It’s an old adage: The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Writing in his diary in 1845, the French writer and politician Victor Hugo chronicled some advice he gave to Abel Francois Villemain, a teacher and fellow French public servant.
“You have enemies?” he asked him, somewhat rhetorically. “Why, it is the story of every man who has done a great deed or created a new idea. It is the cloud which thunders around everything which shines. Fame must have enemies, as light must have gnats.”
Winston Churchill famously echoed Hugo’s sentiment, once saying, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something, sometime in your life.”
It seems both the Old British Bulldog and the beloved author of Les Misérables ran up against, if for different reasons, the tension many Christians feel in today’s culture.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we strive to maintain a pleasant posture that lives up to the Apostle Paul’s admonition to believers in Rome to “if possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
You have to have something of a sadistic or masochistic streak in you to want enemies, but their inevitability seems to be a foregone conclusion for Christians who remain committed to maintaining and living God’s ways in an increasingly secular world.
Charlie Kirk, who heads up Turning Point USA, recently weighed in on his frustration with Christians who stand down when it comes to cultural discussions out of fear of turning off others or appearing intolerant to the world.
“We as Christians are not called to be tolerant,” he said. “We shouldn’t be tolerant of sin. We shouldn’t be tolerant of rebellion from God. We should have compassion. We have kindness, sympathy, and love. But love without truth is not love.”
Whether physically or metaphorically, swimming against the tide is both difficult and tiring. It also may appear foolish to be moving in one direction when seemingly everyone else is going in the other.
In a curious comment published by National Review this week, Americo Aguiar, a Catholic bishop from Spain, discussed the strategy for the upcoming World Youth Day in August. This excellent event was started by Pope John Paul II. “We don’t want to convert the young people to Christ or to the Catholic Church or anything like that at all,” Aguiar contended. “We want it to be normal for a young Catholic Christian to say and bear witness to who he is or for a young Muslim, Jew, or of another religion to also have no problem saying who he is and bearing witness to it, and for a young person who has no religion to feel welcome and to perhaps not feel strange for thinking in a different way.”
Some may defend Bishop Aguiar’s reluctance to openly evangelize as a difference of opinion regarding strategy and tactics, but what if that event is the one and only occasion an attendee hears about the Gospel?
Now is not the time to go along in order to get along. To be clear, evangelism and good manners are not in contradiction, just like love and truth are one and the same. It is possible to do and be both – and all at once.
“Do not be conformed to this world,” wrote Paul. “But be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).
Conformity and a “go along to get along” mentality are one of the many reasons we find ourselves in this uneven and dysfunctional season of American life. Of course, it’s propelled by fallen man and sin, but if nobody steps up or speaks out, the abnormal begins to be seen as normal.
It’s almost impossible to read today’s headlines and not think of Isaiah’s words: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (5:20-21).
The Gospel is the antidote to the world’s dysfunction, and as believers, we have the privilege to carry this Good News forward.
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