As our cultural . . . what shall we call it? . . . as our cultural melee continues apace, one of the problems Christians will increasingly have is the one caused by the political need to associate with other groups on certain occasions, and the need to disassociate with other groups on certain occasions. When? How? Whom?
Or, as I am fond of saying, by what standard?
The problem is complicated by the fact that a very common tactic in this cafeteria food fight of ours, flying green jello and all, is to accuse anybody who is standing anywhere in the proximity of any character deemed unsavory, of being equally unsavory as well. Put another way, we have our own standards for who we associate with, and under what conditions, but our enemies also have “standards” for who we associate with, and their standards for us are incoherent and contradictory. But however demented these standards are, at least they are strict.
For example, not only are you a white supremacist if you believe in the supremacy of whites, but you are also a white supremacist if you live next door to, and are on friendly terms with, an engineer who uses the kind of math that enabled us to land that Rover thing on Mars. This too is white supremacy. One can never be too careful.
You may accuse me of making things up, but life is hard for a satirist these days. You cannot make up anything so ludicrous that the real thing can’t outdo it by 9 am the next morning. You recall the recent flap that high school had, the one that was blocked from adopting an evergreen tree as their school mascot because of the historical connection of trees to lynchings? Or of that celebrity lady who was recently triggered into a big stink by the availability of a sugar-free option in a frozen yogurt shop?
The satirist is going to have to sit down and rest a bit. He is having trouble keeping up.
Setting the Stage
God created us as a social and interconnected beings, and this means that we work together to do things. And whenever we “come together” to do something, we have to do it together with people who differ with us radically (or mildly) on other stuff. Sometimes it just happens, and other times we have to decide how to configure it.
Let’s start with a simple example. Suppose you are staying at a hotel, and a fire breaks out. Five guys grab a fire extinguisher right near their room, sprint down to the fire, and together they spray that fire into the middle of next week. Afterwards, as they are standing around reliving the moment, if comes out that one of them is an atheist, one a Muslim, one a Hindu, one a Jew, and one a Christian. Now was the Christian in a compromised position because he worked together with others in this makeshift ecumenical fire brigade? No, not at all. But they were working together, were they not?
What about if all five showed up at a pro-life march called Citizens for Life? Yeah, I think that’s fine too, and it is in the same category.
What about if four of them showed up at a People of Faith pro-life march? Now that’s a little more dodgy because the implication of the name is that we all serve God in our differing ways, and whichever path of faith you choose, that’s fine with all the rest of us.
The principle we are after is evident in all of this, but cancel culture actually abuses the principle in a different way. Suppose a priest, a rabbi, and an anti-Semite get kicked out of a bar, and I hasten to tell you that this is no joke. Heh. But to get to my point, they then all separately walk down to another bar, sit down at different tables and order themselves a drink. Would it be appropriate for the owner of the first bar to accuse the rabbi of anti-Semitism because he was “hanging out” with an anti-Semite?
If I open an account at Gab, which I have done, why am I suddenly responsible for whatever somebody else at Gab might pop off with? But in these troubled times, our associations, whether intentional or incidental, are going to be used against us. That being the case, we ought to think about what Scripture says about all such associations.
I am talking about any associations that believers have with unbelievers in some area of public life, and it may come as a surprise that sometimes Scripture approves and other times Scripture is fierce in its disapproval. This means that whatever it is you are doing, it should be clear in your mind what you are doing.
Some Biblical Examples
So Hiram was a Phoenician king (and remember that Jezebel was also Phoenician), and he had a great affinity for David.
“And Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants unto Solomon; for he had heard that they had anointed him king in the room of his father: for Hiram was ever a lover of David.”
1 Kings 5:1 (KJV)
Then we have that Israelite king Ahab, married to that Phoenician woman Jezebel, and he invited Jehoshaphat, the righteous king of Judah, to join forces with him in a battle against Syria.
“And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramoth-gilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war.”
