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Cultural winsomeness will not be enough for Christians

Bravery is the willingness to do what’s right no matter what the circumstances, and it’s contagious.

There are lots of examples of bravery or courage in our culture. Considering we just celebrated Veteran’s Day, the countless soldiers who serve Americans by their willingness to do whatever is necessary to protect our freedoms are a classic example of this valor.

An uproar in California

A story out of California shows another example of courage. It’s the type of courage or bravery that doesn’t just require sacrifice, but a willingness to stand against the crowd when the crowd has all the power and seems to be shouting the loudest.

An illustration is the story of Isabella Chow, a student senator at UC Berkeley in California. By abstaining—neither noting yea or nea—in a vote for transgender rights, Chow is experiencing an immense blowback on campus. She did not vote no. She did not defame gay or transgender persons. She chose not to participate. She did not want to be drafted into a cause that she has moral concerns about as a Christian.

But as you’d expect, social media is now defaming her. She’s been disavowed by her own political party on campus. A petition has been signed calling for her removal. She was denied the ability to further explain her abstention in the student newspaper, but in turn, she’s been editorialized against—ostracized for her Christian faith. The whole campus has rallied in opposition to Chow.

No amount of cultural sophistication or intelligence will absolve the Christian from being seen as a backward-thinking bigot.

And for what? Because in her explanation for why she abstained, she dared to express her Christian faith’s belief that, in her own words, “God created male and female at the beginning of time, and designed sex for marriage between one man and one woman. For me, to love another person does not mean that I silently concur when, at the bottom of my heart, I do not believe that your choices are right or the best for you as an individual.”

But Chow did not launch into a barrage of missives against the LGBT community. In her prepared remarks, she even spoke out against discrimination and hate against the LGBT community.

Chow is the very definition of class, dignity and civility. She’s a model for what faithful Christian discipleship looks like in the public square. There is no foaming-at-the-mouth hatred for anyone. She loves everyone; she just did not want to violate her conscience.

Takeaways for Christians

What’s the lesson here? There are many. But to focus on just one, this story is a reminder that no amount of cultural sophistication or intelligence will absolve the Christian from being seen as a backward-thinking bigot. I say this because there’s an evangelical temptation that believes that if we can just communicate orthodox beliefs in the right way, if we can appear as nuanced as possible, then those on the other side of the aisle will see us as goodwill, reasonable actors. We’re tempted to think that finding the right aesthetic or tone will resolve the underlying tensions that exist when Christianity confronts the world with an ethic that the world does not want to hear. We think we can have our cake and our popularity, too. Chow is a living example of how this approach is naive.

Winsomeness as the utmost priority for Christian faithfulness in the public square will leave individuals with no place to go when this kind of witness still earns us the reproach of culture. As Chow’s example demonstrates, we should be willing to share our convictions without the fear of what reprisal will come.

Be gracious. Be winsome. Be civil. Be polite. Of course, never be less than these things, but at the same time, realize that to be a Christian, more may be required of you, like sharing what’s on your conscience and being willing to pay the price for it. Your kindness will still get you in trouble.

No amount of niceness, civility, or winsomeoness will pacify those voices who will hate you and your Christian values no matter how sophisticated you appear or whatever attempt you make to distance yourself from the Christian conservative caricature you do not like.

Chow, at this point, has no plans of stepping down. Good for her. As she stated to the San Francisco Chronicle, “No, I’m not planning to resign. Because if I do, there will be no one else to represent the voices that are ignored and misunderstood on campus.”

In the future, there are going to be more Chows, not less. Her example is an example for all of us as Christians prepare to stay faithful in a culture that looks less and less Christian by the day.

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