Pastor John, as you know, there’s a trend in American culture of intolerance toward any worldview that refuses to affirm same-sex marriage. No surprise there. There are indications here and there that we are seeing this trend spread to the gatekeepers of online platforms, platforms that Christians use. The question on the table is this: Should Christians be preparing for a time when the cultural gatekeepers are so opposed to this counter-cultural position of Christians, that media such as Facebook and Twitter will close the accounts of Christians, or app stores will discontinue ministry apps, for those who affirm what Scripture teaches about the sin of homosexual practice? Do you see this trend coming, and how should we who use the web prepare for it?
Well, whether I see that coming or not probably has no influence over whether it will come or not — unless my inclinations keep me from praying, and God says to me, “You have not because you ask not, John Piper.” So my opinion about this is not very important in itself, I don’t think. But there are important considerations in thinking about such things.
God is sovereign over all cultural shifts, and he will do as he pleases in his infinite wisdom and goodness and justice. I don’t know of any biblical or historical reason to think America will even exist in a hundred years, let alone tolerate Christians. It might. God could send a great spiritual awakening, and this sin-saturated culture could be more gospel-saturated, more biblically-shaped than it ever has been since the time of the Puritans. That could happen. But there is no authority that guarantees that, not that I can see.
Think It Not Strange
Historically, I think what we need to keep in mind is that unjust limitations on Christians and opposition and even persecution would be more or less normal for Christians to face. And I use the word normal carefully because Peter, in addressing the churches of Asia Minor in the middle of the first century in 1 Peter 4:7 says, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.” In other words, opposition to persecution and limitations on Christians are not strange. And the opposite of strange — unfamiliar, foreign, not at home — would be that persecution is our native air, our home, familiar.
But the America of the last four hundred years is strange. It is the exception, not the rule over the last two thousand years. The New Testament itself is filled with persecution. Isn’t it amazing that in our founding book, four of Paul’s letters are written from prison? Almost all the books in the New Testament assume some kind of persecution. It was normal for three hundred years until the Edict of Milan in 313.
So persecution for Christians has been the story of our life and the spread of missionary work among the unreached peoples of the world has always moved forward with death defying risks to missionary life. They used to pack their goods in coffins, for goodness’ sake. So it has always been assumed that the spread of the gospel, the flourishing of the gospel, happens through resistance. The ease and the comfort and the affirmation that we have enjoyed culturally for these several hundred years is extraordinarily unusual and not the norm.
So I think the Western church desperately needs to be taught this biblical and historical perspective
Consent of the Governed
America is no longer the Christian saturated place it was fifty years ago — I mean, when I was a kid, what a different world I lived in! Even though that is true, and a lot of young people know it, we all tend to assume that in a morally regulated democracy, laws will protect me from discrimination: “You can’t do that to me.” And there is the rub in that because a democracy regulated by laws to protect rights that we want assumes that there has to be a cultural consensus that those rights should be protected.
None of us believe that all of the rights people want should be protected, right? Sedition, racial hostilities, speeding, killing the unborn in the womb or the terminally ill, trashing your front lawn, inciting to riot. Most Bible loving folks would be OK with those behaviors restricted by law, even though others might scream to high heaven, “I have a right to take my child’s life,” or “I have a right to put my garbage in my front lawn.” So it all hangs on: Does the bulk of society think that a behavior is acceptable and tolerable?
Sixty years ago, for example, in America, adultery would have ruined a man in office and racism would not have. Today it is exactly flipped. Shelby Steele pointed this out. Now adultery won’t ruin you (witness Bill Clinton) and racism will. You drop the N-word one time, and your political career is over. That was not true sixty years ago. That is the way democracy works: cultural shifts dictate tolerance shifts and legal shifts. And all laws legislate somebody’s morality.
Eight Pieces of Counsel for a Contentious Age
So if I take the question now, personally and practically and say: So what should we do in the light of the likelihood that social media of various kinds are going to shut Christians out? Twitter and Facebook and app stores and so on, they are just going to shut us out because they don’t like our views. What should we do? Here is my closing counsel:
1. Faithfully, week in and week out, preach the whole counsel of God on every issue that affects our people.
2. Worship faithfully, in a serious, reverent, God-centered way that stands against the alternative worship of cultural idols.
3. Strengthen the church with solid teaching, so that our people are unshakable in the face of the worst storms.
4. Fill our city and town with the teachings of Jesus Christ in every way we can. That is what the Jewish leaders accused the apostles of doing. I love that sentence in Acts 5:28 “Here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching.” I could just see the apostles smiling and responding, “That is what we have been trying to do.” That’s the way I want to think about Minneapolis: Just fill it, fill it with truth. Let the chips fall where they will. That is just not our job to make the chips work, but fill the city with truth.
5. Carry through the legal recourses and arguments for the tolerance of your views while that is still possible. In other words, in a democratic setting, defend your rights to say what is true. But don’t assume success in the courts, and don’t regard legal defeat as spiritual defeat. Instead, resolve to count it all joy and move forward with your witness and courage and without fear or vindictiveness.
6. Create as many alternative outlets as possible of the dissemination of truth. If you get blocked in one area, create another one, until you are totally put in prison. And then create some more.
7. Pray earnestly for a great awakening: awakening for leaders, awakening for the church. First Timothy 2:2 says to pray for leaders, “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Evidently, it is good for evangelism and good for missions to have leaders who create situations where Christians can pursue their truth-loving lives with dignity and peace.
8. And then, finally, I say with Paul: “Share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God.” (2 Timothy 1:8)
So in answer to the question, Do I see things like Facebook, Twitter, Apple store, iTunes, and so on, shutting out Christians for taking biblical stands on social issues? Yes, I do. But here is what’s more important: I think my short-term pessimism should have the effect of putting me on my knees to pray for the spiritual awakening, the doctrinal reformation, the worship transformation, pervasive personal holiness, and culture impact, that would, perhaps, if God’s wills, turn back such developments.