A Winsome Witness
My first day as an intern in the U.S. Senate remains etched in my memory. On that morning, I walked in wonder past symbols of our democracy like the U.S. Supreme Court building and U.S. Capitol, before climbing wide marble steps into the stately Russell Senate Office building.
Thus commenced a journey into the intersection of American culture, leadership and public affairs.
After my internship, I served as a legislative assistant for both a U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative, and in other national public affairs roles. These experiences allowed me to see our nation’s government from the inside while meeting some inspiring Christian leaders passionately engaged in public life.
Today, I am privileged to serve with Christian Leadership Alliance which has for more than 45 years equipped and united Christian leaders transforming the world for Christ. The Alliance provides educational resources for Christian nonprofit leaders so they can lead with Christ-honoring excellence. We feature diverse perspectives on topics impacting Christian nonprofits. This “Freedom” edition of Outcomes focuses on one such topic – religious liberty. In this edition, we also explore how Christians can winsomely influence today's culture.
The Aroma of Christ
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ…” (2 Cor. 2:14-15a)
As followers of Christ we have a calling and unique opportunity to influence our world, and to help those who don't yet know Christ to see his character, love and wisdom through the way we live, lead and communicate. So, how are we doing in reaching today's culture? What aroma does our cultural engagement offer? Is it the aroma of Christ?
What aroma does our cultural engagement offer? Is it the aroma of Christ?
We can all see that something has gone badly awry in today’s culture. We’ve witnessed a rapid growth in divisiveness, angry discourse, online vitriol and misinformation, tribalism, and the hyper-politicization of nearly every public discussion. It’s the dysfunctional zeitgeist of our age, and it unfortunately impacts today's evangelical culture too.
Today, Christian engagement in public life is often marked by anger, defensiveness and division, rather than by the hope, peace and unity Christ provides. Our online presence frequently mirrors that of the world. The sad irony is that this limits the very life-on-life impact our religious liberty exists to provide.
It’s as if we’ve forgotten the Apostle Paul’s admonition: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Rom. 12:17-18)
Hope over Fear
Fear is the genesis of much of our world’s angst-ridden cultural discourse, and stoking fear has been elevated to an art form by many politicians, pundits and prognosticators of our day. However, as believers we can embrace hope over fear.
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10)
We can also exhibit the joy of Christ in today’s tense times. “The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10)
Winsome Civic Engagement
There is a better way for us as Christians to engage culture. As someone who started his career in the public policy arena, I believe Christians can share the love of Christ with a hurting world while also engaging winsomely in politics, public policy and critical cultural dialogues.
I admire leaders like Ambassador Sam Brownback, featured in this edition, who have committed their lives to Christ-honoring public service.
As a young man living on Capitol Hill, I got to know Dr. Carl F.H. Henry who attended my church. As a noted theologian, and founding editor of Christianity Today, he has been recognized as one of the foremost thinkers of modern evangelicalism. He believed passionately that civic engagement is a vital role for Christians. And, his own son Paul acted on that, serving as a member of the U.S. Congress.
We Christians must stay engaged, defending religious liberty and advocating for wise public policy.
We Christians must stay engaged, defending religious liberty and advocating for wise public policy. But we must do so in a winsome way, rejecting the notion that those who disagree with us are enemies to be vanquished. They’re fellow citizens whom God deeply loves, and what they see in us communicates much about the gospel we proclaim.
Opposition and Our Response
We do know that we will receive opposition as Christians. Jesus told us so: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own…” (John 15:18-19)
Being a winsome witness doesn't mean compromising on biblical truth. We must hold firm to the truths of Scripture even when they are unpopular or uncomfortable. To do so in a winsome way we must keep the gospel and its message of grace central in our thinking. It is also important to make sure we aren't generating self-induced criticism or opposition due to a caustic style of cultural engagement.
Are we winsome witnesses marked by grace? Jesus encourages us: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.” (Luke 6:27-28)
A Faithful Presence
In this edition of Outcomes, you’ll find 12 recommended reads on religious liberty and cultural engagement. One is Wisdom from Babylon: Leadership for the church in a secular age (IVP Academic, Oct. 13, 2020) by Dr. Gordon T. Smith, president of Ambrose University (Canada).
In this book Smith asks: “What does it mean to provide leadership for the church in an increasingly secular context?” Smith then outlines four ways Christians have responded to a secularizing culture: 1) Go Along to Get Along, 2) The Monastic Response, 3) The Culture Wars Response, and 4) The Response of “Faithful Presence.”
Smith wisely advocates a “Faithful Presence” response as we “look for new ways or new opportunities for Christian witness that may emerge in a secular context.” He articulates why the first three responses diminish our witness, while the "Faithful Presence" option offers a way to winsomely and convincingly engage with a changing culture.
In Colossians 4:6 we see an example of such faithful presence: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
One key to overcoming the divisive discourse of our times is learning the art of listening well.
One key to overcoming the divisive discourse of our times is learning the art of listening well. For example, an initiative sponsored by U.S. Senators Tim Scott and James Lankford called "Solution Sundays" encourages interracial conversations around meals. Last year, my wife and I experienced a similar listening opportunity through diverse small group discussions our church hosted on “race and the gospel.” We read books and Scripture together, listened to one another’s stories, and explored how the gospel should shape our perspectives. That same listening approach can help us respectfully navigate other public policy issues.
Doing Good Works
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10)
Cultural conflict grabs headlines, but there is another story happening today. Christian organizations and leaders are quietly and faithfully transforming lives. It’s The Salvation Army “doing the most good” in every U.S. Zip Code. It’s World Vision transforming communities to address global poverty. It’s Compassion International building bridges between sponsors and children-in-need. It’s CRISTA supporting the elderly. It’s Joni and Friends providing hope to those with disabilities. It’s these and many thousands of other Christian nonprofits and churches impacting communities every day.
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matt. 5:16)
Doing “good works” not only lets our light shine, bringing glory to God, it also supports religious liberty. On behalf of the Alliance, I participate in Washington, D.C. discussions on religious liberty, and hear how sharing such stories of community impact can help members of Congress better articulate the wider societal benefits afforded by religious liberty.
We’re in a historical moment requiring wise, humble and courageous Christian leadership.
Sometimes I stroll by the U.S. Supreme Court and U.S. Capitol just as I did more than 30 years ago on my first day on Capitol Hill. I reflect on our nation’s vibrant democratic institutions and enduring freedoms, including our religious liberty. I'm thankful for the First Amendment protections enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and the democracy that upholds the freedoms we cherish. We must diligently defend our democracy and protect religious freedom. As we do, let us always be winsome witnesses who spread the aroma of Christ!
W. Scott Brown is the Vice President for Leadership Experiences and Resources for Christian Leadership Alliance, and Editor-in-Chief for Outcomes magazine. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Liberty University, and master’s degrees in Journalism/Public Affairs from The American University, and in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College. Early in his career, Scott worked as a legislative advisor to both a U.S. Senator and U.S. Representative, and in other national public affairs roles.