Back in the day, I spent about seven years living in one of America’s most comically liberal cities. It wasn’t Portland, but it was very much like Portland. It even had the same slogans about keeping the city weird and citizens affectionately referring to it as a “people’s republic.”
While I’m happy to be living somewhere saner now, it was still a positive experience. For one thing, it made me comfortable being controversial. As a conservative Christian, I essentially had no choice in the matter. After all, merely thinking that parents should at least be notified when their 12-year-old has an abortion would have been considered too right wing by many of the residents. Learning to take it in stride when I upset people didn’t take too long.
But other learning experiences came when I returned to the Midwest and actually experienced mild culture shock. The first time I pulled into a gas station near my next home and heard explicitly Christian music playing on the loudspeaker, I actually felt offended. This was in public, not in Church! What was wrong with them? I had the same feeling when I walked into a public hospital (built by Seventh Day Adventists) and saw murals of the six days of creation in the lobby. And there have certainly been other weird reasons for offense. For example, when I eventually moved out into the country, I once saw a neighbor walking down our dirt road with a rifle on his shoulder. How could somebody just casually stroll around with a deadly weapon like that?
These feelings were only momentary. They might have been very unusual sights and sounds to me at the time, but I quickly remembered that I was a actually a Christian or actually a Second Amendment supporter and realized that I had no good reason to be outraged. But my own knee-jerk reactions still bothered me. It took less than a decade of living “abroad” for me to be programmed to take mild offense at good and positive things.
It’s sad how easily the world can shape us, but for the time being, we have nowhere else to live. That’s why we must continually ask ourselves this question: Who told us to be offended?
Sometimes it is God who explicitly inclines us towards offense. Offense, outrage, and hatred are all on the same spectrum; and as I’ve written before, even hatred can be a Christian’s job. One cannot help but think of men like Christ and even Phineas whose zeal for God required outrage at the evils they witnessed. Clearly, like hatred, outrage is sometimes our business–a matter of vocation. Parents’ outrage over pedophiles grooming their children, for example, proceeds directly from the Fourth Commandment. Likewise, outrage over the way one’s people are being treated proceeds from our God-given responsibilities to our respective nations. Clearly, there is a time and a place to take offense: when God’s Law is being violated within our own domains.
But at the same time, being offended has become a way of life in America. Fueled by our civilization’s breakdown and facilitated by the nature of social media, outrage is simply the air many of us breathe. We are quite willing to act on our outrage, but very often, our offense proceeds from the Spirit of the Age rather than the Holy Spirit. Accordingly, when we continually feel offense welling up within us over some issue or another, we must remember our vulnerability and compare our standards to God’s–both through His Word and through natural law–to see how we measure up. Inevitably, we find that most of the world’s sacred cows were never established by God.
So what typically outrages Americans the most? In other words, what drives ordinary Americans to vehemently condemn their neighbors to the point of choosing to personally inflict punishment? Cancel culture has made the identities of our little tin gods quite clear.
Racism is probably the most obvious example. And yet, the leading experts on racism reliably inform me that it’s a matter of privilege–being born white in a civilization built by whites to the advantage of their white children. But there is no sin in being born a specific race in a specific place. What’s more, building an inheritance for your children–privileging them–is a Biblical command. And while conservatives love to appeal to “real” racism, that’s a pretty absurd approach to a neologism with less than a century under its belt. There are sins that can be justly called racist, but that’s not the same thing as racism being a sin. When in doubt, the rule of thumb is that if you cannot convincingly explain why something is sinful without resorting to the word “racist,” it’s not really sinful.
Sexism is another ubiquitous example, but it should be even more obvious to Christians that sexism is by no means a sin. It’s an even more recent neologism that has no weight outside of 20th century egalitarianism. God’s Word, however, is anything but egalitarian. God even explicitly and repeatedly requires sexism in some of the most important areas of life. When our feminist culture complains that the Bible is a sexist document, we shouldn’t attempt to affirm their terminology by explaining why it’s not. Rather, we should be forthright that men and women are not the same and ought not be treated the same.
And, of course, we cannot forget Liberal Democracy and its pantheon: equality, democracy, The Science, secularism, and so forth. All these things are (at best) tools with specific advantages and disadvantages. But anyone who points out the latter and considers using different tools knows how quickly one is accused of blasphemy. Even pointing out the failures of election integrity is ironically enough to make one an “enemy of democracy.” What the so-called Enlightenment presented to us as servants have instead become our masters.
These are the kinds of idolatries which fuel most of our outrage, but they do not proceed from God’s word or from natural law. And they suffuse our entire culture. Do not think that just because you are Christian or conservative that you are somehow immune to the world’s discipleship. Indeed, sometimes the worst offenders are conservative Christians desperate to prove to the world that they’re on its side–that they’re not one of those Christians.
You will know them by the way they dialogue. Many Christian conservatives will eagerly be winsome bridge-builders with anyone living in open sin by Biblical standards. After all, they would not want to appear as Pharisees. However, they will only do so when the sinners belong to culturally esteemed groups (sexual perverts, vehemently anti-Christian academics, etc). When it comes to our society’s true lepers and tax collectors, they make sure everyone knows how much distance they maintain. When the world’s standards rather than God’s standards are at stake, they will no longer risk such impious association with sinners. Sometimes, they will even eagerly serve as the world’s enforcers to maintain their reputations.
It’s easy to make these kinds of mistakes from time to time. Any of us can be lax and let bad company corrupt good character. Any of us can be self-righteous and lose an opportunity to serve a fellow sinner out of a false sense of piety. However, when you see that same pattern of steadfastly adhering to worldly standards while never sweating God’s, one can only conclude that such men are acting as foot soldiers of the Devil rather than as faithful Christians.
So beware. Don’t ignore your outrage, for your instincts and intuitions were given to you for a reason. But allow your sensibilities be cultivated by God’s Word instead of abandoning them to the world’s discipline. When your God-given vocation requires your outrage, don’t wait for society’s permission to take action–Jesus certainly didn’t. But when it is only the this world and its Prince who require it, stay your hand. And when you see men who call you brother allying themselves with the world against you, learn to love them as enemies rather than as friends.