Want to Engage Culture? Follow the Golden Rule.

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“Stop Engaging ‘The Culture,’ Because It Doesn’t Exist.”

Andy Crouch penned this provocative headline in a recent op-ed for Christianity Today. In it, Crouch argues that there is no single American culture to engage. Instead, we live in a complex tapestry of multiple cultures, influences and communities.

As a result, Crouch argues that we change the world not by “engaging the culture,” but by loving people. He writes, “We should spend more time loving our flesh-and-blood neighbor.”

I’ve reflected on Crouch’s words. And I believe one of the simplest ways to put them into practice is by following Jesus’ golden rule.

So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

Too often, we settle for one of the golden rule’s cheap substitutes.

We all know the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It’s practically hard-wired into our brains.

Yet even though we know the golden rule so well, we often have a harder time putting it into practice. Too often, we settle for one of the golden rule’s cheap substitutes, such as…

1. The Golden Reciprocity Rule.

“Do unto others what has been done unto you.”

Had a rough life? Make it rough for others. Has life given you lemons? Give lemons to everyone else.

With the golden reciprocity rule, you’re not concerned about your neighbors. You focus on your own sufferings, and you want to ensure that others experience them as severely as you have. You don’t love your neighbor; you love yourself.

2. The Golden Get-What-You-Deserve Rule.

“Do unto others what they deserve.”

Is he poor because he’s made terrible life choices? He’s getting what he deserves. Is she pregnant because she was sleeping around? That’s what happens. Does he have aids? Serves him right for living that lifestyle.

With this rule, you show compassion only upon those who “deserve” it. People who made choices you disagree with don’t receive your compassion; they receive your scorn. You don’t love your neighbor; you love people who’ve met an arbitrary standard.

3. The Golden Self-Interest Rule.

“Do unto others if they can do good unto you.”

Is she rich, powerful or influential? Be as cordial as you can be. Is he poor, powerless or merely a face in the crowd? Don’t waste your time.

With this rule, you’re only interested in helping others who can help you back. You don’t really care about them; you care about how they can benefit you. You’re not loving your neighbor; you’re showing partiality.

4. The Golden Sentimentality Rule.

“Do unto others if their life story evokes compassion.”

If the cute, soft-skinned infant is sick? Let’s invest all of our resources to help her. But if the immigrant with dark, sun-baked skin and dirt under his fingernails is sick? Well, we’ll “pray” for him.

With this rule, your compassion is not based on someone’s objective, God-given worth, but on your subjective, emotional response. You’re not loving your neighbor; you’re obeying your emotions.

Jesus’ Response.

In Matthew 7, Jesus deconstructs these fools-golden rules. Don’t do what’s been done to you. Don’t give people what you think they deserve. Don’t do good only if it benefits you. And don’t do good simply because someone’s cute.

Do good unto the kind people and the jerks. Do good unto people who have made wise decisions and those who have wrecked their lives. Do good unto people when it helps you and when it hurts you. Do good unto people you feel strongly for and those you don’t.

Do unto others — anyone — as you would have them do unto you.

If we really want to engage culture, we’ll need to embody the golden rule.

If we want to make a difference in the world, it will take more than penning think-pieces, connecting Scripture to pop culture or debating on social media. We will need to walk the streets of our neighborhoods, invest ourselves in our community, invite people to our homes for dinner, volunteer in public schools and tangibly love our neighbors. Simply put, if we really want to engage culture, we’ll need to embody the golden rule.

Are you living by the golden rule or one if its cheap counterfeits?

A version of this post originally appeared here. The author’s thinking was influenced by this article

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  • culture
  • public square
Nathaniel D. Williams

Editor and Content Manager

Nathaniel D. Williams (M.Div, Southeastern Seminary) oversees the website, podcast and social media for the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture, and he serves as the pastor of Cedar Rock First Baptist Church. His work has appeared at Christianity Today, The Gospel Coalition, Fathom Mag, the ERLC and He and his family live in rural North Carolina.

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