Credo to credo
Right living is more than sloganeering
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You’ve seen the sign in your neighbor’s yard or Facebook page: “In this house, we believe: Black lives matter / Women’s rights are human rights / No human is illegal / Science is real / Love is love / Kindness is everything.”
Smug, I think, when driving or scrolling by. Condescending. Why, I think, would anyone post such a collection of obvious-sounding statements except as a slap to conservatives? Isn’t each one a signpost for left-wing values like militant antiracism, feminism, open borders, scientism, LGBT rights, and virtue signaling?
But wait, I remind myself, before hurling my own pithy credos (All lives matter!): There’s such a thing as Christian/conservative virtue signaling. Slogans do not an argument make, much less a friend.
“We believe” is a proclamation peculiar to human beings—an indicator of humanity, in fact. It’s a moral standard for a moral species, and this particular standard sums up contemporary Western morality rather well. Taken at face value, all of its components seem irrefutable and bedrock. But not so long ago, eugenics seemed irrefutable and bedrock: Wouldn’t society as a whole benefit by weeding out the bad stock?
There’s always some pillar of the zeitgeist profoundly at odds with Biblical faith.
Or suppose the Roman patricians of A.D. 100 posted their own front-yard placards, on the order of “In this villa, we believe: Might makes right / the Patriarch rules / Class is destiny / Death is real / Civil order is everything.”
Those were the values of a harsh, utilitarian world that had no room for indulging human rights. They seemed irrefutable for centuries, until Christ came with the revolutionary news that all lives mattered to God, who went to great lengths to redeem them. “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation,” wrote the Lord’s brother James—who, incidentally, claimed no special privilege as the Lord’s brother.
We Americans agree, in principle if not always in practice: race, riches, and sex do not determine a person’s worth. But we forget how world-shaking it was in A.D. 100, and how long it took for us to get here, and how we would never have stepped off square one were it not for the gospel that now appears so outdated to cutting-edge morality. Our current idolizing of individual rights would have seemed detrimental to the social fabric, if not outright evil, to a Roman of A.D. 100. And to the Chinese Communist Party of today.
But my neighbor doesn’t care about that. In this singularly crazy election year, she wants me to know that she believes in all the right things and subtly reproaches everyone who doesn’t. Once I clear my own heart of “right-thingism,” is there anything I could say to her?
Possibly this: “Hi! I noticed your sign. I had a few questions: Could we talk?”
Or this: “I’m glad that you’re so open about supporting human rights. I’m wondering, though—where do you think those rights come from?”
Those openers may be too obvious or clunky. But as Brett McCracken points out on The Gospel Coalition website, credos are an excellent place to begin a conversation. Many of us adopt beliefs without knowing why—sometimes, at least in part, because those beliefs are breathed in with the atmosphere. Sometimes, in part, simply to fit in with the cultural milieu.
Christians have never fit in. In every time or place, there’s always some pillar of the zeitgeist profoundly at odds with Biblical faith: statism, traditionalism, racism, consumerism, wage slavery. Many of the good folks I grew up with in midcentury America were driven by works-righteousness—as harmful to the Church as radical leftists are today.
But there’s always an opening, a patch of common ground. Suppose we start by living (rather than merely posting) the last placard principle and acting through the rest. In this house, we believe: Kindness always / Love is selfless / Science serves; it doesn’t rule / Humans are priceless / Male and female are real / All lives matter to God.
If we demonstrate all those, we can credibly proclaim: Christ is everything.
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