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Are we on the “wrong” side of history?

A false ideology shapes progressive views of both the future and the past

Marchers carry a large rainbow flag during the Pride Parade in Salt Lake City on June 4. Associated Press/Photo by Rick Bowmer

Are we on the “wrong” side of history?

Pride Month is upon us once again. For the devoted, this month is a celebration of the intersection of expressive individualism and sexual decadence. For the compliant, it’s a month to signal willing alignment with the moral vision of post-Christian America. And for the compelled, it’s a reminder of who holds the power—as well as the dangers of dissent.

For progressives, celebrating Pride Month is a necessary step in our nation becoming a shining light of sexual liberation. Most sincerely believe that time is on their side. America is gradually becoming more just, outgrowing the prejudices of the largely Protestant worldview that shaped so much of our national ethos into the mid-20th century. The morally enlightened will outlast the traditionalists, the latter of whom will either see the light or be subdued into better behavior. But there is no question in the progressive mind which side will win.

A core component of the progressive worldview is that history is moving in the direction of, well, progress. This is certainly true for the LGBTQ movement. Take, for example, the It Gets Better Project, which exists to “uplift, empower, and connect lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth around the globe.” The very name of the organization points to the progressive vision for history. Just hang in there. Things are getting better.

In its own weird way, the progressive understanding of history is fundamentally hopeful. This might seem like a counterintuitive claim. After all, one of the most common complaints conservatives raise against progressives is that the latter advocate revisionist history that magnifies (and sometimes invents) past faults and failures, thus demonizing some groups (Protestants, ethnic majorities, men, heterosexuals) while valorizing others (religious minorities, ethnic minorities, women, homosexuals).

While it is true that progressives often advance a stridently negative view of the past, this is itself an important part of their vision for a what they see as a more hopeful future. Progressive critiques of the past are intended to confirm the validity of contemporary progressive concerns. This in turn motivates progressive activism to bring about a better (more progressive) future that is radically different from the allegedly oppressive past and present.

Moral rebellion is never a sign of progress, though it may indeed reflect the spirit of the age.

This is why progressive activists so often claim to be on the “right” side of history and, likewise, orthodox Christians and other social conservatives are accused of being on the “wrong” side of history. Progressives have advanced beyond the bigotries of the past and see a better future. Conservatives persist in looking in the wrong direction for their values, priorities, and preferences, thus refusing to get with the program.

So how should Christians respond to the progressive vision for history, especially during Pride Month? Let me suggest two ways.

First, we need to understand that the perception of being on the “wrong side” of history will almost certainly remain part of the cost of Christian faithfulness for the foreseeable future. This will especially be true of those who challenge the assumptions of Pride Month. For some, it will lead to criticism and scorn. For others, it might lead to cancellation. For still others, it might cost them their livelihood. The costs will vary from believer to believer, but faithfulness never comes without cost.

This should not surprise us. Scripture never promises that our faithfulness will automatically result in unbelievers embracing biblical sexual ethics. In fact, in his Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that we are blessed when others revile us and persecute us and utter all kinds of false evil against us because of Him (Matthew 5:11). We should speak out against evil and commend what is good, even during Pride Month, and when our discipleship is costly, we should rejoice that our reward is in heaven (Matthew 5:12).

Second, we need to understand that believing things will get better in the future can be a deeply Christian insight. It all comes down to how one defines progress. If progress means the triumph of identity politics, sexual deviance, or any worldly conception of justice or freedom or rights, then that must necessarily remain a non-starter for believers. In a biblical worldview, moral rebellion is never a sign of progress, though it may indeed reflect the spirit of the age.

However, if progress means our future is a renewed created order where sin and death have been vanquished forever, King Jesus has conquered all his enemies, and authentic human flourishing persists for all eternity, then that is indeed where redemptive history is headed. This is obviously a different vision of progress than the one advocated by progressives, but it has the virtue of being true. Take heart, Christian—it gets better.

I’m reminded of a poster that was on the wall of my 12th grade economics classroom: “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.” This seems like a timely reminder for those of us who know from Scripture that we are on the right side of history, even if we are on the wrong side of Pride Month.

Nathan A. Finn

Nathan A. Finn is professor of faith and culture and directs the Institute for Transformational Leadership at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C. He is a research fellow for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and is senior editor for Integration: A Journal of Faith and Learning. He also serves as teaching pastor at the First Baptist Church of Taylors, S.C.

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