The ascendancy of Constantine and the promulgation of the Edict of Milan no doubt brought much needed relief to a beleaguered Church plagued by centuries of intermittent persecutions. Unfortunately it also brought with it a degree of interference on the part of imperial and political interests in the affairs of the Church. If the emperor declared himself a Christian then it would be politically expedient to curry the favor of Christians. This once illegal faith began to attract converts in greater numbers, many of whose motives were suspect.And Jesus coming, spoke to them, saying: All power is given to me in heaven and in earth. Going therefore, teach ye all nations; baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.
The struggle of how to enshrine in law that which was once done for love of God and one's neighbor has occupied the Church ever since. This is the essence of the culture wars. With the coercive power of Imperial Rome on their side Christians were tempted as never before. The temptation is to use political power and the coercive power of the state as a replacement for evangelization.
The focus of evangelization is always outward. It looks to the other because we want to share the good news of Jesus out of love of our neighbor. Culture wars see things in terms of ally and enemy. Because it is focused on ourselves we tend to see the other, not as a neighbor but as a threat. It can lead to a withdrawal from society and isolation in our conservative enclaves. It is easy to forget that our opponents are our neighbor and we are obliged to love them and proclaim the kingdom even while we may enter into political struggles with them.
The Quiet Revolution in Quebec, the wave of secularization engulfing Europe and the Irish collapse recently point to the demise of a post Christian culture that retained many of the outward aspects of a Christian heritage but had lost the faith at it's centre. Perhaps it is time to finally let go of our attachment to it and finally admit that we have lost the culture wars.
I am not for a moment suggesting capitulation or compromise but we must stop expecting people to behave like Christians when they do not know Jesus Christ. Preserving Christian morality and ethics devoid of faith in Jesus Christ will not lead to conversions. However real conversion to a lively faith in Jesus Christ will lead to a renewal of morals. Evangelization must precede cultural change.
Our current situation is far closer to that of the early Christians in Imperial Rome than any of us would like to admit. Like them we are faced with an overwhelmingly hostile culture whose morals and ethics are at odds with the faith. They remained faithful even onto death. We, on the other hand, have forgotten how to be counter cultural.
At this time, the culture wars have little to do with evangelization. Perhaps they never did. What we are struggling with right now is the ability to exist without legal and social penalties. While this poses problems we are still not in fear for our lives as many are in other parts of the world. Our relative lack of political power provides us with an opportunity to confront a hostile culture in the same way the early Christians confronted Imperial Rome. Are we up to the challenge?
The New Evangelization: What Does It Look Like?
By Dr. Jeff Mirus