Yesterday, Kevin DeYoung published a blog post called It’s Time for a New Culture War Strategy. Let me say from the start that I haven't met DeYoung personally, but hope to one day as I've appreciated his writings and sermons. I respect his scholarship and even quote him more than once in my upcoming book, Messy Truth. With that said, I was troubled by his post and wanted to share why. Before we go further, I think it's only fair to share some context.
On June 15 the Supreme Court published their 6-3 ruling on Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia. Basically, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 states that employees and potential employees can't be discriminated against as a result of their race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. Previously, the word "sex" hasn't been defined. However, in the Court's 6-3 ruling, the Court defined "sex" as including sexual orientation and gender identity (1). In other words, it protects LGBTQ individuals from employment discrimination.
In the blog post, DeYoung laments both the Court's ruling and conservative politicians' support of the ruling. He maintains that Christians should engage every arena of society rather than retreat. DeYoung then reveals his new culture war strategy:
"Here’s a culture war strategy conservative Christians should get behind: have more children and disciple them like crazy. Strongly consider having more children than you think you can handle" (2).
I read those two sentences more than once, grabbed a Diet Coke, read them again, and still wondered... What just happened? Ever seen the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark of the Covenant is opened and melts everyone's face? Watch that scene to get an idea of how I felt reading those two sentences.
On one hand, I agree with what Kaitlyn Schiess' wrote about DeYoung's blog post: "The family of God, radically redefined against ethnic, biological, and national boundaries, can change the world far more than the pragmatic political strategy DeYoung references in the beginning of the article" (3). While she and I were disturbed about some of the same things in the post, I appreciated his immense support of family (we'll come back to this in a second).
On the other hand, after reading DeYoung's sentences a few times, I realized why the article annoyed me. Personally, I believe the missing element was.... love and empathy. Love and empathy go hand-in-hand. One can't exist without the other. For the purposes of this post, when I write "empathy" I'm referring to love as well.
Empathy is acknowledging someone's reality or experience. It's being fully present in the moment and validating an individual's hurt, suffering, discouragement, etc. There's no requirement to affirm the other person's ideas, opinions, politics, relationships, actions, or decisions. Empathy is loving someone despite disagreements... loving that person no matter who they are, what they've done, what they believe, what decisions they've made, or where they are in life. You can't walk a mile in someone's shoes (have the same exact experiences they've had), but you can journey with them.
Empathy isn't walking a mile in someone's shoes, but walking miles next to them.
Empathy involves listening more than speaking. It's others-focused. In 1 Corinthians 9:19-23, Paul admits to being a HUGE proponent of empathy:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Empathy is meeting people where they are despite any theological differences. Though DeYoung and I would agree that God designed sexual intimacy to be expressed in a marriage between a man and woman, we might differ on the need to display empathy. There are several times in DeYoung's post where empathy is missing. How can we develop this kind of loving empathy?
Empathy Doesn't Categorize
Besides having seen him before, here's how I know DeYoung is a man-- very few women would encourage women to experience labor after labor after labor after labor after labor for the ultimate goal of winning "the culture war." LOL!!! I mean, come on! A dude had to make such a suggestion. Empathy asks, "If I were a woman, would I want to make such a statement?"
$100 says that if men were the ones getting pregnant, the human population would be MUCH lower than it is right now!
But hey, I digress!
Besides the two sentences that I referred to earlier, near the end of his post, DeYoung also states: "The future belongs to the fecund." In other words, the future belongs to the fertile. Really? Seriously? How should infertile couples interpret such a statement? What should single and celibate individuals believe about themselves after reading that statement? What about couples that are trying to adopt but cannot or are having issue after issue as they try to adopt?
So, full disclosure--my wife and I struggled medically with having children. We ended up going to an infertility doctor and had the two children we're blessed with today. Our decision to be parents wasn't to "win a culture war" but was based on our mutual conviction that God wanted us to have children. Having kids to win the "culture war" is a ridiculous idea. It prioritizes an awkward reason for having children. Now, there's nothing wrong with having a lot of kids. I have friends who have many kids and I love their families! Praise God for them!! However, while the New Testament authors wrote about raising children well and godly parenting, I don't remember Jesus, Paul, or anyone else suggesting large families as a strategy to overcome their culture.
