Post Trump Reflections: Dueling Moralities

I live in a complex world. I was raised a southern conservative evangelical but was plopped down in adulthood in the liberal, socially conscious Pacific Northwest for thirteen years. The dueling moral codes of my upbringing and my Seattle culture made me squirm at first. But more importantly, they made me think. I was uncomfortable at times in Seattle. I didn’t always fit. But now that I have moved back to the South, I am uncomfortable here as well.

Though I was raised to see southern conservative culture as morally superior, I no longer believe it is so simple. I have seen in particular the horrible blind spots defended by some southern Christians around the basic dignity of mankind made in the image of God. I went to a private elementary and high school that did not allow blacks to attend until 1985.  I then went to a southern conservative Bible college that defended their history of not allowing blacks to attend and their slander of Martin Luther King at his assassination. Even after allowing blacks to attend, they refused to allow interracial dating into the 1990’s. And they repeatedly attempted to defend these positions by way of Scripture. My Presbyterian denomination has recently gone through a period of repentance for the harm they did to others in the south when they did not stand with their fellow image bearers of God fighting for basic dignity and equal rights through the civil rights movement. I’ve been encouraged by repentance and change among conservative Christians the last few years, but clearly southern conservative Christians have no historical corner on the morality market. Even today, many still struggle with conflating political nationalism (a view that perceived spiritual superiority of the United States has caused God to bless the US in unusual ways) with the historic message of Jesus Christ of the Bible.

But neither can I lift up the culture of the Pacific Northwest as morally superior, particularly around sexual ethics and the humanity of the unborn. The Old Testament Law shows that our Creator deeply values fidelity in relationships, and sexual faithfulness in marriage is something that Scripture highlights in every genre and generation. It is an inconvenient truth that both cultures have aspects that positively reflect Biblical guidelines. And both cultures also have great holes in their understanding of righteousness according to Scripture. After all, social justice is commanded as strongly as fornication is condemned in both the Old and New Testament. One culture does it out of independence of religion and the other in the name of religion. Both are deeply flawed. Yet both reflect common grace as well.

And I daily tip toe through it all. Pitfalls on the left. Pitfalls on the right. I want those in more liberal cultures to know that their cry for social justice was God’s idea first, who made all of mankind in His image and names the care of orphans and widows as the purest form of religion. I also want to affirm a conservative understanding of human life before birth and the value of sexual faithfulness and the harm that sexual promiscuity causes to both individuals and communities.

As I navigate these dueling perspectives on morality, I offer some observations.

  1. For many Christians in either culture, visions of morality seem more often influenced by culture than by the Bible, and it often takes getting out of one culture and into another before one recognizes it.
  2. Many of us don’t have a framework for self-inspection or inspection of our preferred culture. We think our moral culture is good and the other perceived immoral culture is bad. We often miss the sins of both opposing cultures or the common grace in both.
  3. In the end, most Christians I observe want to call out the culture with which they do not identify, not the one with which they do.

Over my years living in Seattle coming out of the conservative South, and then moving back to the South after a decade in the Pacific Northwest, God refined my understanding of God’s moral absolutes as opposed to my own. My convictions on the sexual ethics of Scripture and dignity of all human life, including the unborn, became set in stone, but so also did my convictions on the care of the poor and immigrant, the widow and the orphan that flow from the image-bearing dignity of all human life. Social liberals in the Pacific Northwest helped me learn compassion for the least of these and grace for the down and out. My eyes were opened to systemic racism and injustice that I had been blinded to growing up.

As we end 2016 and begin 2017, I’m going to offer two (and maybe three) more posts in this Post Trump series. In the next one, I want to look at dueling visions of care of the poor. I don’t know many Christians who would argue against care of the poor, but I know a number who believe government shouldn’t be involved in it and decry the “welfare state.” I have been studying Scripture to understand God’s heart for the poor and the role of representative government in their care.  In the third post, I will look at the warnings of Isaiah 7-9, as the southern tribe of Judah turned toward the king of Assyria to protect them from warring northern tribes. Ungodly alliances destroy, and God offers through the prophet Isaiah a somber warning for us all as modern evangelicals grapple with alliances with Trump. If I do write a fourth post, I am interested, still from Isaiah, in exploring the hope we have in God’s promises of Zion, both those ushered in by the first coming of Jesus and our hope for their final fulfillment through His second. These have blessed me as I grapple with demoralization over the state of the church in America even as I see God working in the next generation of believers to build the foundation of true faith, with all the fruits that flow from it.

Happy New Year, folks.

For You have been a stronghold for the poor,
a stronghold for the needy person in his distress,
a refuge from the rain, a shade from the heat.
When the breath of the violent
is like rain against a wall,
like heat in a dry land,
You subdue the uproar of barbarians.
As the shade of a cloud cools the heat of the day,
so He silences the song of the violent.  Isaiah 25:4-5

6 Responses to Post Trump Reflections: Dueling Moralities

  1. Melinda Watters December 30, 2016 at 11:10 am #

    Thank you for the post. As a missionary kid who also grew up in Evangelical conservatism and then was plopped in the liberal culture of International Schools overseas (serving Diplomats and NGOs) for over a decade and now lives in the Pacific Northwest I have struggled with these same tensions. Your words have articulated many of my thoughts and are helping in my processing. Thank you!

  2. Holly December 30, 2016 at 11:46 am #

    Thank you for articulating a full perspective. I recently listened to a podcast addressing the same topic, but it only exposed the weaknesses of one perspective. I needed this approach to expose my own bias.

  3. susan December 30, 2016 at 1:06 pm #

    I could have written this post! (Only not as well) I grew up in the South and lived in the NW for 3 years and it really changed how I thought and viewed the church culture that pervades in much of the rural South. I am thankful that the Lord exposed me to other ways of thought. Thank you for articulating the tension that exists.

  4. WenatcheeTheHatchet December 31, 2016 at 1:00 pm #

    this electoral cycle has made it depressingly clear to me that Christians in the United States cannot afford to define their thinking and living around the lockstep platforms of the red state and blue state civic religions, both of which are ultimately antichrist.

    Something else that seems to be lost on many who moved to the Pacific Northwest from elsewhere is that there’s always been a white utopian/separatist impulse in this area. Oregon forbade slavery on the one hand and forbade blacks from being able to enter contracts on the other. The extent to which racism has roots even in a region as blue/left as the PNW is not something I’m sure this region has come to terms with yet. Reports of escalated racist activity in Oregon should remind us that that perspective WAS ALWAYS THERE. Transplants to Oregon or Washington who regard the racist legacy of the South as shameful need to know that it’s no less endemic to the PNW and no less shameful up here. One of my black friends told me he ran into more overt and explicit racism at the UW than he ever ran into when he lived in Idaho. This is obviously not a defense of the racism of the South, just a word of caution that we in the Pacific Northwest may find it too easy to imagine our own regional legacy of racism is somehow not still manifest, if in less ostentatious or obvious ways, compared to the South.

    • Wendy December 31, 2016 at 2:20 pm #

      Good point, WtH. I was mostly exposed to Seattle city culture, which like Portland is different than the broader PNW.

  5. Jaime K. January 10, 2017 at 9:26 am #

    WOW! Thank you, Wendy, for so beautifully articulating what I have felt as a Southern Christian conservative. I do love my home, but have wrestled with the blind spots and beliefs held by some of my fellow southerners. I am thankful for God’s grace and that He is continuing to teach me through study of His Word. Thank you again for such a wonderful essay!