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President Barack Obama was fond of locating himself “on the right side of history.” He also liked to quote this saying from Martin Luther King Jr.: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That’s the perfect tagline for a speech—hopeful, virtuous, and stirring—and King used it more than once.
But King borrowed it from Theodore Parker, a 19th-century abolitionist and Unitarian minister: “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”
But does it? As I write this, National Guard troops are pouring into Washington, D.C., to ensure a peaceful transfer of power to the next administration, and I’m praying they’ll have nothing to do that day. One side of the political spectrum is triumphant and the other despondent—or defiant. Wildly divergent views of what happened on and since Nov. 3 fill the airwaves and cyberspace: “The Victory of Truth and Justice” clashes with “A Date That Shall Live in Infamy.” I’ve spoken to many Christian friends who subscribe to the Infamy narrative. Others claim Victory, and several in between won’t say or don’t know what to believe.
We should be praying and thinking and talking about how to influence our neighborhoods.
It’s all about the narrative: The truth you believe shapes the story you tell, and vice versa. One reason narratives have grown so much in power (not to mention divergence) might be that we’ve let go of the master narrative. The Bible describes a classic plot, with a setting, protagonist, central conflict, thematic development, climax, and resolution. That story took thousands of years to tell before breaking upon a pragmatic and amoral world in approximately A.D. 50.
Gradually, the master narrative created the moral universe that Theodore Parker saw as a long arc. And even though our culture today has relapsed into some of the vices of the Roman Empire, such as sexual license, paganism, and a stratified society of elites and plebes, it’s no longer amoral. “Social justice” is idealism inherited from Christianity.
Let’s get real: This state of affairs is not going to change anytime soon. The left holds almost all political and cultural power. It has seized the moral arc and will continue to bend it. Those of us not on the left (including classical liberals, traditional Catholics, evangelicals, and political conservatives) have three choices: fight, surrender, or subvert.
The fighters need to take a hard look at the odds. “What king,” asks Jesus, “going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:31). Which side appears to be the 20,000?
But surrender is no option for a responsible citizen. Giving in only ensures that disorder accelerates, and when the whole system collapses, there will be no one to pick up the pieces or point in another direction.
Lawful subversion means quietly and strategically working against the status quo. It’s often as hard to figure out as it is to accomplish. How can I subvert anything when my job is threatened or my social media account shut down? What kind of influence can my side have when we’re hounded out of the public square? It’s time to get creative: We should be praying and thinking and talking about how to influence our own homes, churches, and neighborhoods.
The arc of social justice has been bending leftward for as long as I can remember. The “long march” that began in elite universities has taken over media, megacorporations, entertainment, and K-12 education. But the story isn’t over. It took us decades to get here. If the Lord tarries, it may take a century to get beyond here. But we know what the overarching narrative is and where it ends.