Bio-mohlerOn Monday, February 27, R. Albert Mohler wrote on his blog site. www.albertmohler.com, a post titled: “The Santorum Predicament: A Sign of the Times.” It was not an endorsement of Santorum but a rational and reasonable reflection on why the media is so deeply troubled by the man’s candidacy. The bottom line, says Dr. Mohler, is that the media really believes Santorum means what he says about theology and culture and thus they are profoundly appalled by him.

Here is some of what Mohler said:

Keep in mind that Rick Santorum has said a great deal, and is still talking. In a world accustomed to bland politicians, Santorum breaks the mold. He admires conviction politicians, and he aims to be one. He speaks his mind, and then keeps on talking. On crucial issues of a moral nature, Santorum not only states his position, he explains it in detail and then goes on to present his convictions in the form of an argument. He is willing to make comprehensive statements of cultural analysis and sweeping moral judgments.

He talks of moral issues — shockingly — in terms of right and wrong. He believes that marriage has been undermined by cultural confusion and that marriage can only mean a union of a man and a woman. He is a stalwart defender of human life — opposing abortion, arguing for the prosecution of abortion doctors, and warning that the widespread use of prenatal testing will lead to even more abortions.

When moral conservatives reveal their reasoning, the elites hear the launch of a new Inquisition. It is simply incomprehensible to them that sane, rational, educated people might still believe in the Father of Lies. When Catholic Rick Santorum speaks theologically at Catholic Ave Maria University, the secular elites go into toxic shock. The same would be true of an Evangelical politician who would speak theologically of such issues at a truly evangelical college. Speak on love and you will not be in much trouble, but admit that you believe in the Devil and the press corps will go into apoplexy.

I believe Mohler understands what is going on culturally very clearly. My problem is not with his analysis. I agree with him. My problem is with his solution(s). Let me explain

We have undergone a huge cultural shift in my lifetime. We have become an increasingly secular and non-religious society. Every survey you study reveals this to be the case. While the New York Times does not speak for “every man or woman” in the land (probably not even a majority) it does represent a cultural and social direction that the majority of younger Americans are now following. My generation still wages the cultural war and seems to believe that we can win this war by fighting political battles through direct public confrontations before cameras and the press. Santorum speaks of moral positions that many of us believe for good and compelling reasons. But when he speaks as a Catholic Christian, in a presidential race, of these same cultural issues, or social “hot buttons,” it creates a whole new form of skirmish in a long-term culture war that we have been publicly waging since 1976. In fairness to Senator Santorum he did not launch this war nor did he set out to make this central to his campaign. But he has spoken, at times, with less than reasonable care. (I'm thinking here of his reference to how JFK presented his Catholic faith publicly and Santorum saying he wanted to "throw up." Not the kind of presidential response that works well in the modern age.)

Assume, whether you agree with his views or not, that Santorum’s moral views (with perhaps room for disagreement among Protestant evangelicals re: birth control) are correct. Assume further, which we should, that he is not only entitled to hold them but to speak publicly about them as a candidate for the White House. And assume that he wins the presidency, which is more possible than those on the far left might think. My question for Christians and churches is simple: What has fundamentally changed in America? 

Well, for one thing conservatives of deeply moral conviction would feel a lot better about the leader of their country. And some presidential decisions that do not require Congressional approval would be reversed and some kinds of abortion would even be stopped. This is no small feat. But I have a more pressing question for my Christian friends. Have we moved the conversation and culture any closer to understanding and living a life of faithful (real) discipleship? Or have we won a shallow campaign to “restore” our values in a culture that has clearly been moving away from those values at a fairly consistent pace since 1990? Have we done anything, through a Santorum victory, to regain the next generation for the gospel, the generation that is under 35? 

Here is where the designs and devices of the conservative effort to transform moral values and practice fails. We might, and I would be happy if we did, decrease the number of abortions. We might even get some judicial changes that could (a very big assumption here) successfully challenge Roe v. Wade down the road. But would all this money, time and effort over the next eight-plus months actually help Christians and the church to effectively accomplish the missional mandate of Christ?

I have no qualms about Christians debating and engaging in politics. I have no doubt at all that Christians should educate themselves about issues and vote. I have no question that Christians should run for office and work for justice and mercy in the public arena. I am thus not appealing here for leaving the public space to secularism by simply going home to our Christian intellectual and spiritual ghettos, which happen to be disproportionately middle-class and white. 

What I am asking is very simple: “Is it good missional strategy, in a culture where the shift away from the moral values of our near past has already taken place, to spend so much money, time and energy on framing our shared public life in these terms?” These terms sound like moral campaigns, if not moral crusades. Young Christians are not going to fight these battles, at least not in large numbers. Most young churches are not attracted to them at all? Why? They understand that the culture war was almost over before it started. Why? Because it was over when people inside the church did not line up their actual lives in public with how they lived at home and in their communities. It was over because the post-War generation had already moved away from the sexual morality of the distant past and embraced Enlightenment secularism inside the church.

So are we defeated? Not at all. I find young Christian leaders all across America have a new hope for the church. But this hope is not shaped by politics and campaigns. It is shaped by learning how to love their neighbors, their cities and even their enemies. 

There is one line in Albert Mohler’s blog that jumped out at me. While I type these words on a Monday morning in San Francisco I am looking out my hotel window at a large billboard encouraging men to get a free HIV test if they’ve recently met a “new love” in their life. Each day I have been here I have seen that sign as soon as I open my curtains in the morning. It has powerfully reminded me of the changes in our culture that are not going to be turned back by an election. In fact, they are not likely to be turned back by some type of revival, as we’ve known them historically. This culture has fundamentally changed, the values of millions of people are different and large numbers of people are not going to be compelled to embrace conservative views on moral issues because of who is or is not the next president. 

But note again that Mohler said, “Speak on love and you will not be in much trouble, but admit that you believe in the Devil and the press corps will go into apoplexy.”

What an interesting and significant point. My mind moved seamlessly to St. Paul’s words as I thought about this. I read the following:

8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10).

And then the words of the apostle John came to my mind as well:

16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.

And these words of St. Paul struck me as well:

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Galatians 5:13-14).

Speak on love? How much better to not only speak about love but to actually demonstrate it. The younger generation, the generation that is not engaging in this cultural-political struggle with vested interest, responds deeply to real love. My time in San Francisco has underscored that again in a most powerful way. I actually believe Dr. Mohler may have said more than he realized in this one sentence. I know it got me thinking about missional church and ecumenism in a whole new contemporary context.