by Richard Doebler

What do we do when facing a tidal wave of sinful culture? The answer depends on whether our goal is simply to survive the onslaught—or turn the tide. In other words, do we want to retreat and withdraw to protect ourselves? Or advance to effect change in society?

When I saw the January, 2017 issue of National Geographic touting the “gender revolution” with a 9-year-old boy-turned-girl from Kansas City on the cover, I did a double-take. Then I opened the magazine and began to read.

I’ve always appreciated the insights into strange customs and foreign cultures provided by National Geographic’s amazing photography and stories. Occasionally, though, I’m disturbed by what I find.

Is the magazine merely “reporting” on culture here, or is something else going on in this issue? Are the editors pushing an agenda?

We know everyone has a bias—his or her own worldview. Christian believers have a strong bias, and that’s as it should be. But for reporters who claim to be neutral in their writing, when does telling a story shift to promoting a cause?

It’s no surprise

We should not be surprised when secular magazines cross the line to push a particular agenda.

I don’t expect non-Christians to think like—let alone act like—Christians. (It’s hard enough to get Christians to act like Christians, but that’s a topic for another time.) Furthermore, I don’t expect secular humanists, sociologists, and anthropologists to listen to—let alone respect—the opinions of their political or theological adversaries.

They perceive themselves to be educated elites. So why should they listen with open minds to other points of view? They generally disregard anyone beneath their academic standing. Worse, if an intellectual equal (someone with conservative views) contradicts their opinion, they often resort to mocking derision rather than open dialogue. If he’s not liberal, they think, he’s obviously not educated.

This, of course, betrays their bias. Many agenda-driven secularists listen only to those who reinforce their own views. So what should Christians do in the face of such prejudice? How should we push back? How can we engage in a conversation with people who refuse to listen?

I have friends who canceled their subscription to National Geographic. That’s one response: make a statement by boycotting the magazine. If only hundreds do that, of course, the magazine will not notice or care. If hundreds of thousands interrupt the revenue stream, however, National Geographic will notice. They might even care.

But I’m not so sure.

Another way

For my part, I haven’t canceled my subscription. I will continue to read National Geographic. I do this not to support secularists, but to understand them. I want to be informed for the debate. Know thine enemy, as it were. How can I poke holes in their logic if I don’t know their logic or what they say? Unlike them, I want to demonstrate an open mind and a willingness to listen. I hope to maintain some legitimacy to participate in the cultural discussion, adding my voice to theirs.

When I write to editors or simply have a private discussion, I try not to lecture as much as ask questions that may reveal the fallacies of their thinking. Typically they won’t consider another point of view, so I try to catch them off-guard with difficult questions. At the same time, I trust God’s Spirit to convict their hearts, something I cannot do.

We might, for example, ask National Geographic why this gender-bending phenomenon (like so many prepubescent activities) is not simply a “phase” these children may be going through. A friend pointed me to findings from the American College of Pediatricians (ACP), which says “as many as 98% of gender confused boys and 88% of gender confused girls eventually accept their biological sex after naturally passing through puberty.”

Here’s another: Is the ACP wrong when it says: “Conditioning children into believing that a lifetime of chemical and surgical impersonation of the opposite sex is normal and healthful is child abuse”?

Pushing back

Others will disagree that dialogue is a way to deal with culture in these troubled times. That’s fine, as long as they push back in some way.

I am not opposed to boycotts and cancellations or other more public forms of protest. They can be legitimate responses to confronting the secular agenda. I’m only saying there is room enough to push back in multiple ways on several different fronts.

Whatever we do, we must not give in or conform to society. Writing to Christians surrounded by the Roman culture, Paul said, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” (Rom. 12:2).

To see our world transformed, God calls us to be transformed. We need renewed minds and determined spirits so we will not give in to the pressures of the world around us. Instead of conforming to society, we must confront it—but in a winsome, engaging way.

“…Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have,” Peter wrote to the first-century church. “But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Pet. 3:15-16).

Paul, steeped in his Jewish upbringing before converting to follow Christ, could not have been a missionary to the Greek and Roman cultures without understanding them. He saw how important it was to connect to those he hoped to reach. In Athens, for instance, he quoted Greek philosophers familiar to his audience (Acts 17:28). He became a “slave” to people, he said, in order “to win as many as possible” (1 Cor. 9:19). So he identified with them and even became like them (1 Cor. 9:22). He urged the Colossians to “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone” (Col. 4:5-6).

Salt and light

Jesus also spoke of salt, calling his disciples to be light penetrating the darkness and salt covering the earth (Matt 5:13-16).

Last week I stepped outside onto rain-slick ice and suddenly lost my footing, crashing painfully down on concrete steps. Defeated, I crawled back inside the house. I still have scrapes and scabs from that mishap.

The sad thing about that incident? At the very moment I fell, a bag of salt sat inside my house, ready to spread and melt the sidewalk ice. But instead of being outside on the ice where it could do some good, the salt was still inside the house, still in the bag.

When, unprepared, we encounter the icy cold ways of the world, we can expect a fall. Saltless, we can be defeated, left to crawl back to the safety of our Christian communities, bruised and beaten.

Salt does no good if it stays inside, safe and dry. So can we do some good? Our goal should not be to protect ourselves but to effect a change. Let’s spread out into society. Let’s engage our culture. Let’s get out from our secular-free zones. Let’s be salt and light that penetrates our world.