The idea of having children to change culture communicates an "us versus them" attitude. DeYoung probably didn't mean to insinuate as much, his blog post could be interpreted as promoting a "let's breed out the opposition" mentality. It unintentionally fosters a clear definition of who the future does NOT belong to (those who aren't fertile). Thus, a ranking of importance is created when it comes to who can win the culture war.
Also, we fail to be empathetic when we lament the Court's ruling without processing the experiences of those who were hurt before the ruling.
Empathy Asks Questions
I don't want to get into a discussion about religious freedom (which I support)--we'll save that for another post. I do want to suggest that those disagreeing with the Court's ruling can still acknowledge that many LGBTQ people have experienced workplace discrimination (and I'm not referring to any situation like a wedding cake). Acknowledging the fact that LGBTQ people have faced employment discrimination doesn't require an shift in theological beliefs about marriage or intimacy. It does require a person to sit back and imagine what it would feel like to be discriminated against in the workforce. Questions should be asked like: Have I ever been discriminated against? If so, how did I feel? If not, what would that feel like? Do I know someone who has been discriminated against? If so, should I ask them about their experience? If not, why don't I know anyone who has experienced discrimination? How can I best let my heart break for individuals despite my theological disagreement with them?
When churches and leaders engage the services of my ministry, The Messy Grace Group, I try to get them to ask more questions and better questions. The more questions you ask, the better. The more time you have to reflect and receive feedback, the better you'll become at empathy.
Empathy Doesn't Go to War
I despise the phrase "culture war." The combination of those two words breeds unneeded problematic issues--one of which is being at war with people... which Jesus says NOT to do. I absolutely believe that we're engaged in a battle of ideas within society, but not a war against people. Didn't Jesus ask His followers to love people, or have we forgotten Matthew 5:38-48; 22:37-40; Luke 6:35-36; 10:25-37; or John 13:34-35? Do we go to war with the ones Jesus asked us to share His message with (Matthew 28:19-20)? Do we go to war with the ones that heaven throws parties over when they follow Jesus (Luke 15:7)?
People are never the enemy.
No matter what, if Jesus loved those who disagreed with, hated, and even killed Him, you and I can do the same through His strength.
Ed Stetzer stated it well: "You can’t war at a people and reach them at the same time" (4). We have one enemy and he fell from heaven a long time ago. Paul frames it well in Ephesians 6:12, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities,against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms."
Winning the "culture war" isn't the most important mission we have. Having children to win the "culture war" isn't a stellar strategy to have. Loving people well and sharing Jesus with them is the most important mission we have. And empathy is one of the best strategies at our disposal. As Paul wrote in Galatians 5:14, "For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
The American Psychological Association (APA) defines Sexual Orientation as "a part of individual identity that includes a person’s sexual and emotional attraction to another person and the behavior and/or social affiliation that may result from this attraction" (https://apastyle.apa.org/style-grammar-guidelines/bias-free-language/sexual-orientation) and Gender Identity as "an internal sense of being male, female or something else, which may or may not correspond to an individual's sex assigned at birth or sex characteristics" (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2018/09/ce-corner-glossary.html).
Kevin DeYoung, "It’s Time for a New Culture War Strategy," The Gospel Coalition Blog (June 17, 2020). Accessed June 17, 2020. https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/its-time-for-a-new-culture-war-strategy/.
Kaitlyn Schiess, "Family Politics: On 'It’s Time for a New Culture War Strategy,'” Kaitlyn Schiess Blog (June 17, 2020). Accessed June 17, 2020. https://kaitlynschiess.com/kaitlyn-schiess/family-politics-on-its-time-for-a-new-culture-war-strategy.
Ed Stetzer Tweet on June 17, 2020. https://twitter.com/edstetzer/status/1273465962902282242.