Fifty years ago, on January 13, 1964, Columbia Records released The Times They Are a-Changin’, one of Bob Dylan’s most famous songs. Because the lyrics captured the spirit of social and political upheaval of the day, the song instantly became the protest song of the 1960s.
The line it is drawn. The curse it is cast.
The slow one now will later be fast.
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’ and the first one now will later be last.
For the times they are achangin’.
The song’s message is timeless, because, from one generation to the next, there is always change. Ten years ago, there was a broad swath of agreement about same-sex unions across the political landscape of America. Anyone with political ambitions was careful not to join the campaign to redefine marriage. But, that has all changed.
Today seventy percent of millennials (those born from 1978 to 2000) support gay marriage. Many denominations have begun to adjust their teaching on marriage and sexuality. They are ordaining and placing in positions of leadership openly gay clergy, some of whom are in same-sex unions. Interesting enough, these churches, in spite of their accommodation to our secular culture, are facing declining membership, while some of those Christian churches that continue to teach the biblical view of human sexuality, are quickly swelling their ranks.
Ever since the 1970s, there has been the cry for society to change its views on abortion, feminism, separation of church and state, recreational drug use and homosexuality. Proponents of change have ignited heated debates and much controversy in the political arena. In fact, in 1991, James Davison Hunter, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, recognized that these hot-button issues, so vital to the family and religion, were dominating the political discussion. Hunter, therefore, coined the term “cultural wars” for all these conflicts that were polarizing the nation.
Today, many are proclaiming the end of the culture wars. In 2009, Peter Beinart, a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, looked to the election of Barack Obama as President as a death blow to the American culture wars. Political prophets followed suit, predicting that the social issues that divide us are quickly fading away. No more conflict over “God, Gays, and Guns.” Rather, our national debate is centering more and more on the economy and the role of government. (Mark Caine, Ted Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger, After the culture wars: The coming rise of “liberaltarians” and “populiberals,” May, 2014)
No poll needs to convince us of what we already know is true. Our society is becoming increasingly more tolerant of diversity at every level. Same-sex unions. Non-traditional families. Recreational drug use. With the elites’ and the media’s success in redefining the biblical teaching on homosexuality as the equivalent of racism, fewer and fewer people are willing to engage one another on this subject or, for that matter, on any other of the socially divisive issues. But, ultimately, what is at stake is not rhetoric, but truth.
As the universities, the media, the courts, the legislatures and Hollywood jettison traditional moral values, our society moves away from seeing the dignity of the human person and the plan of the Creator as relevant to the social issues that we face. Waving the banner of separation of church and state, judges and legislators continue to outlaw public displays of faith and prayer. Europe has led the way in the secularization of culture. And the result is plain to see. Many Christian churches in Europe have been emptied out, even as our Muslim brothers and sisters build new mosques and fill them.
Fortunately, a recent national poll does reveal that 85 percent of Americans still believe in God. And, this is crucial to the future of our society. Where there is belief in God who is the Creator, there is the basis for common ground on moral issues.
The rhetoric of the cultural wars may change, but the issues of human life, the dignity of the human person, the care of the poor, the God-given gift of human sexuality and the freedom to practice one’s religion will not so easily vanish with the proclamation that the cultural wars are over. Such issues are not the creation of political parties. They are the moral basis of a sound society.
The media often laud Pope Francis as the Pope of surprises. They gush with uncontained glee when they report that Pope Francis has taken a stance of nonbelligerence in pursing the cultural wars.
But, they are not paying attention to all that he is saying. The Pope has not, nor can he ever, move the Church to a position of neutrality on the moral issues that our age now faces. Instead, he has gone to the root of the confusion on the moral good as intended by God.
Pope Francis is speaking openly and often of the profound conflict that is taking place in the world. He is going beyond the social issues that separate us to the more profound reality of evil that would divide us, not merely from one another, but from God. More than any other pope since Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis returns again and again to the role of the devil. Behind the hatred for what the Church teaches is the “the prince of this world.” In his April 11, 2014 daily Mass in the chapel of the Vatican’s Saint Martha Residence, Pope Francis said that “the devil...does not want our holiness, he does not want our Christian witness, he does not want us to be disciples of Christ.”
Many simply dismiss or ignore the Holy Father’s reminder that we are engaged in a battle between good and evil. It is much easier to simply say that the cultural wars are over than to admit that our own personal choices on social issues matter in the struggle for the soul of our country. The teaching of Jesus on the value of all human life, on the sacredness of marriage, the meaning of human sexuality and the dignity of every human person will only influence society for the better when, we, who follow Jesus, give the witness of holy lives, embracing and living out his teaching.
For sure, “the times they are achangin’.” The economy and wars have a way of shifting our attention. Issues never remain the same in public discourse. But, the fundamental question does. Do we keep to the principles of truth and morality as given to us by Jesus or do we surrender to the shifting social fads of our day?