I hate to be a Negative Nellie, but that’s often the role I find myself in if I’m going to do what Paul says in Romans 12:2:
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
One of my goals in the public square is to empower Christians in a culture of sex, lies, and idolatry—the state of the world as described in Romans 1. Essential to that goal is to look at what’s going on in society and separate truth from lies, to see the world in light of God’s Word and not according to worldly notions. This calling is a hard one—not just for me in my efforts to equip Christians for the battle, but for each of us individually as we set our eyes on that which is unseen rather than what is seen. It’s hard to live in this world but not be part of it. It’s a rough journey along the path of sanctification to rein in our passions and obey God. It’s difficult to go against the tide, to stand athwart lies and ungodliness and yell, “Stop!” It’s a struggle of the soul to love God when it makes us an enemy of our neighbor, our boss, our friends, and even our family. But this is what Christ meant when he said in Matthew 10:
“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.”
As a Christian, you are set apart. You are not your own—you belong to God. You are not free. You are a slave to Christ, who by his blood has set you free from sin. Throughout Scripture, God speaks of calling his people out from among the nations, setting apart his chosen ones from the world, and searching for his lost sheep among the thorns and thistles to bring her home to safety.
Warnings about “Togetherness”
This “separationality,” if you will, is a calling Christians too often ignore. It’s just easier to go along with the culture and not cause any problems. We do our best to love our neighbor, be at peace with them, care for the poor, and set a good example. We try really, really hard to be nice. While this ideal is noble—and we’re certainly called to love our neighbor—peace in this world is not a Christian’s destiny. That’s because darkness hates the light—and Christians are light. Or they should be. If they’re not, they need to check their batteries. I’ve heard a number of ministers repeat the refrain: “I get worried if everything is peaceful. That’s exactly when I need to be examining myself to see if I’ve compromised with the world.”
While there is certainly nothing wrong with a social message of peace and harmony within society, we as Christians must be “wise as serpents and gentle as doves” about every message that comes through our shiny screens. Not all that glitters is gold, especially in a culture like ours that is hostile to Christianity and a media that is rife with propaganda and groupthink. No matter the message, we have to ask who’s saying it, what is it really saying, and how can the Evil One use it to attack the church. This is particularly true when society is in turmoil from a crisis. Fear makes people vulnerable, and those times are ripe for taking advantage of goodwill.
So let’s consider the message promoting “togetherness” in the midst of COVID-19. First, who’s saying it? It’s created by marketers who want to sell products, politicians who want to buy votes, and media personalities who want to capitalize on positivity to promote their own interests. So, off the bat, we’re starting out on some pretty shaky ground. Each of these has ulterior motives beyond spreading love and goodwill. This, of course, doesn’t mean the two can’t coexist. A business can surely be sincere in wanting to offer encouragement and aim for selling merchandise. A politician can want to promote a strong sense of community and hope it attracts some new voters. Media personalities—from those in the news to entertainment—can promote butterflies and rainbows while still getting the attention they need to strengthen their branding. But remember—wise as serpents and gentle as doves—we need to at least be aware that there are mixed motivations in creating positive messages for the public good.
Second, what is really being said when we hear “Celebrate Togetherness” mantras or watch commercials encouraging family closeness during stay-at-home orders? Since we’re talking about intent and motivations, let’s begin by assuming the best. “Togetherness” builds community instead of people feeling isolated and alone. It fosters family values, which is a good thing in a society that often forgets them. It creates a team mindset—that we have a crisis to deal with, and we can overcome it best when we stick together. After all, the Bible does say that a cord of three strands isn’t easily broken. Community, therefore, is something we should value and promote, not just in a crisis, but all the time. God didn’t make us to stand by ourselves or to go through the trials and tribulations of life alone. He gave us each other. That includes not just our families and friends, but our nation as a whole.
Third, how can this good message delivered by people of mixed purposes be used by Evil in our society today? What cautions should we take as believers, and what warnings should we heed as we strive to “take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them” (Ephesians 5:11)? I’m going to offer two warnings: Beware of massaging messages that 1) promote government power and 2) foster groupthink.
Government Abuse of Goodwill
Let’s first consider the soothing, calming, feel-good tone of positive service announcements and communications during a time of government overreach. Whatever you might think about the need for social distancing and how great a threat COVID-19 is compared with other infectious diseases we have faced in the past, let’s agree that the actions of governors in response to the crisis have been unprecedented and either violate constitutional authority or come very close.
As Americans, it is our duty as the inheritors of a great nation that is built on justice, equality before the law, and individual liberty to guard these principles not only for ourselves but for our children. If we’re going to learn one thing from human history, it’s that peace and freedom are rare. We have it today not because human beings have existentially progressed to some higher state of awareness and virtue. We have it because our nation was built on a convergence of philosophical thought that opened man’s mind to political possibilities rarely considered or practiced in history and biblical principles that are the foundation of a civil society. This extraordinary experiment of American liberty is both strong and fragile. It’s also constantly under attack as forces of tyranny prowl about its walls seeking to tear it down. Put simply, lovers of freedom have enemies—without and within. Because of this, we need to be vigilant in maintaining our liberty and be aware of any attempts to erode it.
