We Don’t Own Much of American Culture Anymore — What Now?

It's time to move past our current annoyance and on to a much healthier mindset.

By Tom Gilson Published on October 12, 2017

Conservative Christian America is annoyed. We’ve lost our position of strength on morality, truth, human identity, human purpose and a host of other issues. We’ve lost American culture, really. It bothers us, as well it might. But too many of us have let ourselves get mired in our annoyance. There’s a better way.

Let me explain. I spent about eight weeks in China once, back in 1983. It was my longest foreign excursion, and I would have gladly gone back to live there, had God so led. I loved the food, the music, the architecture, the hospitality and even the little bit of language I learned.

I didn’t love everything about it, though. Christian worship — not to mention many other freedoms — was strictly controlled under its communist leadership. Buddhist temples may have been beautifully crafted, but their purpose was idolatrous.

Wrong But Not Annoying

I felt a sense wrongness over these things, but no sense of loss.

From my Christian perspective those things were really wrong, but here’s the strange thing: They didn’t annoy me. I was grieved over them, and I suppose if I’d lived there longer I might have gotten angry over them. But annoyance is different. It’s more tied to personal grievances and losses, of which I felt very little there.

You see, I went to China expecting it to be a communist land with a Buddhist heritage. I felt a sense wrongness over it, but no sense of loss.

America, on the other hand, just isn’t what it used to be. Here I feel a very definite sense of loss — that LGBT activism, atheist legal initiatives against public prayer and Christian symbolism, professors’ dismissals of the faith, distorted views of Christianity in the media, and so on have all been an attack on my culture, my America. Frankly, it feels like an attack on me. I never took Buddhism or communism personally in China. It’s a lot harder not to take America’s downward drift personally.

Taking Things Personally

But there are different ways to take things personally. One is by focusing what I can reasonably be responsible for. That includes a lot more than many Christians realize. We haven’t begun to touch all that we can accomplish in His name, standing for His truth and His love.

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But there’s another way to take things personally: by “owning” what we don’t really own, defending turf that isn’t really ours to defend, trying to hold ground that isn’t even there anymore. I’m afraid that’s how we look to outsiders here in America — and we appear that way because we really are that way.

Defending Turf That Isn’t Ours To Defend

The fact is, American culture, or large chunks of it, is no longer our turf. We don’t own it. Silicon Valley has a large piece of it, and Google/YouTube. Facebook and Twitter have been caught more than once lately hindering Christian and other conservative access.

Hollywood owns even more. Harvey Weinstein played sexual-predator power games there, and his colleagues and competitors let him get away with it — as if it really was a game — until they could ignore it no longer. Their antipathy to the faith and to biblical morality is obvious on every night’s TV programming. 

Meanwhile the universities, with their PC culture, anti-Christian hiring biases and widespread mockery of Christian belief in the classroom, have turned so hostile, it’s almost as if there was never any Christian influence there to begin with.

I’m overstating it, I’ll admit. Christianity’s positive influence remains, even among those who deny where it came from. We could still benefit, though, from acknowledging our losses, grieving them, and accepting their reality as losses. Because a defensive attitude in a losing battle is often a desperate attitude, and it leaks out in our near-constant sense of annoyance.

A Better Approach To Our Mission

But did I say we should give up? Absolutely not! Did the Christian missionaries to China give up, just because China wasn’t the culture they grew up in? No, they went there with hope in Christ, confidence in His gospel, a positive outlook, and of course realistic expectations that they’d be working in strange and often difficult circumstances.

If we’re ever going to regain our culture, our best step now might be to let go of it.

There’s a great lesson there for us. Remember, what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working. The result has been that the new American way of life has become quite foreign to us. So let’s treat it that way! Let’s approach it like missionaries serving cross-culturally.

Missionaries don’t own the culture where they serve, but they certainly still care. They serve. They bend their efforts toward understanding the people they work among, so they can communicate God’s truth and love with them. In the long run they see real changes take place. In the short run they don’t expect things to be easy or even familiar, yet they’re not pining to go home, either. They’re there for the duration — for the good of the people they’re serving with, whether they’re welcomed there or not.

To Start Making a Real Difference Again

I’ve said before we’d be wise to think like expatriates — not as exiles, as Rod Dreher suggests, but as expats on a mission. American culture has moved even further away from us since I wrote that two years ago. I’d say the expat analogy is even closer to the truth now.

God doesn’t need us to own this culture. He really doesn’t need us acting annoyed over not owning it. If we’re ever going to regain our culture, our best step now might be accept that it’s foreign territory. It could open us up both spiritually and emotionally, freeing us to serve, to love, and to make a difference like we haven’t done in years.

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