I have lived in Tate County, Mississippi nearly all of my life. Tate County is made up of small Southern towns and rural communities, totaling just fewer than 30,000 residents. In terms of belief system, Tate County is predominately Southern Baptist. Politically, it is overwhelmingly made up of Reagan Conservatives and “blue dog” Democrats. Nearly every student attends public schools. Tate County is a typical Bible Belt county, which is a sign of strength and weakness. It is certainly more like Mayberry than Babylon. Nonetheless, it and communities like it are not free from the spirit of the age rooted deeply in other places such as Silicon Valley, New York, or Washington D.C. The spirit of the age is a spirit of secular social justice that believes it ought to be forced upon the public through legislation, funding, and celebration.
Social Justice Ideology
For small communities like Tate County, the secular brand of social justice ideology is known to its citizens, but is normally known from a distance. Bible Belt towns rarely have gay pride parades. Mississippi has only one Planned Parenthood facility in the entire state. Rarely do I meet someone who would refer to themselves as an ideological liberal, secularist, or socialist. As a result, many pastors in Bible Belt communities have low to negligible levels of dealings with social justice ideology. The typical Bible Belt pastor’s fear of this social justice ideology is a legislative fear. They fear that ideological social justice legislation will come down from Washington D.C. more than they fear the ideology’s thoughts, lifestyles and practices within the hearts of their congregation. But the spirit of the age is just that: a spirit, an ideology and philosophy that can move and creep in unnoticed.
I have seen social media posts offering “safe spaces” for non-Christians to come and discuss Christianity. I take no issue with offering non-Christians opportunities for discussion. However, the use of the phrase “safe-space” is catering to the social justice ideology of freedom to speak and hold any belief without the fear of pushback or questioning. By using the term “safe space,” Christians are playing to not lose badly rather than to win, because they are allowing social justice ideology to determine what is safe and what isn’t.
I recently witnessed a Facebook discussion where a friend shared his irritations with some other online friends’ frequency of posts regarding their home-based business. He said that due to this frequency and his own lack of desire to purchase any of their products, or to become a salesman himself, he would be hiding any future posts regarding the home-based business. While someone is free to share about their business, others are also free to hide their posts. In the nearly 300 comments he received, there were many who accused this Christian brother of being mean and arrogant, and who claimed he was ruining his reputation. Comments went so far as to say that he was harming his online friends’ family because this post would detract others from buying their products. He was chastised to the point of being accused of “taking food off their family’s table.” My friend had not made a Facebook post. He had committed an injustice.
When it was announced that Andrew Jackson would be removed from the twenty dollar bill and replaced with Harriet Tubman, I remember some Reformed or Evangelical friends being excited. During that time, there was much discussion regarding the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which these same friends supported. While honoring Harriet Tubman is noble, the removal of Andrew Jackson from the twenty dollar bill and seeking the public funding of Planned Parenthood are separate efforts from the same spirit of the age, seeking to rule by force, funding, legislation and celebration. Yet these same friends didn’t make the connection.
Small Town Manifestations of Big City Thinking
If you minister in the Bible Belt, you must be aware of the spirit of the age. A gay pride parade need not march down Main Street in your town for the spirit of the age to gain a foothold. With the growth of digital technology, content, media, and resources that promote the spirit of the age, social justice ideology will likely continue to grow and be more readily received. Most people today use Facebook, Netflix, Hulu, and Instagram. Most see the same commercials and ads on YouTube. Most read the same news stories. With few exceptions, we are no longer a nation of local cultures, but a nation with a large common culture.
However, awareness among pastors will not be enough. Pastors must be discerning to see through what is said and what are the motivations of those who have unknowingly adopted a social justice ideology. Pastors must be bold and help their congregations see the folly and deadly peril of giving credence to the spirit of the age. Pastors must take time to show that an ideology of ruling by force, funding, legislation and celebration is broken. They must winsomely show that Christianity has the only answer to the common desire for justice, freedom, and acceptance.
God the Father laid ultimate justice upon His sinless Son, and through His Son we ourselves are loved and accepted freely and unconditionally. In this is true freedom. In preaching this gospel, pastors must remember that boldness isn’t harshness, in the same way that silence and timidity isn’t loving.
Finally, some pastors will need to repent, either of ignoring the spirit of the age, or for their own adherence to it. Craftiness is a work of the Devil, and in his craftiness, he has advanced this spirit through acceptance and promotion of social justice ideology in the pulpits. It can happen and it is happening, even in the Bible Belt.