Moral Indignation in a Culture of Non-Imposition

My brain—like that of many people—has been spinning in the last 6 months.  The anger in our country, centered around all things political, seems explosive.  The finger pointing is endless.  The in-your-face comments constant.  All of it seems poised to call down upon the opposition the wrath of some kind of god. 

This boggles my mind because since the 1980s, with some noticeable exceptions, almost every educational setting that I have been in, and most public conversations I’ve encountered, have centered (even hammered) on this premise:  there are no absolutes.  It sounds in short like this:  Who am I (or who are you) to say what’s right or wrong?  For 35 years, I’ve heard variations on this theme in virtually every thoughtful—and not so thoughtful—public space in which I’ve traveled.  Deconstruction of most moral lines, and the bigger story they reveal, has seemed the orienting end game. 

At least until now.

Now, it seems imprecations based on crossed moral lines are flying through the air with the sharp fury of arrows set sail from angry bowmen fighting for their king.  Non-imposition be damned! our indignant culture screams in news feeds, emails, or simply passing conversations.  You’ve done wrong and now it’s time to pay!  (Who the you is switches up depending on who is screaming.)

On one hand, this scares me because I can’t figure out what common ground we as a nation could hope to build on going forward.  Since the 19th c. we have seemingly let go of any shared deference to a revealed and universal source for meaning and/or moral grounding.  And in recent decades, acknowledgment of natural law, too, seems also to have fallen away.  A big nation with lots of anger and little shared moral ground on which to stand feels unstable.  It seems like all that’s left in common is the reliance on power plays.  Scary.

Yet, on the other hand, I cannot help but see and feel in all the eager indignation a glimmer of good news breaking out.  Nobody now is saying you have your truth, I have mine.  Who am I to judge?  To the contrary, the gray fog of deconstruction is, in spite of itself, parting, thinning just a bit.  The last six months bespeak an unabashed demand from all quarters for moral lines of some kind.  Humanity’s far deeper, if often unacknowledged, hunger for a just and loving world, ruled by a just and loving King, is screaming everywhere. 

Hearing, watching, and feeling the culture of non-imposition publicly prove itself ephemeral, I have been slapped out of a 35-year-old growing fog.  The screaming, tweeting voices of America have awakened me again to the reality that even if our fallenness says otherwise, we live inside a relentlessly moral universe.  Even as often unwitting image bearers, we ache for the consummate King to come and make things right (which no president can ever be or do).

Of course, for a Christian this should seem obvious.  But 35 years of accumulated “do not impose” messaging can start to sound self-evident.  So, pondering my response in this loudly indignant cultural moment, though my instinct is to go mute and hide, I’m asking for the wisdom to hear the true cries beneath the screams.  And as I do, I’m asking for the courage to unabashedly be and hold out the brightness of Jesus Christ, the loving and just, consummate King. 

Pundits and prophets will say more than that needs to be done.  Of course they’re right.  Still, I’m increasingly convinced, nothing less will do.