Living within the New Normal

How to live effectively as a despised minority

My conclusion in the wake of this election cycle is that there is a new normal that has arrived, walked in to our cultural house through the front door, hung up its coat in the hall closet, put on slippers and reclined in the prime seat of the family room, and claimed the master bedroom.

The “new normal” – This is a phrase we often use at the annual gathering I attend of lead pastors of Evangelical Free Churches of similar size as TSF, called “Team 500.”  There we are talking about the church culture trends of lower commitment to a local congregation, a lesser attendance pattern equaling the definition of faithfulness, consumerism driving worship choices, declining generosity, and an overall softer view of moral choices.

But a new normal has arrived for the entire culture and the entire country. I am sad that this is true, though to not acknowledge it is to be in denial. For a number of years, this question has been in the balance, but the tipping point has come and the country and the culture have gone over to a different place – to a new normal. This is not the end of the world, but it is the end of the world as we’ve known it.

There has been much written since Tuesday – some of it good, most of it horrible. Some of the worst has come from the pens of evangelicals – high-minded statements, though without substance.

Yes – substance. This is what is lost in the new norm. We now have entrenched symbolism as the replacement for substance, along with the preference for subjectivism over objective truth.

One of the most inane pieces I read was an evangelical saying that what needed to be learned from the election is that the winning candidate appears to care more than the loser – that it is all about caring and demonstrating such as God’s people. Though a stated bone was thrown in a participial phrase that indeed the caring needed to be genuine, the entire tone of the piece was to emphasize how we market ourselves.

I’m mindful of the old illustration about objective faith. All the well-intentioned faith placed in a weak object will not hold. A person with deep faith in thin ice will soon be very wet and cold, whereas minimal faith in thick ice leaves a person secure. We live in a day that emphasizes the marketing of the appearance of the ice rather than the examination of its depth and substance.

Even within my own denomination, a piece was written that said there is one political party which is successful for caring about diversity, whereas the other does not – that we should learn from this and model such an inclusive diversity theme. I am all for diversity and celebrating it; that is what heaven will look like – people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. But let us be thoughtful at the same time. Let us understand that in spite of their verbal bluster the alleged group to model has fewer examples of diversity in the upper ranks of government than does the alleged perpetrator. Let us be thoughtful that redistribution does not solve root causes of a lack of industry and individual responsibility – Scriptural themes. Let us, in Maryland, be more thoughtful so as to see that the alleged champions of diversity have an entrenched and unjust network of preventing the very opportunities they trumpet as their raison d’etre (congressional districts that protect white urban power over ethnic and rural constituencies).

The greatest loss is objective truth. It is increasingly gone from the decisions affecting marriage and family, or what constitute “legal” versus “illegal.” Forget clear Scriptural injunctions about same-sex immorality; replace it with squishy statements like I read in the Facebook posting, sadly, of a person who actually grew up attending TSF, “I’m so proud of my state for giving ALL couples equal protection under the law.”  Forget that those who are “illegal” aliens are … uh … illegal; replace it with provisions and opportunities beyond those who are “legal.”  I understand the emotions; I can even love the people involved and feel compassion for younger folks victimized by the choices of older generations. But we have taken the meaning away from words; we have replaced it with mere feelings and passions.

It is not like this sort of alien cultural environment has not happened around the church before. In more generations than not, the church has had to live in a rather hostile culture. I wish it were not so. Paul encourages prayer for those in authority toward the end of a peaceful context for the church to thrive. And there are historic instances of the true church best thriving in the most hostile of contexts.

But it is sort of like the old Woody Allen quote: “I’m not afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”  I’m not afraid to live in a hostile culture; I’m just said that it has to be much more that way. I’m sad for my kids and my grandkids.

So we need to learn to live in the new norm. But living there does not mean we jettison eternal values, truths, and admonitions. And to my evangelical brethren: As you salve your wounds with religiosity-based verbiage of “the last I checked, God is still on the throne” … remember … it is from that authoritative seat He decreed that His Word is a lamp to the feet and light to the path (not your feelings), that you are not to forsake the assembling of yourselves together in the community of the church which is His program for this age, and that the varied “one anothers” of the New Testament didactic corpus have little to do with consumer choices and your own personal preferences.

The sands have all shifted.


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