The civil war ended when?
Here’s polarisation: Brittany McComb strays from a previously vetted text at her high school graduation, mentions Jesus and they cut the mike on her. What on earth is that about, from both sides of the argument? I’d say the girl was being pig-headed, as teenagers often are, I’d say the school authorities were being legalistic and ham-fisted and for crying out loud we are talking about a speech of 750 words! In England she’d have got away with it, at least as many of those present would have thought she was a nutter as would have admired her faith, and then - no story, never mind national headlines. In America “liberals burn a witch”, according to Ann Coulter. That’s not the language of debate. There’s a war going on here.
Here’s polarisation: the American Family Association calls for a boycott of the Ford Motor Company because it’s been placing adverts in gay/lesbian publications that might well give offence - excuse my English spelling - to people not of that orientation. So .... how come the AFA saw them in the first place? Do they subscribe to magazines like that? Are they looking for a fight, or what? On the other hand, AFA showed the adverts to me and, yep, they’re offensive all right, obviously meant to be. So what is the Ford Motor Company playing at? They’re looking for a fight as well. Perhaps they reckon they can make AFA look like narrow-minded bigots, but what has that to do with selling cars? This is not advertising, this is culture warfare.
Fundamentalists don’t like abortion, but since when were liberals keen on it? Liberal Christians certainly have no business being so: pro-choice does not mean pro-abortion! Surely any decision to terminate a pregnancy is regrettable and often tragic, and all steps to bring the numbers down - better sex education, help with adoption and so on - should be supported by all Christians. But in America it’s the conservatives shouting pro-life and progressives hollering back pro-choice, it’s keep Roe vs Wade or rescind Roe vs Wade; the only people who stand to benefit from a change in the law would be lawyers, prosecuting and defending all the desperate women who had their terminations carried out illegally - isn’t America already notorious for its litigious tendencies?
In this context, there’s little chance of a fair hearing over the issue that I focus on: creationism vs evolution. In England the consensus among Christians is overwhelmingly for theistic evolution.
In the US my sense is less of enthusiasm for the extreme young-earth position, which seems to be on the wane now, as of deep hostility to everything that “Darwin” seems to represent. However, in the context of the culture war, there doesn’t seem to be much scope for the Right to acknowledge that evolution might be the best explanatory framework available to make sense of human origins; to admit this would be to concede a major victory to the despised liberals. I made a decision early on in my sabbatical not to get drawn into the ID debate, largely because it has yet to surface in Britain at all: I cannot name a single British enthusiast for the view. But here’s my perception of it in America: liberals won’t give ID advocates the benefit of the doubt as philosophers because of who they are all too visibly in bed with politically, and ID advocates don’t trust liberals to give them a fair hearing. I wonder why?
I think I would want to urge this: liberals and conservatives need to call it victory not when they score points off each other but when they find common ground. Conservatives hate pornography; but no decent liberal should defend it either, so let’s talk together tracing about its sources, exposing its promoters, explaining why it’s damaging and dehumanising. Let’s acknowledge that the homosexuality debate is so savagely polarised it might be best if we all walked away from it for a while and concentrated on pro-family policies where there’s a chance we might agree some priorities - encouraging adoption instead of abortion would be an obvious one in the UK context, I don’t know if that’s true here. And above all let’s get away from this situation whereby one side won’t touch an issue because it’s associated with the other side’s agenda - so fundamentalists (I’m told) steer away from environmental issues because they are what liberals get worked up about; and liberals don’t seem too worried about violence in the media because that’s a conservative preoccupation. Of course, I’m coming at all this from a British context where the Church as a whole is so weak that we can’t afford the cultural in-fighting in which Americans seem to revel. Plus, our civil war was much longer ago. But I would plead as a pastor for US Christians to spend more time peacemaking and much less crusading against their neighbours.