2 Chron. 18:3 (KJV)
Jehoshaphat agreed to go, a decision that the prophet Jehu took a dim view of. As Jehoshaphat was returning home, the prophet rebuked him with words that go right to the point of what we are talking about.
“And Jehu the son of Hanani the seer went out to meet him, and said to king Jehoshaphat, Shouldest thou help the ungodly, and love them that hate the LORD? therefore is wrath upon thee from before the LORD.”
2 Chronicles 19:2 (KJV)
But just when we are getting settled in our separatist ways, along comes this one.
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying . . .”
Ezra 1:1 (KJV)
So the pagan king Cyrus, stirred up by the Spirit of the Lord, issued a decree that allowed the Jews to return to the land, and to begin work on rebuilding the Temple. Some might want to say that this was all clean and pure, but Cyrus was a great one for hedging his bets, and he was having temples to various gods restored all over the place. He wanted devotees of all those gods to be praying for him.
This decree is accepted by the Jews, and they take full advantage of it. At the same time, Ezra refused to ask for the help of an armed escort to accompany them (Ezra 8:22). That would have been a poor testimony, right?
And then what happens when they get back to Jerusalem? What do they refuse to do?
“Then they came to Zerubbabel, and to the chief of the fathers, and said unto them, Let us build with you: for we seek your God, as ye do; and we do sacrifice unto him since the days of Esar-haddon king of Assur, which brought us up hither. But Zerubbabel, and Jeshua, and the rest of the chief of the fathers of Israel, said unto them, Ye have nothing to do with us to build an house unto our God; but we ourselves together will build unto the LORD God of Israel, as king Cyrus the king of Persia hath commanded us.”
Ezra 4:2-3 (KJV)
So this is a strange one. In obedience to the command of Cyrus, a pagan emperor, Zerubbabel and Joshua refuse to have anything to do with offered help from some inhabitants of the land, who claimed to worship the same God that they were worshiping. Clearly, they saw ungodly strings attached in this offer, but no troublesome strings attached in what Cyrus offered. This is not a contradiction, but if someone were disposed to be hostile, it sure could be made to look like a contradiction.
Quite Clear, and Not So Simple
All right. So let us fast forward into our time. These principles are relevant, are they not? Suppose you are a development officer for a Christian school. Are you willing to write a grant proposal to a foundation that is not explicitly Christian? The answer should be “it depends.” If it is foundation dedicated to the furtherance of colonial architecture, and you are willing to build a Georgian chapel, then go right ahead.
If you are a Christian college, should you take any kind of federal money for any reason? Of course not, and don’t be silly.
“. . . which have borne witness of thy charity before the church: whom if thou bring forward on their journey after a godly sort, thou shalt do well: because that for his name’s sake they went forth, taking nothing of the Gentiles.”
3 John 6-7 (KJV)
As the old saying goes, he who takes the king’s coin becomes the king’s man.
The principle is this. Those who would be obedient in such matters have to read the culture as well as read the Scriptures. We have to interpret the culture as well as interpret Scripture. If we look at Cyrus and conclude that “anything goes,” we are not reading culture. If we look at the staunch refusals of Zerbbabel and Joshua and conclude that it is time to join the Old Order Mennonites, we are not reading the culture either.
We live in a time when the woke agenda is clearly on a rampage, and all of corporate America is in on it. This means that a simplistic application of a public/private distinction won’t cut it. Neither will the old partisan distinction between Republican and Democrat serve. Even the helpful distinction between conservative and liberal is getting tattered.
At the same time, it is not the case that your friends can be defined as those who are enemies of your enemies. Stalin and Hitler were enemies, and Stalin was fighting Hitler, but he was doing so for completely different reasons than the Allies were fighting Hitler. Stalin was a co-belligerent with us, and we were allies with the UK. The distinction is a valuable one. The fact that Alex Jones has a low view of the federal government, as Ammon Bundy also does, and as I also do, does not make us buddies. We might be co-belligerents, but not allies.
What is called for is a mix of high courage and high caution. Don’t be the faithless servant who buried his talent in a napkin. And don’t extend your arm farther than you can draw it back.