Gardening in the Negative World
Alan Jacobs has argued that parts of American culture and history have always been hostile to certain orthodox Christian beliefs. In this case, he points to the hostility shown to those who spoke out against racism, Jim Crow, and segregation. He is rejecting the premise of Aaron Renn’s Three Worlds Evangelicalism model: there never was truly a positive world and the negative world of today is not uniquely negative. Point taken. However, there are two key differences between the abolitionist and integrationist movements and our current situation. The first is that the church, particularly the Black church, was challenging an historically embedded establishment. Currently, the cultural establishment has shifted while the church has not.
Relatedly, in the past the harried orthodox were in a theological and historical minority position acting as a prophetic vanguard. They lead a coalescing of theological orthodoxy. For example, slavery in all its forms has been a disputed question throughout Christian history. Understanding race and racism was (is!) a complicated issue sinfully grounded in the particulars of the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Those who were orthodox and despised for it were articulating, sometimes for the first time, the true biblical response to something that could not be described as universally held by the church previously. The disputed nature of these issues also meant that there were different parts of the country more or less sympathetic to the orthodox rather than outright antagonistic. Now, however, we have a culture turning wholesale against Christian teachings and values that have been universally held since the earliest days of the church.
The culture has changed, the church has not. That change is across the board culturally, not unevenly distributed (and yes, I recognize that for the sake of a quick post I am flattening out both the history of racism and Renn’s own argument).
And so what? Jacobs says that it’s not all that important, just focus on your own garden. Gardening is different between my native Texas and my new Pennsylvania home. In Pennsylvania there are deer everywhere that will eat your gardens if you’re not careful. We and our other serious gardening neighbors have put up special fencing to keep the deer from destroying our gardens. It protects and preserves the gardens, and they are better for it. That practice makes no sense in Texas, and gardens would be uglier and worse for it. How you garden is directly tied to the world you live in.