Last week on Washington Watch, Family Research Council President Tony Perkins observed, “We often avoid controversy, because we associate controversy with things that are wrong. But if you read the New Testament, controversy surrounded Jesus, controversy surrounded his disciples, controversy was a way of life for those who follow Jesus.”
Tony is right, and his call for Christians to take a stand on issues that may be perceived as controversial is needed more than ever. As Christians, we know that nothing is new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Although our beliefs are routinely labeled as too controversial, old fashioned, or even extreme, we know that we are called to stand for truth in the public square.
The term “controversial” comes from the Latin root contorversia. When broken down, the word is a combination of contra—turning in an opposite direction—and versus—turned toward or against. In other words, to be controversial is to intentionally turn in the opposite direction of one thing and turn towards another. Being controversial is not always a bad thing because, especially for Christians, we are called to stand counter to the ways of the world and turn towards truth.
To be controversial often means to be countercultural. Christ did not call His disciples to conform to the world but to be transformed (Romans 12:2). Moreover, Jesus warned His disciples that taking a stand for truth would bring about judgment from the world: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” John encourages the church later in I John 3:13, “Do not be surprised brothers, that the world hates you.” The same truth applies to Christians today.
This is not to say that Christians should intentionally incite controversy by becoming public provocateurs or scornfully dismiss those who disagree with us. But what it does mean is that when we as Christians face opposition or are in a situation where standing for truth is frowned upon, we take a stand. We do not go along with progressive and destructive thoughts, ideas, or institutions that subvert the truth. And, as Peter reminds us, “yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).
The Bible is full of examples of people who faced opposition and controversy who had to decide how and when they would take a stand. Today is no different. As we read Scripture, we can be encouraged by God’s faithfulness to Moses when he spoke before Pharaoh (Exodus 6-11). Likewise, we should take heart when we read of the courage and strength God gave to Esther when she spoke up for her people or the wisdom and clarity God gave Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezra, Joel, Malachi, Micah, and many other Old Testament prophets. This theme of the faithfulness of God when His people faced opposition continues into the New Testament when many of the new converts to Christianity were forced out of their synagogues. Jesus Himself was killed on the cross because the priests and leaders said that He was too controversial and was changing people’s way of thinking.
Truth is expensive—when we intentionally choose to stand for truth, it may cost us relationships, jobs, or even our lives, as those Christians being persecuted by authoritarian regimes around the world can attest to. Jesus warned of this at Caesarea Philippi when He said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24-26).
To conclude his radio show last week, Tony Perkins quoted the Apostle Paul and gave these words of encouragement from Ephesians 6:13, “Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.” In a world of opposition that seeks to make its own truth and abandon morality, Christians must remember that we must turn from worldly ways and instead turn towards “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Inevitably, this means we will be controversial.
Molly Carman is a Policy and Government Affairs Intern at Family Research Council whose research focuses on developing a biblical worldview on issues related to family and current events.