Part of being vigilant is knowing that there are people who don’t like America as founded and seek to implement ways to nudge the American mind toward centralized power and control, to rub in—like perfumed massage oil—ideas that run counter to liberty. One way to do this is through groupthink and propaganda. Dictators don’t just suddenly show up among free people and take control. Tyrants don’t typically gain power by telling people their true intentions. Their strategy is usually to get people to act a certain way by convincing them it’s good for them. Prison walls are quietly built with the tools of goodwill—safety, security, tolerance, love of your neighbor, and even “togetherness” in times of crisis.
When you’re stuck at home because a governor has determined that your job isn’t essential and that you have to stay inside even though you know how to exercise safety precautions, you’re not in a vulnerable group, and you have no functional contact with anyone in a vulnerable group, it helps to ease you into compliance when you’re told that being alone at home contributes to “togetherness.” In true doublespeak form, they’re conflating isolation with camaraderie and community. This is true even regarding families who are isolated together. They’re developing a new closeness with one another, but they’re still isolated from other families and members of their own who live someplace else. Children are isolated from friends. Parents are isolated from other adults. So the isolating aspect of Stay-At-Home is still active socially even as togetherness is fostered on the micro level.
God designed mankind to be free individuals who, through free agency, choose to be together in community—not forced into it. Freedom as designed by God (not autonomy fabricated by us to justify sin) is essential to our very nature, and it is an attribute of God himself as we’re made in his image. There are many things that make human beings unique among animals, and one is free will. This attribute is essential to being fashioned in God’s image, because to be like God is to consciously choose to love—because God is Love. We cannot love if we are compelled to love. Love has to be an act of the will, not just a state of being or instinctive response. It is the gift of one subject to another, one person to another, and it is at the very heart of being human.
Being free also means choosing to be virtuous, which is to live a life of love. If we’re merely automatons doing good under compulsion, then there’s no spirit, no soul, no will to act, no love. God gave us such a will—even at the risk of mankind choosing to sin and plunging all of humanity into despair and death. If God valued our freedom that much, then we should too, not only for ourselves but for others. This includes guarding it from those who seek to take it from us.
Togetherness and Tolerance
Another warning about the lovely “togetherness” message we’re hearing spoken in soft lullaby-like tones is the potential of using it to create a mindset in which dissent about socially approved behaviors is prohibited. This prohibition isn’t usually legal. It’s within the frame of group dynamics in which you have to comply with a certain set of politically correct rules to be accepted into the in-group. If you don’t, then you’re cast out, stigmatized, and even used as scapegoats. You lose your job, your friends, your wealth, even your life. This is of particular concern to the Christian, because we are called not to live as the world does. We’re going to look different, act differently, and think differently. In other words, we’re not going to be doing much “togetherness” with those who don’t share our values, worldview, or faith.
The demand to conform to the standards of this world is great. We see the effects of it within the church, which often looks very similar to the world. Christians dress just like the world. Christians watch porn just like the world. Christians read trashy erotica novels just like the world. Christians embrace sexual perversions, such as homosexuality, just like the world. Christians lust after fame, ambition, and wealth just like the world. Christians have sex outside of marriage just like the world. Christians divorce just like the world. Christians get drunk just like the world.
I could go on, but you get the picture, and you know it’s true. Some of you might not even like reading what I’ve written because it makes you feel “judgy and puritanical.” It makes you feel separate. It makes you uncomfortable. But that’s what you should be feeling. To stand against the world and be different while at the same time loving others with humility is hard. Showing grace to sinners and tolerance without approval is a Herculean feat. Because of the pressure, we either become legalistic hypocrites or we meld with the world in a melting pot of sin.
Togetherness is a good thing, but groupthink is not. Togetherness fosters love, but groupthink fosters exclusion and hate. Togetherness builds community, but groupthink ultimately rips it apart. Christians cannot give in to groupthink or mimic the actions and beliefs of the world; instead, we are called to run from the golden calf. This flies in the face of worldly togetherness and generates conflict, hostility, and blame. The world hates when Christians stand apart. When you do, they ridicule you, threaten you, and reject you. But Jesus warned his disciples—and all Christians—that this is how it will be for those who serve him.
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.… They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.” (John 15:18-21)
While we can certainly promote the good aspects of togetherness in times such as these, we must be cautious of how our thinking and our actions are affected. We also need to be aware of how the messaging is affecting those around us, how it has the potential to nudge them into groupthink that defies the ways of God and threatens their freedom. Ultimately, we need to ask ourselves, whom do we love? Do we love our Lord or do we love the world? If it’s the world, be warned:
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15-17)
This is the path of a Christian, and it is often a lonely one. But we are never truly alone because our Creator, our Savior, is with us, now and forever.
This article was originally posted on Romans One, and is reposted with permission from the author, Denise McAllister.
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