

How Roe v. Wade poisoned our political culture

Why is this issue so divisive?

Ross Douthat is a columnist for the New York Times and one of my favorite cultural analysts. In “How Roe Warped the Republic,” he notes that when seven Supreme Court justices overturned the nation’s abortion laws in 1973, they “nationalized abortion politics in a very specific way, removing most abortion regulation from the realm of legislative debate and linking it to the court itself and the office of the presidency.”

As a result, “instead of being fought over in the institutions that are designed to channel mass opinion and activist mobilization into stable settlements—whether state legislatures or the Congress—abortion would be bound to the all-or-nothing outcomes of presidential elections and Supreme Court nomination fights.”

Consequently, the abortion issue is the issue for many voters. Our nation is now divided into fiercely pro-life and pro-choice camps. In a democracy designed with checks and balances and dependent on compromise for the sake of the common good, our political culture has been poisoned as a result.

When Paul was stoned and left for dead

Yesterday we discussed the need for Christians to forgive others “as the Lord has forgiven you” (Colossians 3:13). How does this imperative work in our larger cultural engagement?

Acts 14 finds Paul in the town of Lystra in present-day Turkey. I visited the site some years ago, and I was moved by the courageous compassion the apostle demonstrated powerfully here.

The people of Lystra were initially so impressed by Paul’s speaking ability that they called him “Hermes” (v. 12; this was their messenger god). However, when Paul’s opponents arrived and persuaded the crowds, “they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead” (v. 19).

Then, “when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and entered the city” (v. 20a). Paul had every reason to forsake Lystra—if they tried to kill him once, they could do so again. They clearly did not deserve to hear more of the gospel he came to preach. However, he returned to the very people who had tried to kill him and stayed with them until “the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe” (v. 20b).

How to "form a new community"

Here’s what I think Paul would say to us about forgiving our cultural opponents: go to them. Pay the price to build relationships through which you can speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). The more they reject your faith, the more they need your faith. The darker the room, the more urgent and powerful the light.

In Out of Solitude, Henri Nouwen reminds us that we are all broken people. We are all sinners, though we do not all sin in the same way. For example, I am convinced that life begins at conception and that abortion on demand is deeply immoral. However, pro-choice advocates are just as loved by God as I am. They and I are part of the same human race. They need the same grace of God I have experienced.

Nouwen therefore advises us, “By the honest recognition and confession of our human sameness, we can participate in the care of the God who came, not to the powerful but to the powerless, not to be different but to be the same, not to take away our pain but to share it. Through this participation, we can open our hearts to each other and form a new community.” (For more, please see my reflections on Nouwen’s classic on my personal blog.)

If you’re living in Lystra, you are called to love the people of Lystra. You are called to forgive them where needed and to seek their forgiveness where needed. The more they persecute you, the more they need your intercession and your love (Matthew 5:44).

The minister to lepers who died of leprosy

Let’s close with a powerful example.

The Catholic Church commemorates today the life and legacy of Father Damien. He came to Hawaii as a young missionary and spent the last sixteen years of his life voluntarily living in the leprosy colony on the island of Molokai.

In 1885, Father Damien began to show signs of leprosy himself. Rather than seeking to withdraw from the colony or blaming those from whom he contracted the disease, he continued to minister to them. He hurried to complete his many building projects, enlarge his orphanages, and organize his work. His body ravaged inside and out by leprosy, Father Damien died three years later at the age of forty-nine.

I know of no one who followed more fully the example of the One who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

It has been said that the best way to know if you’re a servant is to see how you respond to people who treat you like one.

Will you be a servant today?

Publication date: May 10, 2022

Photo courtesy: ©GettyImages/PeopleImages

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect those of Christian Headlines.

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