Special to The Layman
Splayed across the front page of Google on day one of the Olympics was a string of images of athletes tinted by a rainbow, a less than subtle prod at Russia for criminalizing homosexual behavior. NBC’s coverage of the games began with discussion about the politics of Russia as it relates to human rights. McDonald’s is tweeting defensively about its partnership with the Olympics. I’m sort of stunned by the hypocrisy.
Most cultures have criminalized various forms of sexual expression. The United States still has laws banning polygamy, and, in many states, gay marriage is not permitted. Prostitution, arguably consensual, is still largely illegal. Certain public displays of sexual expression are illegal. And in all this, the United States is relatively liberal compared to most of the world.
But that’s not the really hypocritical part.
The two-facedness comes from what liberal, Enlightenment thinkers have been claiming and that for which they’ve been campaigning for 250 years. They have insisted that the West does not have the right to impose its views on other cultures. They have been particularly clear that Christian missionaries went wrong when they chose to do so.
Diderot, in the mid-18th century, decried European imperialism in his Histoire des Deux Indes. Against the work of Christian missionaries, he asserted that European traders were little more than “dangerous guests.” As the Enlightenment critique of Western colonialism developed, liberal philosophers asserted that a culture’s distinctive responses to the trials of life are a defining and meaningful part of its identity. A people’s successes in overcoming injustice (and each culture was to define “justice” for itself) were a source of their dignity. German philosopher Johann Herder insisted that no culture was superior to any other. He derided Europe for its arrogance and actually criticized the idea of “progress” for lending itself to imperialism.
This verbiage should be familiar to any college educated American today. It’s particularly familiar to seminarians in the mainline, Protestant schools. The modern heirs of early Enlightenment anti-colonial theory include liberation and feminist theologians who have chastised Christian missions for their ideological imperialism. In the post-colonial 20th century, liberal historians have come to view Christian missionaries as “ideological shock troops for colonial invasion whose zealotry blinded them.” Feminist theologian Rosemary R. Ruether criticizes the liberal notion of progress for carrying with it the oppression of those it claims to bless. Rather than bringing the good news of Jesus to lost people, ideologues of the last century portrayed missionaries as inappropriately imposing foreign ideas. One modern Presbyterian Church (USA) pastor simply called for evangelical missionaries to “knock it off.”
For years, I was taught in modern American universities that truth is relative to a culture, and that the West, and particularly America, was arrogant for seeing its worldview as worthy of imposition on all the rest of the world. Self-serving “progress” had led to slavery, colonization, exploitation and apartheid.
Now modern, liberal, American culture seeks to impose its ideology on Russia. President Obama selected openly gay athletes to attend the opening ceremonies in Sochi. He didn’t send members of his family or cabinet-level officials. There is a comfortable abandon in the calls for our kind of justice in foreign lands. Because America has decided what is just, it must be. One wonders if, should the U.S. legalize prostitution, if that will to become a justice issue as well to be imposed on countries that criminalize it.
The Christian, on the other hand, can say confidently that the gospel stands above all cultures, both cultures which blindly reject God’s will for our sexuality and cultures which hatefully abuse or tacitly neglect targeted minorities (especially when they do it in the name of Jesus). But it’s exactly the objective person of Jesus which gives Christians an external reference point by which to critique cultures and to reform themselves. Modern liberalism, with its unfounded moral dogmatism, has no objective standard to which to appeal as it continues its hypocritical march of ideological imperialism. This accounts for the fact that progressive thinkers can simultaneously condemn cultural interference and then triumph the imposition of “progress” on other societies – there’s simply no norm to which to appeal. In the life and teachings of Jesus, Americans and Russians alike are called to humility and to mercy. It’s only the objective moral standard of his perfect life that can demand that all cultures bow the knee. And when he does so, it is by conversion, not conquest.
The Rev. Dr. James W. Miller is the pastor of Glenkirk Church in Los Angeles and the author of “Hardwired: Finding the God You Already Know.”
 A Raynal, D. Diderot. A Philosophical and Political History of the Settlements and Trade of the Europeans in the East and West Indes (1770).
 J. Herder, Thoughts on the Philosophy of the History of the Human Race (1784).
 E.E. Andrews, “Christian Missions and Colonial Empires Reconsidered: A Black Evangelist in West Africa, 1766–1816,” Journal of Church and State, (3/10).
 R. Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk, Beacon Press (1993), 83-5.
 B. Gingerich, “PCUSA Pastor on Evangelism: Knock It Off,” Juicy Ecumenism (7/12). [http://juicyecumenism.com/2012/07/02/pcusa-pastor-on-evangelism-knock-it-off/]